By Candice Choi -- AP Personal Finance Writer
NEW YORK (AP) — The country's steeped in a recession, but your partying doesn't have to be.
Whether it's an inauguration fete or Super Bowl feast, think creatively in the year ahead to play host to friends and family on a tightened budget.
"A lot of people mistakenly believe a special dinner means cooking something expensive. Everyone will be happy if you just make something delicious," said Ted Allen, host of Food Network's "Food Detectives."
Food, wine and decor don't have to cost a lot to make a splash, he said. Done well, an interesting pairing such as fried chicken and champagne can be a crowd pleaser.
A few tips to stay on budget in the new year.
THE MENU. No matter how tight your budget, guests shouldn't pay for food.
"Don't ever charge your guests, whether it's at a restaurant, in your home or catered" said Lizzie Post, an etiquette expert with The Emily Post Institute.
Unless it's a potluck, your duty as a host is to feed your guests. That doesn't mean you can't control costs.
If your party's at a restaurant, for instance, pre-order family style dishes or offer a menu of selected options. Work with the restaurant to see what discounts it can offer.
Serving only appetizers or desserts is another way to keep spending in check. Setting time parameters might help gently drive the point home that you're not serving a meal. For a cocktail gathering, the invitation might state the party will be from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.
"The indication is that they go elsewhere for dinner after," Post said.
If you're worried that a potluck screams "low budget," spruce it up with a theme. You could even make it a recession party and cap how much people spend on their dish. This might bring out your guests' inner "Top Chef" and give them a good conversation starter.
Warehouse retailers can help save if you're hosting a bigger party. Costco, for instance, offers higher-end appetizers like seafood and filet mignon in bulk. If you don't have a warehouse membership, enlist a friend with one. She may even want to co-host and split the costs.
Serving family style dishes such as stew or chili can also cut down the cost of feeding big groups. Even if you're watching your budget, however, make sure you have enough food to keep everyone full, Post said.
THE DRINKS. One of the biggest expenses of throwing a party is the drinks. Not the sodas, of course, but the adult beverages.
To serve wine on a budget, check out the cheaper options offered by a vineyard you like.
"Move down to the next tier. It's just like any other brand — if you like the $50 bottle, chances are you'll like the $20 bottle," said Allen of the Food Network. He said a good bottle of wine can cost less than $10.
That might be the wiser choice anyway, since the nuances of a pricey vintage might not be appreciated in a party setting, he said.
Picking bottles from countries newer to wine making, such as Chile and New Zealand, can also keep costs down. These wines might not be well known, but they're often just as good, Allen said.
If you're still unsure about picking a decent bottle, enlist the help of a professional. Your local wine shop should have someone on staff who can suggest options for any budget. Just let them know your price range and what you plan to serve.
If you're worried about appearances, serve the wine from a decanter or keep the bottle in the kitchen.
Another way to save on alcohol is to limit the options. Serving a specialty drink eliminates the cost of stocking an entire liquor cabinet. It also makes more sense to use a cheaper liquor or wine if you're making a punch like sangria.
"The added sugar, spices or fruit will mask the subtleties," Allen said.
Don't rush out and buy a dozen wine glasses, either; see if you can borrow a set from a friend. If it's a casual gathering, craft stores often have plastic glasses that might do in a pinch.
THE DECOR. If you want a table centerpiece for a dinner party, get some bouquets from the supermarket instead of the florist. Take apart the arrangements and cluster them into smaller groups, said Kate Parker, who writes a blog on entertaining for Real Simple magazine.
Your vases at home might be all the decorations you need. Even if they don't match, fill them with oranges, lemons or other fruit and place them around the party area.
Tea lights — which cost a few dollars for a bagful — can create instant mood for more intimate gatherings. For a dinner party, try placing a couple candles on your dining room table.
In warmer weather, string up a row of paper lanterns. They cost only a few dollars each at craft stores and can be reused.
Ultimately, however, don't stress about impressing your guests with such matters.
"It's not the food, cocktails or how you deck the place out. The most important thing is the people," Parker said.
Invite people from different areas of your life to make the party more interesting. Don't worry about not inviting everyone you know, either. Keeping the party small means you can have more of them, with different guests each time.
Once you get comfortable entertaining, you won't feel as pressured to spend a lot to impress your guests. That will likely serve you well heading into the new year.
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