Last-Minute Party Tips and Hors d’Oeuvres You Can Make on the Fly

When you’re having friends over at the last minute, follow these tips, tricks, and easy, always-pleasing appetizers that take only minutes to prepare from Katie Lee, author of The Comfort Table: Recipes for Everyday Occasions.

It’s cocktail hour somewhere! And having a versatile bar makes it that much more fun when guests arrive. In addition to spirits and mixers, it’s a great idea to keep a drink-mixing guide by the bar in case someone requests a cocktail you’re not familiar with.

my essentials

  • bourbon
  • vodka
  • light rum
  • gin
  • tequila
  • vermouth
  • mixers (tonic, seltzer, juices)
  • tools (ice bucket and tongs, shaker, strainer, two-sided jigger, bottle opener)

If I’m having friends over for drinks last minute, these are my go-to hors d’oeuvres. They take only minutes to prepare and are always a hit and appropriate for any occasion.

  • Wrap store-bought breadsticks in prosciutto.
  • Fill endive leaves with hummus and dust with paprika. (Endive leaves make great vessels for other simple, tasty combinations as well, like goat cheese with crushed walnuts and drizzled with honey, or smoked salmon with crème fraîche and chives.)
  • Make a variety of crostini by toasting thinly sliced baguettes and topping with goat cheese and roasted red pepper, Gorgonzola and fig jam, ricotta with olive oil and sea salt, or olive tapenade.
  • Marinate olives with fresh herbs and red pepper flakes.
  • Season nuts with chili powder and toast lightly.


  • Make lists, lists, and more lists of everything that needs to be done for the party.
  • Clean and set up the party space the day before.
  • To save space, move any nonessential furniture out of the party area and into your bedroom.
  • Stash old mail, magazines, and any other loose papers in decorative tins or baskets out of eyesight.
  • Take some time to tidy up your bathroom. Clear your sink of beauty product clutter, put out fresh soap, clean hand towels, and plenty of toilet paper.
  • Short on space? Clear off the shelf of a bookcase and use for bar setup with martini and wine glasses, a couple of drink garnishes, and plenty of cocktail napkins.
  • Designated drivers and nondrinkers shouldn’t be forced to drink water all night. Offer a nonalcoholic drink such as a fruit spritzer. Just mix fruit juice, club soda, and sliced fruit.
  • To break the ice, give an outgoing friend a tray of hors d’oeuvres to pass around, and put another friend on drink duty.
  • When it’s time to wrap up the party, turn the lights up and put away the booze.

Katie Lee, author of The Comfort Table: Recipes for Everyday Occasions (Copyright © by Katie Lee), is the food and lifestyle contributor for The Early Show and has appeared on Oprah, Today, Extra, The Martha Stewart Show, Paula’s Best Dishes, and Iron Chef America. She has been featured in publications such as People, Vanity Fair, Town & Country, and InStyle, and writes a regular column for Cosmopolitan. Outside of her culinary adventures, she enjoys spending time in her organic garden and traveling. She lives in New York City.