How to Throw a Last-Minute Party

Hosting stage fright seems to stem from the lack of one of three things: time, money or space. We say, don't sweat any of them!
Impromptu Party

NO TIME? New York party planners Ann David and Nicky Reinhard suggest serving Chinese or Thai takeout, arranged on platters. Use bright, lacquered chopsticks and colorful paper takeout boxes (check sites like pearlriver.com and papermart.com). If cooking, focus on the main course and fake the rest, says chef Jennifer Schaertl, author of Gourmet Meals in Crappy Little Kitchens; think store-bought spinach-artichoke dip served in a bread bowl for a starter.

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NO MONEY? Play the numbers, starting with the ones on the clock: Host noon brunch. The ingredients (eggs, fruit and juice) will cost a fraction of what you'd need to cook dinner, notes David. Ditto for a 5 p.m. cocktails-and-hors d'oeuvres fete, where folks don't expect as much food. At the store, think like a restaurant would: Plan on 4 to 6 ounces of protein and 1/3 cup of vegetables or starch per person. For apps, estimate about two of each per guest, Schaertl says.

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NO SPACE? If you have a backyard, then you have more room. Even a puny patio or porch to open the doors onto will make a party feel more spacious. Lure people outside with tubs of ice and drinks, and a small table of appetizers -- maybe even one that isn't on the indoor menu. For dinner parties in cramped quarters, rely on onepot wonders like frittatas, risotto, paella or gumbo. Anything that can be tossed, cooked and served in a single pot or pan frees up space.

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