An impromptu party sounds like a great idea, especially if you’re a guest. Hosting one, however, can seem like an overwhelming blur of cooking, decorating and preparing, as 27 group texts stream in asking what to bring and when to show up. The beauty of a last-minute gathering is that it’s supposed to be informal. There will be occasions for the good crystal and the special tabletop, but all you need for a casual gathering are a few colorful design favorites, a crowd-pleasing dish or two and a welcoming environment. Here is our no-stress guide to your next memorable (unplanned) soirée.
Plan Ahead—Even If It’s Just a Few Hours
Time is seldom on your side as a host, but you can make the whole night go much more smoothly with a few key decisions early on. Start by determining the kind of party you’re creating: Will it be grilling outdoors, a simple sit-down in the dining room, a buffet-style event that takes guests through the kitchen or just appetizers in the living room with lots of wine? Once you’ve determined the type of evening you’re hosting, all those questions about seating arrangements, serving pieces and the menu will fall into place.
If you entertain regularly, you know which essentials to have on hand for unexpected guests. But if you’re new to the last-minute dinner scene, you can never go wrong having a few bottles of sparkling water, an assortment of nuts and some dark chocolate in your stockpile – these should keep your guests occupied if you need to go into the kitchen to panic for a minute.
Focus on Simple Dishes
No doubt you have the skills to devise culinary masterpieces or desserts that deserve their own Instagram accounts, but save those gourmet feats for another time. Cooking for a group is an entirely different art form, and if you actually want to sit and enjoy the company of your friends, stay true to the time-tested recipes you know well and can execute easily. Pasta is usually a one-pot favorite that makes life easy on the home chef. The same can be said for appetizers. Rather than sophisticated, multi-step bites, try something deliciously savory with a good crunch.
Keep a Well-Stocked Bar
While signature cocktails are usually a draw when going out, at home they require extra work. Having a few bar cart staples on hand – from bottles to mixers – is the mark of preparation, and will allow you to whip up classics like Manhattans or margaritas in no time.
As a host, you should be ready for a variety of requests, all of which allow you to be creative with your style. To satisfy your friends who don’t drink alcohol, you could serve bottled Italian sodas in unexpected ways, such as from a vintage basket. Or easiest of all: Mix a beautiful fruit water concoction and serve it as the house drink, so no one is left out.
Don’t Overthink Presentation
In the movie version of this scene, you have time to conjure up the perfect floral arrangement and select from your substantial collection of porcelain service. The reality is a last-minute party is going to be cozy, fun and messy — which is the entire point. Instead of going for the monogrammed napkins and your most refined set of chargers, be deliberate about your décor and design choices. A few gorgeous, individual stems placed in our vibrant handblown vases creates an entire visual landscape with little effort. If you’re opting for simple white plates, our vivid tumblers and glasses are the perfect opportunity to indulge in color while honoring your guests with something special. (Pro tip: Assigning a different color glass to each guest minimizes confusion.) Our wine glasses are stemless, which maintains a casual-but-elegant vibe naturally. And so do our water carafes. Placing at least two on the table is not only a practical move but gives the entire affair a more considered tone — and is nicer than having friends fill up from the kitchen faucet.
Remember Why You’re Hosting
This is supposed to be a fun event, but a few harried hours of preparing could make anyone lose their mind. In a quest to create the perfect menu and the perfect atmosphere, you might miss the actual party. Even well-regarded entertaining experts remind us to stop fussing and be present with our friends and family. It’s a party, not the science fair. If your guests want five-star dining, they know where to find it. Sitting back and enjoying yourself with the people who matter is a joyful experience. Plus, one or two of them might stick around to help clean up.
Arianne Nardo is a Los Angeles-based design editor and lifestyle journalist.