Organizing a party pantry

I was recently given a copy of the book Simple Stunning Parties at Home by its author Karen Bussen. In the book, Karen suggests organizing a “party pantry” so that “when it’s time to throw a dinner party or a wine and cheese night on the spur of the moment, I look [to it] for design inspiration, and I pull together all the elements I need.” She lives in a small New York City apartment, so her party pantry isn’t large or cluttered. She recommends a “small closet, a cupboard in the kitchen, or an antique hutch — whatever works for you.”

One of the reasons I have committed myself to living an uncluttered, simple life is because I want to be able to enjoy time with those I love. Being able to invite friends and family over to the house on a moment’s notice is important to me, and an uncluttered home makes this stress-free and simple. Having an organized party pantry makes these surprise events even easier — and so I’m working to create one in my kitchen.

In addition to the obvious tableware, Karen suggests having snacks and condiments with long shelf lives in your party pantry. I’ve always struggled with knowing which types of snacks work well as appetizers or finger foods, so I found this list extremely helpful (from page 23):

  • Packaged plain breadsticks
  • Jars of olives, pickled jalapenos, stuffed grape leaves, and roasted sweet peppers
  • Pistachios and mixed nuts or trail mixes
  • Dill pickles
  • Bottles of my favorite pasta sauce and a few types of past
  • Boxes of crispbreads and crackers
  • A variety of unusual chips (root vegetable, pita, tortilla, and others)
  • Dried fruits (apricots, cranberries, cherries, and golden raisins)
  • Plain microwave popcorn
  • Dried Italian sausages and salami
  • Biscotti and other cookies

Obviously, you wouldn’t need to keep all of these items in your party pantry. Rather, this is a list of possibilities for things that are good to store and serve. It is also fun to finish the rest of the jar or box of snacks after your guests leave. My mouth is watering just thinking about this list.

What snacks and supplies do you have on hand for unexpected guests? How do you organize your party pantry? Tell us about your setup in the comments.

29 Comments for “Organizing a party pantry”

  1. posted by Michele Connolly, Get Organized Wizard on

    Uncluttered entertaining – I love it!
    Thanks, Erin.

  2. posted by miss minimalist on

    I try to keep my pantry rather minimal, but usually have some gourmet crackers, olives, nuts, and artisan cheeses on hand for entertaining. (And of course, a few bottles of wine!)

    Such items also make a nice, light dinner on nights we don’t feel like cooking. :-)

  3. posted by Rod on

    I’m having trouble understanding why a box dedicated to regularly doling out microwave popcorn is a Unitasker and a whole pantry dedicated to occasional parties is not.

  4. posted by Lose That Girl on

    I don’t keep such items in my pantry but I do have a wonderful gourmet shopping mart at the end of my road that I can pop down to on a moment’s notice — that’s my uncluttered pantry tip! :)

    But I realize that not everyone has this luxury.

  5. Profile photo of Erin Doland

    posted by Erin Doland on

    @Rod — One clutters up your life, the other is why you unclutter.

  6. posted by daney on

    We host bbq’s from time to time and I now have 2 nested big restaurant/food service style dish pans with extra tongs, extra salt and pepper shakers, empty squeeze bottles, food service gloves, and rock salt (for the ice cream maker)in one of the upper cabinets of the kitchen.

    When we designed the kitchen, I had extra cabinets placed under the island/bar where your feet are when seated. Not good storage for every day usage, but great for party/special occaision stuff. Those cabinets have my china, xmas dishes and pressed glass dessert plates and matching cups(the kind grandma had – hostess sets). I can pull them out before a party, wash them and return them to their place without a special trip to the storage closets. I thought if I didn’t make a dedicated storage spot in the kitchen, I might as well give up having “special” dishes and sell them. Either have them where they can be used or don’t have them at all…

    I host a couple of “ladies” meetings each year and usually manage another shower or party – so the hostess sets get used.

    I don’t keep food on hand for parties – except from Nov 1st to mid-January. During that time, I have extra cheese balls (a friend’s charity makes and sells great ones in November each year – I order 6 or more to have on hand and to bring as hostess gifts), crackers and usually cookies or other baked goodies. Last year I kept water chestnuts and bacon on hand to do hot nibblies…

  7. posted by me on

    Peter Walsh would vote a big NO on this idea. Unless you truly party. But if it is only in hopes of becoming a host/hostess, then no, this is just more clutter.

