Weekend brunch with my sorority sisters is something that never gets old. In college, we would pull on our most comfortable approximation of socially appropriate clothing and mosey on down to the dining hall. On special occasions (read: mornings we were too lazy to walk ¼ mile), we would head to the coffee shop for a platter of sweet potato fries and the most delicious, bad-breath-causing breakfast burrito known to man.
Graduation meant that the girls I lived with in college have moved around the country, and in one case, around the world. Thankfully, the wonderful thing about Greek life on a small college campus is that the bonds of sisterhood transcend class year and school experience. The familiar tradition of weekend brunch lives on with a new group of equally awesome women.
Since moving to the Chicago area, I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know alumnae who graduated before I could meet them on campus. Talk about role models! These women are confident, successful, and accomplished across a variety of careers. Our monthly brunch conversation jumps from little-known Revolutionary War generals to the value of an MBA to unbelievable, side-splitting stories from college. I listen eagerly to tips on hunting for an apartment in Chicago (heat-included rent is a must) and try to pick up any other pearls of wisdom that they reveal. Beyond brunch, I’m glad that these women are in my life. I never intended to join a sorority, but sometimes the universe likes to have a laugh. In college and in post-graduate life, my sisters have been some of my closest friends and most supportive cheerleaders.
Since starting our monthly alumnae brunch tradition, we’ve visited a few fantastic Chicago restaurants. But when you’re on a tight budget like I am, going out for brunch can get expensive. So for one of our brunches, I offered to host. We skipped the typical weekend wait for a table, everyone got seconds with no charge, and best of all, we felt zero pressure to rush our conversation or give up our table. What I spent on brunch for eight cost about the total for two people to eat at a restaurant, making hosting at home a win in every way. Here are my tips to host a fabulous brunch on a frugal budget.
Make a cooking schedule
I served two different types of quiche, sweet potato fries, homemade blueberry sausage, a salad, and raw sauerkraut. My roommate baked coffee cake and muffins. With all this food to be baked and kept warm, we had to get creative with our oven and toaster oven use.
To make all these dishes possible, we chose food that could be baked at more or less the same temperature. I made a cooking schedule ahead of time with a rough list of times and tasks in order to ensure that our oven had enough space. Just writing out what needed to be done helped me stay on top of tasks from chopping vegetables to setting out dishes. Hosting a brunch is only fun if you get to enjoy it too–a little bit of planning, and you can spend the morning chatting with guests rather than stuck waiting by the stove.
Decorate simply using materials you have on hand
The centerpiece of a good brunch is really the conversation, so if you’re sticking to a strict budget, don’t worry about fancy serving dishes or favors. I toyed with the idea of buying fresh flowers for our brunch, but we already had a bouquet of origami blossoms on the table. With a little extra folding, we made flowers in four complementary colors to display on the table. Small touches like ribbon bows around the napkins or a beautifully arranged fruit salad will add character to your table without breaking the bank. For more creative ideas, try Pinterest!
Ask guests to BYOC
When I hosted brunch, I was right in the middle of my Whole30 challenge (no alcohol among other things). Mimosas weren’t on the menu for me, but I didn’t want anyone else to be deprived on my account. When I offered to host, everyone asked what they could do to pitch in. I’m usually tempted to graciously decline and try to do everything myself–but the more help, the merrier the brunch! I asked if someone could bring champagne, and someone else brought a delicious fruit salad. The potluck style wouldn’t work for a more formal event, but it was just right for a frugal brunch with sisters. Orange juice and coffee rounded out the drink menu.
Be ready to share leftovers
Part of the joy of hosting brunch is cooking an absurd amount of food. I can be kind of a food pusher…my ideal brunch is one where everyone loves the cooking enough to help themselves to thirds. If you want to send your guests home with a snack for later, decorate plain paper bags for muffins or a slice of coffee cake. Plastic containers from takeout, dips, or fresh salsa make a great to-go box for a slice of quiche or serving of fruit salad.
Cheers to good brunches and great company! These four simple tips made my brunch a stress-free, budget-friendly success. What advice do you have for entertaining on a budget?