Does last-minute entertaining terrify you? Are you intimidated by exposing your home to others, unprepared? Do spontaneous gatherings fill you with anxiety?
I'll take you on a virtual view of my home during a couple last minute visits, and share some tips to help you always feel prepared for drop-in dinner guests!
“I’m on my way, I should be there in 20 minutes.”
It was almost lunchtime and I briefly checked my phone after a busy morning engrossed in business deadlines, plowing elbow deep through jewelry orders. The living room had become my workshop and piles of earrings, papers and packages were overflowing the desk, while the floor-turned-playground was strewn with children’s toys.
What? Not Now! How could this be? It wasn’t supposed to be today!
My friend’s text message sent me into a momentary panic—this lunch had been planned a month prior but I was so certain that it was for NEXT week that I had not even checked my calendar for today. I quickly scanned my schedule and there it was: lunch at 12:00 at my house. Today.
How had I gotten it wrong?!
This friend had never been to my home and we rarely saw each other so I had been looking forward to serving her a beautiful lunch and enjoying a special afternoon together.
But today my ordinarily tidy house was a mess, and the real dilemma was what on earth I was going to serve for lunch. I needed to go grocery shopping, and I wasn’t even sure what the kids and I were supposed to eat that day.
I shook my head and made peace with it.
It would have to be peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. How embarrassing, I thought.
At least I could serve the best PB&J she had ever tasted! Until I opened the pantry and realized I was out of peanut butter. And bread.
Suddenly in the door of the freezer I spied a container that, wonder of wonders, was full of my delicious homemade chili stored away for a future meal!
Instantly, all was well. I became a whirlwind to match the spinning wheels in my mind. The chili went in a pot to heat on the stove. The oven went on, bowls and beaters came out and soon scratch-made cornbread was baking, mingling its sweet aroma with the rich and spicy chili.
China, napkins and utensils raced to the table and elegant serve ware came off the shelf. Tortilla chips, salsa and sour cream went into lovely bowls, and the soup stayed hot in an antique ironstone taurine. The table was lovely, the food would be satisfying, I had calmed down and all would be well.
My friend made it right on time, and thankfully, I did too.
This little scheduling mishap made us laugh and made me thankful for a few basic things that made last-minute entertaining doable.
Perhaps you would have called for takeout delivery without blinking, or canceled the whole thing in a panic? Whichever spectrum you may be on, here are some tips I discovered that day to be prepared for unexpected guests.
1. Cultivate an attitude of welcome and friendship.
2. Make peace with imperfection.
3. Have ready-made or easy to make foods in the freezer or pantry at all times.
4. Keep a local take-out menu handy!
Take inventory of your pantry: is it stocked for last-minute guests? I have been mindful since this event to put away some tasty frozen meals that guests would enjoy, and while I like making desserts from scratch, having boxed mixes and go-to recipes for quick entrees and desserts has proved helpful.
I also like to bake fresh muffins regularly, displayed in a domed cake stand to offer with tea or coffee to drop-in guests, or to be enjoyed by my children.
Many years ago I dined occasionally in the home of a large family who regularly invited others to join them for meals. I remember being impressed at the ease with which they did this: serving simple but hearty foods like spaghetti or roast beef and vegetables on their long table in the kitchen, and for dessert they offered a smorgasbord of prize-winning homemade cookies from the freezer, always kept in stock for guests. They had cultivated a lifestyle of hospitality, so they lived prepared to welcome others to their table.
As a person who delights in adding gracious touches and crafting a beautiful experience for both my family and guests, I often dress up simple, last-minute meals of comfort food quickly with elegant and accessible serve ware.
If you also enjoy creating a special touch, I recommend keeping fine china, tablecloths and napkins within arm’s reach for automatic use, rather than hidden away in a forgotten cupboard for “special events only.”
Here are some basic pieces to get started:
1. 1 Cake Stand
2. 1 large platter
3. 3 small platters
4. 3 serving bowls
5. 1 set of china dishes (service for 8)
6. 1 set of silverware (service for 8)
7. Silver serving spoons, ladle, tongs, forks, pie server)
You can add as you go and discover your needs and unique style. When stocking your china cabinet, white dishes are classic, neutral, and appropriate for every occasion, but if you prefer something with a bit more flare, look for colors and styles that compliment each other, are consistent with your dining room decor, and work for all seasons.
Last-minute hospitality happens frequently when you genuinely wish to spend time with people and are prepared to seize precious opportunities.
Recently, we unexpectedly ran into a couple of acquaintances who were visiting the church we attend. After service, we invited them back to the house to eat with us.
On the way home, my mind scrambled like a Chopped Champion to think of what foods I could pull together from our (again) near-empty weekend fridge, wondering in what chaotic condition we had left the house earlier that day.
As soon as we got home with our guests right behind us, I bolted for the front door and was relieved the mess inside was acceptable.
Basic cleanup was a simple checklist:
1. Wipe off the kitchen counter / table top / bathroom sink.
2. Straighten towels / pillows / rugs.
All the essential places were presentable and sanitary to set our guests at ease. Next, we quickly added these touches to make it welcoming:
1. Light candles in main spaces for fragrance and ambience.
2. Turn on soft music.
3. Take a deep breath and relax.
4. Give thanks for friendship and home.
5. Smile and enjoy.
All that happened in under 5 minutes, just in time for our guests to breeze happily through the door.
Simple ham sandwiches were the menu, but presented on nice china it seemed like a small feast with sliced ham and cheese, sliced bread and vegetable toppings on platters, and condiments, potato chips and macaroni salad in pretty bowls.
I was so tickled by how easy it was. This spontaneous dinner turned into hours of laughter, story telling, encouragement and prayer together, ending with full hearts.
How happy we were to have made space for this.
Last-minute hospitality can take place anytime. It can be inviting a coworker home for dinner, or pulling up a chair for the drop-in neighbor. It can be taking the opportunity to see a friend passing through town, or feeding a homeless person from the roadside for a night. Some simple steps of home preparation and mindfulness can turn that regretful “I wish I could” to a rewarding “I can."
When the priority is spending time together and enjoying fellowship in the comfort and closeness of home, all the details become secondary. Most people won’t mind your mess if you don’t mention it (read more here), and they are thrilled just to be wanted and invited into your personal space (more about that here). If you don’t have time to clean the house, do a simple wipe down of essential areas so guests feel comfortable. If you don’t have a meal ready to serve, buy takeout or keep food in the pantry that is easy to prepare like pasta, sauce, and brownie mix. Disposable plates and utensils are a great standby for casual meals, or if you enjoy treating guests to an elegant presentation, pick up affordable serving dishes at Home Goods or antique shops and get used to using them.
Above all else, keep a peaceful, joyful attitude that prioritizes people over performance, and relationships over convenience. By example, set an atmosphere that compels your family and your guests to come and linger in the special time and sacred space of home.
How do you feel about last-minute hosting? Please share your thoughts, ideas, and questions in the comments!