Here, your guide to turning those late nights out into late nights in with these tips for stylish soirees.
The easiest way to create a feeling of luxury is with candles. Buy a candelabra at Target or Bed, Bath & Beyond for your centerpiece and place smaller candles around the base and along the table. Start collecting candles when you see them on sale, and when the day of your dinner party arrives, place them on the table in varying heights and colors. Candles can be used over and over so they are a great investment.
Create a festive vibe by downloading a mix to your iPod.
No need to spend on a full set of china. Instead, mix and match dinner plates and glassware — it's trendy and it adds to the experience. Your guests will think you did it on purpose.
Plan your menu with colorful food. If you are serving meat, select colored vegetables like carrots and broccoli.
BYOB — why not? Most guests will bring a bottle of wine as a house gift anyway. Don't store the wine; use it the night of your party. I'm a big fan of California sparkling wine — it's less expensive than champagne and tastes delicious. Also, vodka is on the market in every flavor imaginable. Put your mixologist skills to the test and create martinis using pomegranate or blueberry vodka. One bottle of vodka will go a long way, and your guests will enjoy trying your flavored drinks — they won't even miss the expensive vino.
Make your own chocolate-covered strawberries for dessert. They are decadent, and, more important, really easy to make. Buy fresh strawberries and chocolate in the baking section of your market. For under $15 your guests will be blown away by your effort and creativity.
To save money, cut back or completely eliminate using fresh-cut flowers — they are expensive and don't last. Instead, decorate your dinner table using things you already own. Use a favorite house plant as a centerpiece or replace your picture frames with pictures of the guests attending your party.
Wendy Gordon is director of catering at the Russian Tea Room.