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Ten Last-Minute Party Tips

by Erika Lenkert

Who says a fantastic party has to be planned in advance? If you’ve got an available party pad, a gaggle of good friends, and an adventurous spirit author and entertaining expert Erika Lenkert says you can play haute host or hostess with a little more than an hour of prep time. Follow the 10 party planning tips adapted from Lenkert’s entertaining guide and cookbook “The Last-Minute Party Girl: Fashionable, Fearless, and Foolishly Simple Entertaining” and every party you throw will be a winner.


  1. Determine how much prep time you have and build your party around it.
    Great parties can include anything from cocktails, munchies, and grooving CDs to multi-course homemade feasts backed by elaborately designed table décor and candlelight. But they always feature a relaxed host who can focus on guests rather than the kitchen. Don’t over commit or your energy will wilt like sautéed spinach.
  2. Serve one or two easy homemade recipes and embellish with store-bought stuff.
    Wow ‘em with your culinary prowess with simply sexy homemade highlights like salad, grilled meats and fish, or your favorite pasta dish. Round out your ensemble with store-bought delicacies such as sushi, Vietnamese spring rolls, artisan cheeses, breads, spreads, crudités, or a bakery dessert. Likewise for cocktails with snacks to match. In a serious last-minute pinch? Spruce up a takeout spread with pretty serving plates, fresh garnishes, and elegant serving utensils.

  3. Feature one specialty cocktail and design a self-serve bar.
    No need to play bartender or blow the bank on a full bar if you’ve got a fantastic specialty cocktail in your back pocket. Pick your favorite potion. Or make memorable margaritas by mixing tequila, triple sec, frozen limeade, water, a splash of cranberry juice to taste in a pitcher. Serve them up or with a bucket of ice and lime wheels. Or go glamorous with chilled sparkling wine and a side of mixers like peach nectar, Grand Marnier, and Chambord. Add cocktail napkins, glasses, chilled beers, sodas, and water and you’ll only need to do the occasional refill drive-by.
  4. Create a shopping list before you dash to the store.
    Once you’ve committed to a menu scan your recipes and list ingredients to purchase. Don’t forget ancillary items like candles, toilet paper, cocktail napkins, flowers, libations, and ice, an often-overlooked essential. Check your list twice. Naughty is a nice way to describe the attitude of the host or hostess who’s greeting guests for a barbecue only to discover he or she has forgotten to buy coals.
  5. Consider enlisting a sous chef.
    An ambitious hostess often bites off more than she can chew, yet manages to keep her lipstick intact. How? She asks a friend to arrive early and help. It not only keeps the atmosphere fun, but also cuts the effort in half.
  6. Control the lighting.
    Aside from a few cocktails, a warm glow is the most surefire way to put everyone in a better light. It takes seconds to survey your light sources and set them for success. Avoid bright overhead lights, turn on lamps with amber bulbs, cluster or scatter candles, and use dimmer switches. For daytime affairs, focus the party in a space with natural light.
  7. Decorate with flowers.
    Whether it’s small statements or big bouquets, flowers add freshness to any room. Grab a few blooms and add elegance with an en-mass arrangement of one dramatic flower, such as cala lilies or tulips. Fill a large, shallow decorative bowl with water and float Gerber daisies or orchids surrounded by loose flower petals. Or create tight, tiny arrangements for the dinner table. Just make sure your tabletop arrangements don’t block views.
  8. Ready the restroom.
    A properly prepared bathroom is the sign of the most thoughtful and thorough host or hostess. But prep is not merely about stocking toilet paper. Think of the bathroom as a mini-spa where guests can pamper, primp, and, well you know, in style. Add pretty soap, clean hand towels, tissues, a scented candle, and a single flower in a vase.
  9. Select mood-enhancing music.
    Music is such a powerful mood-maker that you can instantly turn a romantic rendezvous into a roof-raising rager with a quick switch of the CD selection. (Consider Diana Krall versus Earth, Wind & Fire.) Select your music in advance according to the type of ambiance you want to create.
  10. Be fearless and have fun.
    Who cares ifthe chicken’s overcooked or your appetizers are as simple as chips and store bought dip. Ultimately, a great party is about good company, a comfortable environment, and a happy host. Turn up the music, pour yourself a drink, and show your guests how it’s done. As the party’s pied piper, play to your own fun-loving tune and your guests are sure to follow.


To buy Erika Lenkert’s book “The Last-Minute Party Girl” or get answers to your entertaining questions, visit www.lastminutepartygirl.com.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the businesses in question before making your plans.

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