Instant Entertaining: What to Feed Unexpected Guests

How many times have you had an unexpected guest drop by and all of a sudden it turns into an hour plus long “catch up” session? More importantly, how many times have you been the perfect gracious hostess – “Let me pull out some snacks!” – only to remember you really need to go grocery shopping. Basically the options you’re down to are box-o-raisins or asparagus.

Here’s your solution: stock up and always keep these grocery items on hand.

My husband Chris and I have finally reached that peak adulthood moment where we actually have a few people we like who stop by unannounced. Being the feeders we are, we always like to have snacks on hand. Snacks always make hanging out more fun. Over the past few years, combined with the work we do food styling and photographing food, we’ve gotten pretty darn good at figuring out a system for no-fail entertaining.

Let me be clear: this is not a dinner party. This is a let’s snack on things situation, so don’t get all upset that there are limited vegetables or it’s ‘unbalanced’. Eat your cheese and be happy, Nancy.

I think a successful drop-in snack boils down to two categories: sweet or salty. For savory and salty, our go to is a cheeseboard. But a more accurate name we call it is a ‘snackcuterie’ platter. If you’re going for sweet, you’ve got a bounty of fast fix options. And the best part? You can make both work by keeping a few things in your pantry, fridge or freezer.

Before we dive into the grocery list, let’s get set up for success with supplies. A good platter will take you very, very far. You can use it for seated dinners, football watch parties, and for instant entertaining needs. A platter can be a marble cutting board, a shallow large bowl or a very large plate. Use your personality and find one you love!

For the best snacking success, items that don’t require forks, knives or spoons are idea. Cocktail picks make great semi-forks for ‘snackcuterie’ board items like artichoke hearts that just are not finger worthy. There are so many beautiful cocktail picks on the market these days (no more basic toothpicks with funny frills on top!). I’ve seen everything from beautiful gold tone bees to simple copper circles that I adore.

Lastly, small bowls and plates will take you so far. Small bowls contain savory items like nuts, pickles and more, or even small scoops of ice cream. A small plate can serve as a landing pad for crostini, olive pits or a freshly baked cookie. The fun thing about any of these supplies is that they can be totally different from your matching kitchen dishware. Have fun!

Salty: A “snackcuterie” board.

  • A pickled item: From peppadew peppers to cornichons, okra to beets, something acidic will cut through heavier items.
  • A cheese: Feta, aged cheddar, brie or burrata, you can easily work around whatever is on hand. A solid set of cheese knives means you can pull as many as you need for as many cheeses as you are serving.
  • Aged meat: I’ve been sent caribou smoked and aged sausage from my cousin in Alaska, and it was the perfect long lasting meat (don’t knock it ’til you try it). While there are lots of salty, aged meats to choose from, the nice thing is they last a while in the fridge if unopened. If it’s “guest drop in season”, I’d say it isn’t such a bad idea to pick some up once or twice a month and use as needed. No guests = solid snack situation for you.
  • Fruit: Honestly this is the easiest one. You can play so much with seasonality here. In winter you can use citrus or dried fruit. In spring, strawberries always appear for me. Summer is when I bust out the melon or stone fruit. Fall? Apples always.
  • A spread: Now’s your chance to clear out your pantry or be creative. If you’ve got a random mango chutney jar, it’s actually pretty delicious with a brie in my opinion. Use jams, or whatever you want to get rid of.
  • Bread, crackers or a ‘surface’: Easy to keep in the pantry, stock up on at Costco, or use up the leftovers from your local bakery.
  • Extras: nuts, chocolate, or whatever else you can sprinkle in the mix!


  • Frozen Cookies: This can go one of two ways. You can either make a frozen log of cookie dough and slice/bake off as needed (HELLO, fresh baked cookies?!) or you can bake a batch of cookies, freeze on a baking sheet flat and then bag in an airtight vessel. Just reheat and you’re good to go!
  • Frozen Croissants: Okay, hear me out. You can either buy them at your bakery and freeze like the cookies and bag, or you can make your own that you can bake off frozen. There’s also an in-between of raiding the Freezer aisle at Trader Joe’s. Serve with a variety of spreads and bask in the glorious scent of pastry to the sound of compliments.
  1. Ice Cream: If you served me ice cream if I dropped in, I’d be on cloud nine! You could buy fun popsicles, ice cream sandwiches, or whatever strikes your fancy. Want to make your own ice cream? Here’s our go-to base recipe for ice cream.