Last Minute Party Ideas and Last Minute Party Food

From Zero to Hostess: How to Make Last Minute Parties Look Easy

Parties happen. In fact, some of the best parties are ones that spring up unexpectedly. Like that time an afternoon of poolside lounging turned into an impromptu garden party. And remember when your favorite couple stopped over to drop off that thing they borrowed and ended up staying for dinner, then coffee followed by a hilarious game of charades?

Sure, you managed to scrape together a festive scene on those two occasions, but what if, instead of scraping (and stressing), you could effortlessly produce a party on the fly? Read on to find a few deluxe tips for doing just that.

From Zero to Hostess How to Make Last-Minute Parties Look Easy

Always Have a Guest-Ready (Read: Presentable) Home

Note the semantics: I said presentable, not pristine. Spur-of-the-moment revelry means you have no moments to clean anything, even the party-centric rooms. Thankfully, Joelle Alcaidinho over at Apartment Therapy put together “The Hate-To-Clean-Guide to Having an Always-Guest-Ready Home.”

My favorite tips are:

Sweep after a mess. When a mess appears after a meal or cooking or some sort of spill, sweep or vacuum immediately. Taking the time to do it right away means your floors will generally maintain a nice and clean appearance.

Wash dishes. Wash dishes immediately after cooking. Piles of food-encrusted dishes are unsightly, often smelly, and can lead to bugs. Taking care of them right away keeps kitchen messes under control, which is key because you know everyone you entertain will end up in your kitchen at some point.

Crack a window. Spring has sprung, but the weather continues to fluctuate quite a bit. But even on the very coldest days, try to crack at least one window to let some fresh air in. Nobody, house guests or regular inhabitants, likes stale air.

Throw the throw. If you have pets, embrace the concept of using a throw to cover furniture. It allows you to cuddle in your favorite chair with your furry child, but also means you can quickly toss the blanket aside right before a guest arrives who might not wish to be covered in pet hair.

From Zero to Hostess: How to Make Last-Minute Parties Look Easy

Now, What This Party Needs is Some Snackage!

Ideally, you want a full spread including finger foods, something that can serve as either an entrée or a snack, and a few sweets. Consider these your party superfoods and always have them in stock.

Reserve a shelf for nonperishables such as olives, crackers, chips, nuts, dried fruit, and hazelnut spread.

In your refrigerator, keep cheese, fresh fruit and veggies (which you know you should be buying anyway), cured meat, and cookie dough.

The freezer should hold ice, soup, bread dough, and a thaw-and-eat dessert (my go-to are cream puffs).

What makes these things so special? Most of the nonperishables are pretty obvious — people like them and, as nonperishables, you can always have them around even if you go months between gatherings. The hazelnut spread is the perfect decadent addition to the food table. Spread on toast, and it is delicious. Set it beside fruit or pretzels for an instant dessert dip. Encourage guests to give it a go as a pairing with cheese. Forget super food; hazelnut spread is a wonder food!

Ice is another powerhouse since it can be used to cool drinks, crushed and blended to make other drinks, and poured into bowls you can slide under platters of food you want to keep cool. The other three freezer items are what will bring home the idea that this is a party! Throw your pre-made frozen soup in a crockpot and start baking some artisan bread. The smells will fill your house with the inviting aroma of “fiesta!” I recommend a dessert that can be thawed rather than baked so you can set it out and forget it instead of making return trips to the kitchen.


Check out our Free Download: The Party Planner’s Perfect Pantry Checklist!


From Zero to Hostess: How to Make Last-Minute Parties Look Easy

Good Friends and Good Food Work Up a Thirst, So Keep Beverages in Stock

Water is non-negotiable. Nix the bottles in favor of a chic carafe. From there, go wild! Dress up the water supply with fresh fruit or veggie infusions, set out a pitcher of lemonade, and start pouring your signature cocktail.

There are a few things that every hostess should know. Knowing how to make at least one cocktail is very important. And having a few others in your arsenal is also a smart idea. It doesn’t have to be anything overly fancy — it doesn’t even have to be alcoholic — just something a bit out of the ordinary that will make for a pleasant treat.

If you doubt your mixology skills, default to Sangria. There is almost always a bottle of wine and some fruit in your kitchen. A little chopping, a little pouring, and voila!

From Zero to Hostess: How to Make Last-Minute Parties Look Easy

…And the Party Never Ends

Sometimes festivities, even impromptu ones, can carry on until late at night. Other times, the party starts when friends on a trip stop over for a night. Either way, it is good to be prepared to bed a few extra sleepy heads.

The best way to know if overnight guests will be comfortable is to put yourself in their shoes. Sleep where they’ll sleep, whether it is in a guest room, a finished basement, or a couch. If you don’t have everything you need for a good night, neither will they. In fact, make a checklist of everything you do and use for your own bedtime routine and design a sort of “guest kit” from that.

The basic kit should include:

  • A sleeping space — real beds are preferable
  • Clean bedding and one to two pillows per guest
  • A wash cloth and hand towel
  • An all-inclusive tour of your kitchen and guest bath

The deluxe version consists of the basic kit, plus:

  • A carafe and glass for water
  • A light source next to the bed for reading
  • A full set of bath towels and brief instructions for using the guest shower

The “they’ll never want to leave”edition:

  • Basic + deluxe kit items
  • A few magazines or books
  • A basket of travel-sized hygiene products such as toothpaste, mouthwash, shampoo, etc.
  • A new toothbrush
  • A prepped and ready-at-the-push-of-a-button coffee pot or a filled kettle on the stove next to a selection of teas (to make their own morning beverages should they wake before you)

From Zero to Hostess: How to Make Last-Minute Parties Look Easy

Yes, when you list it all out, even last-minute parties and unexpected sleepovers seem like a lot of work. They don’t have to be, though. You are essentially creating what some marketing teams would call “a party in a box” and “instant hotel…in a box.” Stop a moment and think about the things you most enjoy when you are with friends or away from home for the night and designate a bit of cabinet space for those same things.

You’ll find that the more often you have to use them, the better your party and hotel boxes will become. And trust me, once people see the way you pull together an evening of revelry in an instant, you’ll be getting plenty of practice.

Photo Credits: Boston Public Library, Emin Bashirov, Dinner Series, PoshSurfside,and Kai Chan Vong.

From Zero to Hostess: How to Make Last Minute Parties Look Easy

Janice Bear

Janice Bear is still a girl despite her 30-something years. She laughs too loud, talks too much, and is certain her hair has a mind of its own. While unsure of what she wants to be when she grows up, she's positive the search will be a 5-star dramedy. Catch her when you can at Never a Plain Jane.

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