How To Throw A Last-Minute Dinner Party

Busy? Yeah tell us about it. And in an unfortunate Catch 22, our favorite antidote to that problem, dinner with friends and family, is also the cause of additional stress. If you’d love to throw a great dinner party but never seem to have enough time, take some inspiration from one of the busiest human beings we know, R29 creative director Piera Gelardi, who somehow manages to work twelve hours a day and still make home-cooked meals that turn into epic evening ragers. 

I am notorious for running out of the office at the very last second before a dinner party. “I gotta run, I have guests coming over in 45!” People are confused… “How are you going to get it all done? Have you shopped yet?” My answer: “Nope!” 

Hence, my cheat sheet to busy-girl entertaining. While I love to cook and source great local ingredients, make handmade pasta, etc. etc., the reality is that I have a crazy schedule (as I’m sure you do, too), and usually don’t have time to go to such great lengths. But, I never want that to stop me from having friends and family over to share a meal at the last minute. So, here’s myguide to entertaining well without spending a lot of time. No planning ahead, no sous chef, no Gwyneth Paltrow on speed dial… no stress required!


Tip 1: Devise your battle plan in transit. On my subway ride home, I start to really focus on the task at hand. What am I making? What’s my grocery list? What are the steps I need to go through to get it all done? Having it plotted out helps me to feel confident and collected.


Tip 2: Don’t overcomplicate your shopping location. Skip the specialty stores and go for one grocery store and the wine store (if you can get your S.O. or a friend who’s coming to take care of the wine, all the better!).


Tip 3: Pre-washed greens are a godsend. These are my secret weapon because they cut prep time significantly. They now sell pre-washed greens of all sorts so it’s super fast to make salads, sauteed greens, or soup with them.


Tip 4: Deli flowers can be fabulous. Again, it’s one-stop shopping. Skip the pre-made roses and baby’s breath bouquets and mix and match your own combination for something a little more unique and special. 


Et voilà!


Tip 5: Keep a few quality ingredients on hand. I’m usually stocked with a piece of good parmesan, a bottle of good olive oil, and some quality olives. I think having a few nice ingredients means you can pick everything else up at your regular supermarket (or souped-up deli). While it’s amazing to have the best farmers’ market ingredients and artisanal bread, if you’re in a rush, that’s sometimes just not possible. 


Tip 6: First stop: snacks. This is the best trick in the book because it buys you time. If you have snacks out as soon as guests arrive, they won’t be famished and you won’t feel as much pressure to finish cooking in a hurry. Plus, it draws out the dinner party and creates stages without your having to serve proper courses! And remember: Wine counts as a snack.


Tip 7: Make a great playlist (or just downloadours). You don’t want to have to worry about DJing, so make a trusted playlist of great music that’s fun but that guests can talk over. We suggest putting it on right when you get home to get you in the mood. 


Tip 8: Focus on one recipe and keep the rest simple. I usually pick one dish that’s the focus of the meal and try to keep the rest very simple.


Tip 9: Make sides that can be served at room temperature. Roasted veggies, salads, etc. can be served at room temperature and will keep the stress of perfect timing to a minimum.


Tip 10: Keep calm and cook on. Remember, a dinner party is a success more for the ambiance and company than for over-the-top food, so keep it simple, don’t stress yourself out, and have a good time! If you’re comfortable and happy, your guests will feel welcome. 


Tip 11: Go with what you know. If you’re strapped for time, don’t overdo the menu. Make something you’re comfortable preparing…this is not the time to go all Martha Stewart. For me, that means a more elaborate pasta dish with simple arugula salad and roasted vegetables.


Tip 12: Don’t skip dessert! But don’t make dessert either. You can’t do it all, so plan for a dessert that’s easy as, well, store-bought pie. My go-to is ice cream with berries and a little liqueur poured on top. It’s pretty, super-easy, and a crowd pleaser. I’m also a fan of grapes, strawberries, and dark chocolate or regular old cookies and milk.


The magic ingredient!


Tip 13: Serve family style. It’s fun and communal and you don’t have to worry about plating! But most importantly? Have fun! Dinner parties should be a joy for your guests and for you. 

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