You never know when family or friends might drop in, but impromptu entertaining doesn't have to be something to dread. If you keep a few key staples on hand all the time, you'll be ready anytime someone comes knocking.
My mother used to say you never know who might come to your door. She was right, too -- my friends know they can drop by almost anytime and I'll be happy to receive them. Putting aside the irritation that comes with last-minute, unexpected visitors, and getting past the whole "let's just go out instead" alternative, let's talk about what to do when they show up.
You'll want to show them a little hospitality. We'll assume you have a cleaning regimen that keeps you home in decent condition, or at least in good enough condition that a quick pick-up (or shoving everything else into a cupboard) is all that's required. Here are a few things worth keeping on hand that will make any guest feel welcome and make your job as an impromptu host easier.
Wine,/Coffee/Tea: Always Have a Drink To Share
When I have a guest, the first thing I offer them is a drink. We're not saying you have to keep a fully stocked home bar, but having a reasonable selection definitely helps. A couple of spare bottles of wine will serve you really well too. When I had more space, I kept a case of my favourite (relatively cheap) beer nearby too.
If your guests don't drink or it's too early for booze, a cup of coffee or tea is just as good, and presumably something you have in place anyway. probably have coffee and tea in your house anyway.
Crisps/Crackers/Dips: Quick Snacks That Always Impress
Almost everyone loves a bowl of crisps, or a plate of crackers and some cheese. Keep a stock of potato crisps or corn chips in the pantry (and resist the urge to eat them on their own), as well as some savoury biscuits and crackers.
Nothing goes better with chips than dip, and nothing goes better with crackers than cheese. Your local supermarket probably has an array of block cheeses available, but if you have a few extra bucks, spring for the good stuff from the deli instead. If no visitors show up, you can always enjoy it yourself.
Pasta/Sauce: A Quick Dinner Option
Let's say your guests are stopping in for more than just a drink, and you want to actually make dinner. Let's also say you didn't have a lot of time to come up with a menu or hit the supermarket. It's hard to go wrong with dried pasta and a bottle of premade pasta sauce.
We're assuming you know how to properly cook pasta and the right way to sauce the pasta when it's done. If you've been following along, grab some of the cheese we mentioned earlier and grate some over your pasta to add extra flavour.
A Well-Stocked Spice Cabinet
Speaking of tweaking pre-packaged items, don't underestimate the power of a well-stocked spice cabinet to transform a dish. Whether you put together a special meal or make something out of a packet, a good selection of spices can turn something ordinary into something flavourful, and special. Even if you just order pizza or Chinese food and eschew cooking entirely, a trip to your spice cabinet can turn the pizza from your local chain pizzeria into something people will remember. The next day, your guests will thank you for your hospitality and ponder why the pizza at your place is so much better than the delivery they get.
Biscuits And Sweet Treats
Finally, keep a few sweet treats in the pantry. Some biscuits, cookies, light pastries -- anything you might have in the morning or afternoon with a cup of coffee or tea or after dinner will do. Again, there's no need to get too fancy. No reasonable guest will stop in for a cup of coffee and expect you to bake a pie.
We stuck to the food and cooking angle here, but keep in mind there's more to being a good host than just feeding your guests. A tidy home, a place to sit and talk, and a relatively comfortable space that doesn't make your guests feel awkward are all essentials. Check out our guide to being a good host, and you'll be on the right track.
With all that said, scale your efforts to the situation -- if it's a good friend at the door, they won't care if you've tidied up first, or if you crack a beer and order a pizza. If it's your landlord and you want to make a good impression, or your boss wants to drop by after work to say hello, you may want to invite them in, offer them a cup of coffee or a drink, and be more hospitable. Whatever the situation calls for, with these basic staples in your pantry, you'll be ready for anything.