By Desiree Johnson

Killeen Daily Herald

When you graduate from college, you also graduate from keg parties, beer bongs, and pretty much anything that involves Natural Light beer.

With your degree comes a new phase of life: a career, co-worker friends and dinner parties. Working on an entry-level salary in a small apartment, however, can make it difficult to throw a classy grown-up dinner party.

Danielle Harris, a 24-year-old resident at Stonehill Apartments in Killeen, agrees that parties mature as the host does.

"Now we have more girl nights and potluck dinners or movies and mani/pedi's," Harris said. "When you get older, everything just gets a little more sophisticated."

Never fear, there are many tips and tricks to help the younger crowd throw a dinner party on a budget that doesn't involve power hour or keg stands.

First of all, decide on a theme that can help you plan the party. For example, if you go with a Moroccan-themed party, guests can sit on the floor, eliminating the need for a lengthy table and chairs.

Plus, decorations that go with your theme will entertain your guests and make the food you serve taste even better.

For elegance, use silver candlesticks and vases of flowers. For a Chinese-themed meal, use fortune cookies with personalized fortunes as both party favors and decorations. Try for a variety of cookies, including giant and chocolate-dipped fortune cookies.

After you've decided on your theme, you can customize just about anything to match. For instance, if you've decided to go with a Chinese theme, you can consider using tiny Chinese food take-out cartons as your invitations. The Container Store sells them in a variety of colors for 70 cents each.

The fastest and most cost-efficient invitation is an e-mail. Use online invitation sites such as and you can customize your invitation, allow invited guests to leave comments, and get quick RSVP responses so you know how many people are coming as soon as possible.

Be sure to inform your guests of what to expect. If they will be seated on the floor, female guests would appreciate knowing they should probably not wear short skirts or attire that will hinder them from sitting and standing.

Now that you've invited your guests, and decided on your theme, what will you serve them when they arrive? Typically the night begins with appetizers and cocktails, followed by a main course and dessert.

The biggest trick to keeping the night low-stress is preparation. Have as much finished as possible an hour before guests are scheduled to arrive, so once guests get there, all that's left to do is finishing touches.

You don't want to be putting the main course in the oven just as guests begin to arrive, it will slow down your party and annoy your party-goers. If you're a master in the kitchen, has a host of cocktail and food recipes that are sure to impress. If you're still getting used to not microwaving your dinners and drinking your cocktails straight from the bottle, a better option would be catering, and it's not as expensive as you might think.

Pignetti's upscale Italian restaurant in Killeen has unforgettable options that can fit in a tight budget. Owner Clinton Harwell suggests appetizers that don't require re-heating.

"Stick with things that are easy to put together," Harwell said. "Items where you can add finishing touches like drizzling dressing or sauces over last minute are best."

For example, Pignetti's offers an antipasto appetizer plate that features a variety of seasoned meats, cheeses, and vegetables that serve two people each and costs $11. Plus, you can order individual desserts from their pastry case that range from $2 to $4 each and simply re-plate them when the time comes at your party. They can even send you off with dessert-matching sauces that you can use to decorate the plate and make an impressive presentation when paired with fresh fruit or mint leaves.

As a main course, place your order at a restaurant early and let them know what time you'll be picking everything up, so you can time it as close to party time as possible. Killeen's Little Italy has a variety of delicious classic Italian entrees whose prices average only $7 to $10 a plate.

Now that you've figured out the menu, finalize your details. Plan on getting conversation going by suggesting each member of the table reveal something about themselves, such as a childhood memory or their most exotic travel location.

One good suggestion from is to incorporate a wine lesson into dinner. Have each guest bring a bottle of their favorite wine to share, that pairs with one of your courses. While everyone gives the wine a try, guests can explain why they chose that wine and what makes it special.

You can even use place cards as conversation pieces by adding conversation-starting questions to the backside of each one that all your guests can answer.

Put those college music-downloading skills to use and create a mix that can add atmosphere to the space. Be sure the music is crowd-pleasing and doesn't overpower potential conversations. If you don't have time to make a mix, buy an album that won't offend and is light in content. A good example would be Michael Buble, who's sultry voice is reminiscent of old-school crooner Frank Sinatra, yet with a modern twist. If nothing else, just tune into your local jazz or classical radio station and hope there are few commercials in between song sets.

After your first successful dinner party, be sure to thank your guests for coming, either with a verbal thank you, a written note sent in the mail later, or a themed party favor you send them home with.

If the tables are turned and you are invited to a dinner party, be sure you are a cordial guest yourself. Dress accordingly, and leave the jeans and T-shirts behind at home. Remember, appropriate conversation does not include the last time you were drunk at a college party, and if you'll be around new people, it's best to steer clear away from conversations about politics or religion.

It's always appreciated if a guest brings a gift as a token of thanks for being invited into someone else's home. Stemware, wine glass charms and stationary are all good gift ideas. The most common and timeless dinner party gift is a bottle of wine, and a good one can be bought without breaking the bank.

At Uptown Liquor in Harker Heights, the knowledgeable staff can give you inexpensive suggestions on what to take, and you can use their in-store wine well to chill the bottle in minutes. Uptown is located at 300 W. Central Texas Expressway and is open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Pignetti's is located in both Temple and Killeen: find the location closest to you at Little Italy is located at 218 S. Ft. Hood St. in Killeen.

Contact Desiree Johnson at or call 501-7559.

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