We’ve all been there – 7p.m. Friday night you learn a friend is in town tomorrow and wants to do dinner — or your spouse casually mentions having invited friends over for dinner this weekend. Whatever the scenario, the problem is the same: You’re hosting, and you’ve had little to no time to prepare. The good news is you don’t have to resort to ordering takeout and sprucing up the table with a sad bouquet of fake flowers. We tapped entertainer extraordinaire Courtney Whitmore of Pizzazzerie to share her tips and tricks to executing a last-minute dinner party that doesn’t feel last-minute at all.
SET THE SCENE AND MAKE A LIST
“To get started, I pull together dishes and decor on my indoor dining table for staging. Seeing the tablescape set allows me to see what I’m missing so I can make a quick shopping list. Then, on party day, I already have all my pieces together and simply take it outside. I also tend to stick to white, glass, or simple silver serving pieces so they’ll always coordinate. Several gorgeous lanterns in a couple of colors, like the Pagoda Lanterns, help bring ambience to the outdoor setting.”
MAKE YOUR OWN ARRANGEMENTS
“I skip professional arrangements and make my own using flowers from the market. A small and easy trick is wrapping the inside of clear vases to hide the stems. A couple small bouquets mixed with gorgeous lanterns give the party a pretty glow and lovely scent.”
CREATE AN OVEN-FREE MENU
“Next I create a menu with as many oven-free dishes as possible so I’ll be able to spend more time with my guests and less time in the kitchen. Super Chill bowls really come in handy for this, especially for summer parties. Chilled salads and appetizers leave ample time to grill an entrée outside like barbecue-glazed salmon or steaks. As for drinks, I always like to serve a sparkling water with mint as well as wines and maybe a signature cocktail. Keep it easy – you don’t have to serve more than a couple of options. Lastly, beverage tubs pulled up by the party table mean you won’t have to spend your time getting up and down to refill drinks, so this is a must-have for me! At the actual party, I want my focus on keeping the conversation going so these pieces help me enjoy the party as well.”
SPRUCE UP STORE-BOUGHT DESSERTS
“When I’m short on time, I have a little trick that makes dessert a breeze: pick up a store-bought cheesecake and top it with fresh berries. Add a few extra blooms on top from your flowers and you’re looking at a beautiful dessert! If it’s a birthday you’re celebrating, just ask for a plain white buttercream cake and add blooms on top. Placing desserts on cake stands will give them a more polished presentation.”
ADD A PERSONAL TOUCH
“Adding a personalized touch is my favorite way to make the dinner feel special. One of my favorite party tips is customizing place cards to coordinate with the decor. For example, I took the photo of the Elephant Appetizer Plates, and isolated the elephant graphic for my place cards. Just trace around the elephant, save it as a separate file, and add names in a fun calligraphy font. Print on heavy, white cardstock and cut! You can recreate this idea for any design, pattern or graphic. You can also take it one step further by using the graphic to create favor tags, banners, menu cards or invitations.”
For even more entertaining secrets, be sure to check out Courtney’s forthcoming book Entertain in Style: Tablescapes & Recipes for the Modern Hostess.
MEET COURTNEY OF PIZZAZZERIE
My favorite thing about summer entertaining is …
Being able to sit outdoors. Hello gorgeous weather, fire pits and fireflies …
Post-party cleanup: the night of or the next morning?
Definitely the night of so you don’t wake up to a mess the next morning!
I’d rather host a party than attend because …
I love to decorate the table. You could say tablescapes are my passion!
My go-to conversation starter …
Do you have any pets? I’m a huge dog lover!
My signature emoji is …