Last-Minute-Entertaining Ideas and Tips


Sometimes the best parties are the ones you plan less, not more. Here’s how to wing a great get-together.

Maybe you see a few friends at your kid’s soccer game and impulsively invite them over; or after spending a day at the beach, you feel the urge to keep the good times rolling by asking everyone back to your house. They say the best-laid plans often go awry. We say, the best parties are the ones that start with no plan at all.

Well, maybe a little plan. The key to acing an impromptu get-together is to always be ready, with food and some supplies on hand, says Sydne George, a food columnist for the Great Falls Tribune in Great Falls, Montana. And having a few theme ideas in your back pocket will make pulling together a last-minute soiree a snap. 

A mixed grill:

Anything you think you can possibly grill, you probably can. George suggests a mixed grill with andouille sausage, fingerling potatoes, and shrimp, but you can also slice and grill veggies and potatoes alongside whatever protein (beef, chicken, fish) you have available. 

A Mexican fiesta:

Stock up on shredded cheese, flour tortillas, tortilla chips, bottled salsa, sour cream, and guacamole makings, and then all you have to do is grill up peppers, onions, and meat for make-your-own fajitas. 

A dessert-only deal:

Great for a post-dinner get-together, keep some slice-and-bake cookies (homemade or store-bought dough) in the freezer. It’s also pretty simple to keep s’mores fixings in the cupboard. You can make them over the grill or a fire pit. Other sweet-treat ideas: Next time you make a simple cake, like pound cake or banana bread, double the recipe and pop one in the freezer.

A Panera Bread® party:

If you know your pantry’s low on supplies and you anticipate a crowd—say, after the town parade or your kid’s Little League game—call Panera® Catering or go online to order our boxed Signature Sandwiches; the boxes can even be labeled with the names of your guests. 

A simple brunch:

You probably have eggs, right? If you pull together an impromptu brunch, use what you likely have in your fridge and pantry for tasty egg scrambles or frittatas. Slice whatever fruit you have into a bowl for a fruit salad. And if you’re feeling festive, pull out that unopened bottle of prosecco hiding in the back of the fridge from last New Year’s and make some mimosas.

Cool cocktails:

As with brunch or dessert, a cocktail party requires less food or planning than a full-blown dinner party. If you have wine and fruit, you have the makings for sangria. Raid the pantry for nibbles (a can of white beans, some olive oil, and herbs in the food processor becomes a yummy creamy bean dip with veggies or chips). Dress up a wedge of cheese with a dollop of preserves and some crackers. Pop a big batch of stovetop popcorn and flavor it with melted butter mixed with smoked paprika or Chinese five-spice powder (or whatever spices you like).