Throwing a successful last-second event requires a little planning and organization to make it happen with style and ease. Here are some tips:
Select foods that can be made ahead, like these Spinach-Filled Red Pepper Swirls.
Be realistic. Don't try to do too much. These kinds of gatherings are meant to be informal and relaxed, so make sure the food and the setting -- and you -- are, too. Know how quickly you like to work in the kitchen and plan the menu around what you can easily accomplish on short notice.
Don't apologize for serving take-out food. It's the company and atmosphere that are important.
Choose foods for dinner or snacking that can be made ahead and reheated, or ones that are easy to fix at the last minute. To be sure you have what you need, keep the ingredients for a few quick-to-fix foods on hand.
For dessert, don't hesitate to buy something from the bakery; embellish it if you like. Or, simply pass a plate of fresh fruit, nuts, and chocolates.
If possible, set the table the night before the party; place beverages in the refrigerator to chill overnight.