Last-Minute Party Planning Tips

How to prepare for an impromtu gathering that's sure to be a crowd pleaser

Credit: iStock / sjlocke

Try these 8 steps to whip together an instant Christmas party everyone will love

Your last-minute party is sure to be a crowd pleaser if you follow these prep steps

The tree is up, and your shopping is done. You’ve thought of everything, or so you believe. But what happens when you get a phone call from friends or family who want to drop by in a few hours for a bit of holiday cheer? Don’t panic, read on!

Take Stock

What’s in the fridge and cupboards that could make an easy party favour? Do you need to run out to the store? Which are the messiest rooms and which areas are guests unlikely to see? Make a quick to-do list before you spring into action.

Divide, Conquer

Now’s the time to enlist family. Assign someone the job of running to the store, if possible, and give everyone else a room to tidy, and one food item to prepare. If you’re on your own, make a list of the top five tasks in order or priority, and tackle them one by one.

Speed Clean

Prioritize the bathroom and living room and consider closing doors to bedrooms, dens, office areas and the kitchen, if possible. Tackle the bathroom first. Store any clutter, such as razors, toothbrushes and cosmetics. Then wipe surfaces quickly with a damp rag and a spritz of cleaner to remove dust and grime. Give the toilet bowl a quick scrub and put out fresh hand towels. Zip through the living room and other open areas and take care of any clutter, visible dirt, smudges or dust.

Add Ambiance

Dim the lights and light some candles. It creates a cozy, holiday vibe – and hides any leftover mess. Try spice- or pine-scented candles. Christmas music is de rigueur – if you don’t have any on hand, download from an online provider like iTunes or eMusic.

Dress Up Your Decor

You probably have some combination of tree, lights, stockings and Santas up, but if you’re looking to add sophistication, display Christmas cards in coordinating colours around the home. Cluster silver-and-white ornaments and tree trimmings on white or crystal dishes (glass, silver and white say Christmas without screaming). Use Christmas tree trimmings and extra ornaments to spruce up other areas of the house.

Table It

Clear your table and cover it with a Christmas tablecloth, or use a bit of festive fabric or wrapping paper as a runner. If you don’t have a Christmassy centerpiece or dishes at the ready, pop outside and grab some twigs, pinecones, evergreen sprigs or winter berries. Or better yet, steal from the Christmas tree: clippings and ornaments in a glass vase or hurricane make a festive focal point for your spread.

Find Fast Food

Plan to make it a buffet. If you have time for a bit of food prep, look for recipes with under five ingredients and less-than-20-minute prep times (really, you’ll thank us). If not, the grocery store run is all-important: you’ll need a veggie tray, a meat-and-cheese platter, some frozen appetizers (Costco to the rescue!) and a quick main dish – try finger sandwiches or pizza. Most people have more than enough Christmas goodies and chocolates – put yours out on a pretty plate with some candy canes or tree trimmings. Stock up on wine and beer, too. Mulled wine is easy to make, and its sweet, spicy fragrance will permeate your home.


Need a quick gift for a guest? It’s always a good idea to pick up a few small, unmarked unisex gifts along with your other presents that you can offer up in a pinch. If you don’t have anything around, hop online and buy an e-gift card from a local retailer. It may not be the most personal gift, but it’s better than re-gifting your own presents (tacky!). Another option: pop some Christmas baking into a small gift bag as a take-away.