Dinner Parties Are for Suckers

If you’re looking to save money during this recession, you may have considered quitting those date night cocktails-that-turn-into-meals at Craftbar ($100-plus) or those Saturday meat-extravaganzas with pals at Employees Only ($200-plus) or the special occasion (I didn’t get laid off!) tasting menu events at WD-50 (with drinks, $300-plus). (All numbers cited here, by the way, are based on personal experience.) And you might think, “Hey, I can always have people to my house, right?” Well, yes, you can. But be warned: You might think you’ll save a bundle by throwing your own dinner party, but most of the time it would be cheaper just to go out.

For better or for worse, we’re living in a moment where everyone and their brother (and sister, mother, cousin) is into food. (Even my father, whose repertoire used to be mostly limited to grilling porterhouse steaks, makes cassoulet; he orders his duck fat direct from D’Artagnan.) Our fridges are stocked with greenmarket greens and locally sourced meat; our wine is from an organic vintner in the Russian River Valley. Gone are the days where a little olive and cream cheese spread, a Perdue roast chicken and a simple green salad sufficed when it came to cooking for company. We need courses. Courses! And we need to talk about where our food came from (is that Heritage pork? Or is it just from Whole Foods?) and how we prepared it (with minimal everything).

We also need to pay for it all. And foodie food does not come cheap.

Let’s say you got a group of five to go out to Franny’s, the faux-laid-back pizza and pasta place in Brooklyn with the precious $9 crostino and homemade vermouth. You share some appetizers, get a couple bottles of wine, main courses, desserts, coffee, etc. Your bill could easily, with tip, total $450. It’s a lot for you and your date as you uncrumple bills to come up with the $180 for your share.

So next time, you decide to have the fivesome to your house! Brilliant, right? O.K., here’s the menu: cheese and olives and jamón serrano from that special Spanish shop in Nolita ($40); a rack of lamb ($65); mushroom risotto ($40—hey, it wouldn’t be the same without the dried morels!); arugula with shaved Parmesan-Reggiano ($14); and homemade ice cream ($5) with peanut butter and chocolate chip cookies ($10, since you already have most of the ingredients at home).

That’s already $174, and you haven’t even dealt with the wine! Sure, your guests will bring some. But the other couple will bring one bottle, not two, so you’re still looking at buying at least three others. Even if you can keep your purchases to $9 each—which is practically impossible—you’ve topped $200 for your modest dinner party. It would have been cheaper for you and your sig other to go out, and you wouldn’t have had to do the dishes.

It’s true that dinner parties offer benefits that going out does not: It’s generous to feed other people, you can show off your cooking skills, you won’t be rushed away from your table. (Though, again, depending on the size of your apartment, you might not even have a table.) However, you very well could find yourself in a situation where you are constantly hosting dinner parties and never getting invited anyplace else. Not everyone is great at reciprocating—some people just hate having others in their apartment or hate their kitchen or, it’s true, are bad at cooking. So while you can split the bill anyplace you go, your dinner party could result in as paltry a return as your mutual funds. Think of a dinner party more as a charitable donation than an investment in your friendships. The only people who are saving money are your guests, who, at the end of the night, have spent $15—tops!—on their wine, for a savings of $75 per person. Maybe the key to this recession is urging your friends to have dinner parties. Tell them you’ll bring two bottles of wine! See if they buy it.

Dinner Parties Are for Suckers