I had a brunch for 25 on New Year's Day and everything went great. Daytime entertaining is a great way to cut costs since there is little, if any, alcohol. (There was a Tennessee football game on, so I did invest in some local Yazoo beer for my hubby to serve along with Bloody Marys, but there weren't a lot of takers, so I only made one pitcher).
The menu consisted of ham, black-eyed peas (with a penny in the pot for good luck, of course), turnip greens and cornbread. Dessert was a recipe from my new Lee Bros. cookbook - fig preserve cake with walnuts. Yummy! The $20 ham was the most expensive part.
I sprang for 3 boxes of pub glasses from Linens and Things the day before the party. They were only $10 a box and the boxes are small, so they will store easily. I hate being in my mid-thirties and using Solo cups and this seemed like a greener and much more finished option. They are naturally great for water, tea and lemonade, but I also served the Bloody Marys in them.
My other bulk entertaining investment was a collection of Vernon Kilns plates like this one on eBay. A few years back, I picked up a collection of 14 Vernon Kilns state plates for $10 at a yard sale. I suppose they were cheap because the seller thought nobody would want to hang those state plates on the wall... but I saw them as a way to stretch my Spode transferware plates. So I have 11 Spode plates and 14 Vernon Kilns plates for a total of 25. If I go over that, I always have my trusty Williams-Sonoma white buffet plates. Guests go crazy for the state plates, though. People hunt through the stack to search for their home state or the place where they went to school.
My advice is to keep your eyes peeled as you shop. Bulk items are nice to keep around when you can find them. I think events look much more finished and the upfront expense can be minimal. My glasses were about $.91 each and the state plates were only $.71 each. You can see that with thrifty shopping, you will pay for the items after a few parties and you will keep stuff out of the landfill.