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Last-minute dinner guests? 5 time-saving tips for throwing a perfect party

You don't have to be Martha Stewart to throw an impressive dinner party.
/ Source: TODAY

Got a gaggle of friends, family or business clients suddenly headed your way for a get-together, but no time to throw an over-the-top feast?

Fear not, frazzled hosts-to-be. These simple tricks will make your last-minute party look like Martha Stewart stopped by — but you’ll secretly know it only took a few minutes to put everything together.

1. Set an elegant table.

Setting a table shouldn't cost an arm and a leg. Source items you already have lying around the house to elevate your tablescape.
Setting a table shouldn't cost an arm and a leg. Source items you already have lying around the house to elevate your tablescape. Getty Images stock

For table decor, quickly go “shopping” around your house, Brian Worley, director of design for the Atlanta-based Bold Catering & Design event planning service, told TODAY Food. He recommends gathering natural elements from your backyard like leaves, branches, rocks and flowers, as well as baskets, dishes and accessories from your shelves and side tables. “It’s easy, the right price and you don't have to get in your car."

Mireille Guiliano, author of the best-selling “French Women Don’t Get Fat,” suggests using plates of varying types and colors from around the house instead of digging out and washing the fancy porcelain. “It is always a conversation piece, as many of my dishes come from potters in Provence or Paris,” she added.

You can also keep nice disposable tableware like Chinet Cut Crystal plates, cups and even wine glasses on hand to bring out in a jiffy for unexpected guests.

2. Prep a quick — but impressive — appetizer and dessert.

“Costco is the hostess's dirty little secret,” said Jenn Nicken, founder of The Chef & The Dish, a digital serving offering cooking classes via Skype from chefs around the world. She likes to keep Costco's frozen spanakopita in her freezer to pop out at the last minute. Trader Joe’s also has a popular version and here are 10 more Costco products we love.

“There's a huge difference between cooked hor d'oeuvres and just bowls of nuts and olives," added Nicken. "Brush a little melted butter on the top before baking, and your guests will think you've been prepping for hours."

Guiliano likes using a veggie peeler to shave a wedge of Parmesan cheese purchased from the grocery deli. Or she recommends breadsticks — or even mozzarella — wrapped with prosciutto. Guiliano says both appetizers offer a good mix of protein and fat and are perfect to serve with alcohol to keep guests from drinking on an empty stomach.

Italian Prosciutto
Try wrapping prosciutto around breadsticks for an easy appetizer.Shutterstock

Need a quick dessert? Even if it's still cold outside, Nicken says everyone loves vanilla ice cream with a choice of toppings like candies, nuts and a sauce like hot fudge or this easy sea-salted caramel.

3. Set up a drink station in under 10 minutes.

Two authentic fresh Brazilian lime caipirinhas on dark rustic wooden table at outdoor bar; alcohol; alcoholic; american; authentic; bar; beverage; brazil; brazilian; caipi; caipirina; caipirinha; caipiroska; caipivodka; cocktail; copy; copyspace; drink; fresh; glass; horizontal; lime; mixed; outdoors; photo; photograph; photography; refreshment; restaurant; south; space; summer; table; two; woodenShutterstock

No bar cart? No problem. Clear off an entry table or side table and set out some staple beverages so guests can help themselves upon arrival, Tori Tait, founder of, told TODAY Food.

“Put out glasses for each guest, a pitcher of water, wine, beer and maybe vodka and club soda,” she says. “If you've got an extra minute, slice up some limes and set them out, as well.” Letting guests be their own bartender will give you more time to finish up any last minute meal prep.

4. Set the mood with music and different candles.

CandlesGetty Images stock

It might seem like a really simple thing, but using a streaming service like Spotify or Pandora will instantly set a festive tone when guests arrive, says Sammy Musovic, who owns three restaurants in New York City, including Vero Wine Bar. Who wants to walk into a silent home, anyway?

Candles also add an elegance to any environment, but you don't have to buy a ton matching sets. Guiliano says she tends to skip the big, perfumed variety in place of smaller, natural ones. She likes to set candles on espresso dishes throughout the home, while Bryan Rafanelli, an event planner who has decorated the White House and helped plan Chelsea Clinton's wedding, likes to use wine glasses or water glasses as impromptu votive holders. Said Rafanelli, “Don’t be afraid to put them everywhere ... on the table, in the guest bathroom and on the stairs."

5. Clean the bathroom. Seriously.

Cleaning bathroom sink close-up
Cleaning bathroom sink close-up; Shutterstock ID 230819341; PO: today.comShutterstock

If you don’t have time to give the whole house a once-over, focus on the bathroom, Emma Lundwall, an interior stylist based in New York City, told TODAY.

“No one really cares if you’ve vacuumed the carpet, changed the bed sheets and organized the kids room shelves,” she says. “The only place your guests are really going to notice is the bathroom, so make sure it’s spotless.” Keeping quick-wipes on hand can even get the job done in less than two minutes and ensure that every guest's full party experience is an enjoyable one.