How to Host Last-Minute Guests

By Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza

It happens every year without fail. As the holidays approach, our home tends to fill with guests and laughter and plenty of games and imbibing. Sometimes the evenings are planned and other times they happen as a natural extension of dinner out or an afternoon of wine tasting.

Entertaining in your home doesn’t have to be expensive, labor intensive, or formal. The best gatherings are often informal affairs, sometimes thrown together at the last minute. But that can often be easier said than done.

Here are my favorite plans when you need to host last-minute guests.

If you’re expecting last-minute guests for dinner

Get the basics in order. No need to worry about bonus rooms or bedrooms, just give the living and dining spaces and the kitchen a quick tidy, and don’t forget to give the bathroom a quick pass. If there’s something you can’t get to in time, cheat and put it in a bedroom or a closet and close it off until after guests leave.

For a last-minute dinner party, I always go for puttanesca. It’s inexpensive, takes less than half an hour to make, and can be easily adapted for vegans, vegetarians, and meat lovers alike.

Serve with crusty bread and a simple arugula salad. Pair puttanesca with a bottle of Sangiovese. This is a dry to semi-dry red wine that pairs brilliantly with tomato and olives.

For dessert, serve affogato, which is simply espresso poured over vanilla ice cream. If you don’t have an espresso maker, you can use a moka pot for a similarly strong brew.

Emily’s favorite puttanesca (serves eight)

  • Roughly 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 4 anchovy fillets (leave out if adapting for vegan guests)
  • 2 28-ounce cans San Marzano peeled tomatoes
  • 1/2 pound fresh cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 cup black olives, pitted and halved
  • 3 tablespoons capers
  • 2 pounds De Cecco dry spaghetti
  • Salt, black pepper, and crushed red pepper to taste
  • Fresh basil
  • Parmesan (leave out if adapting for vegan guests)

For meat lovers:

  • A pound of cooked ground beef can be added to in step four.
  1. Bring a pot of water to boil, adding a tablespoon of olive oil and a pinch of salt (this will keep the pasta from sticking to itself). Cook the pasta al dente.
  2. Slice the garlic and the anchovies and sauté in a Dutch oven or other large pot on medium-low heat.
  3. Lightly drain the tomatoes and crush them. Add to the Dutch oven and simmer until it begins to thicken. Add olives and capers, then add salt and (red and black) pepper to taste.
  4. Drain the pasta then add to Dutch oven with cherry tomatoes and simmer with pasta for a few minutes. (Add cooked ground beef if adapting for meat lovers.)
  5. Garnish with fresh basil and parmesan.
Photo by Adam Jaime

If you need to save the time of going to the grocery store, use a local grocery delivery service like Postmates or Amazon Prime Now and have the groceries waiting for you when you get home.

If you’re expecting a large crowd, order pizza from a local joint to save time and wow your guests with homemade cocktails. A Negroni typically pairs well with pizza.


  • 1 ounce gin
  • 1 ounce vermouth
  • 1 ounce Campari

Pour all ingredients into a mixing glass with ice and stir. Strain into a rocks glass filled with ice cubes and garnish with orange peel.

If you’re expecting overnight guests

When it comes to overnight guests, your job it to make them feel comfortable and welcome. Here are a few quick boxes to check when your last-minute guests are on their way.

Prepare the room

Make sure you have fresh sheets and pillowcases on the bed. Provide an extra blanket as well in case your guests get chilly. Lay out clean towels and washcloths. Give the room a quick vacuum and dusting.

My guest room essential is always fresh flowers. If you’re short on time, use a service like Bouqs, which offers next-day delivery on affordable and beautiful fresh flower arrangements.

Create a peaceful atmosphere by diffusing essential oils. We like the yummy scents from Way of Will. Their Cedarwood oil is great for stress relief (perfect around the holidays) or try the Sweet Orange essential oil for a bright and energizing scent.

Make sure your guests have a place to hang clothes, so you may need to move some winter coats out of that closet.

Stock the essentials

Maybe you can take your guests out for dinner when they arrive, but they’ll be hungry in the morning too. Use that ultra-sweet grocery delivery service and stock up on the following.

  • Coffee, tea, and cream
  • Fresh fruit like plums, oranges, and bananas
  • A big fluffy loaf of bread (I recommend brioche)
  • Butter and jam (or try pumpkin butter)
  • Eggs
  • Fresh, ground sausage

The most important thing to remember when you’re hosting guests, whether last-minute or expected, is to enjoy yourself. Don’t prepare a meal so elaborate that you can’t spend plenty of time with your guests. Make sure there’s plenty of drinks or coffee or tea to keep you and your company engaged in comfy conversation. Hospitality isn’t about making your time together perfect, it’s about making all feel welcome and loved.

Let's Keep a Good Thing Going


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