  8. posted by Joe Ganley on

    Heh. If I did this, I’d just eat it all myself. Far better to buy it only then there’s an imminent party.

  9. posted by Michele on

    If having guests over is a very regular event for you and an important part of your life, I think having a party pantry is a great idea. I’d analogize it to a hobby. You have a dedicated place in your home for your hobby supplies, whether it’s hockey or crafting or music or home canning, right? For some people that hobby could be having parties, and it makes sense to keep yourself stocked up so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time you have people over.

    I put “home canning” in the list there because it’s a major hobby (and lifestyle choice, actually) of mine. I have a designated place in my pantry for canning supplies, and I stock up on lids, pectin, non-iodized salt, pickle spices, cane sugar, etc., when they go on sale. If I didn’t have an unclutterer-type of solution for my canning hobby, I would waste time and money running everywhere to try to find these necessaries on a day when I want to do some canning. That’s particularly important for canning because sometimes I get a large quantity of free or low-cost produce unexpectedly and have to do the canning immediately. I’d hate to get a flat of beautiful raspberries, for example, and not have pectin right on hand. Different type of hobby, but same concept as a party pantry.

    As for parties, I always keep a few bottles of wine on hand. But most of the stuff on that party pantry list sounds more high-class than most of the parties I throw, LOL!

  10. posted by EM on

    Interesting idea but better if you integrate party and special food into your everyday living. Our regular pantry contains most of what I need and we often have impromptu parties at our house. A fully stocked freezer, a selection of crackers, at least one good cheese on hand all the time and our winery neighbors means simple parties are easy. And the party may just be the 2 of us having a special dinner. Why do we fail to use the good china and the special food with our families? If it’s something you like use it, otherwise it is really clutter.

  11. posted by Lori Paximadis on

    I wish we had more opportunities to do impromptu parties, but it just doesn’t happen often. When we do, it’s usually a friend coming over who will share in whatever we’re doing for a “normal” dinner, so no special prep is required. We *always* have wine around the house, and something that could serve as an appetizer snack, like hummus, nuts, or cheeses, which are part of our regular diet.

    We do occasionally host larger planned parties, and I kind of enjoy making a special shopping trip for those, so we don’t really have any special food stocked up just for parties. We have extra plates and flatware (along with paper plates and plasticware for big cookouts) in our mudroom closet, and I have a cabinet full of wineglasses.

    My mom also loves to entertain and does it often, and she has a great party pantry with a ton of Corelle plates (lightweight and practically indestructible, but not paper or plastic), a few sets of flatware, and wineglasses. Around the holidays she always has extra cookie dough in the freezer that could be popped into the oven at a moment’s notice.

  12. posted by Dawn F. on

    If you don’t have a lot of space to store party foods you could order some fun party food trays from your local grocery store/deli to pick-up the day of the party. Our grocer has a wonderful assortment – from sandwiches to cheeses to wings, etc. Yes, I know it’s more expensive (probably), but super easy for people short on time, energy and space.

    You could even send the leftovers home in little disposable storage containers as a treat to the guest and to you (for not having to store them or eat them later).

    I guess in a way I do have a little party pantry – for paper goods. I have a lovely picnic basket in my pantry that I keep stocked with birthday, holiday and other assorted festive paper plates and napkins (all on sale). MANY times these plates and fun napkins have spruced up a small get-together.

  13. posted by WilliamB on

    I can see that many of these food items have a long – but not eternal! – shelf life. But biscotti and bread? How stuffed are they with chemicals to make them last that long? I’d recommed having having breadsticks in the freezer instead.

    Overall my vote is with me, Michelle, and EM, particuarly Michelle’s analogizing it with organizing your hobby. If you party a lot then this works; if not, it’s a suboptimal use of space and the food will eventually go stale. I also like Dawn F’s idea of keeping party paperware stashed away.

  14. posted by Rod on

    @Erin- I guess I still don’t get it- not arguing that a microwave popcorn dispenser is worthwhile, even tucked away in a cupboard displacing a box- I just can’t see that having separate stuff specifically designed to sit around for along time will declutter someone’s life, since it adds to “stuff”. And then when used, it doesn’t have the qualities of caring and freshness, that good friends deserve, right?

  15. posted by Amandine on

    This sounds similar to what we keep in my family’s “snack cupboard”: crackers, popcorn, dried fruit, nuts, cookies, etc. It’s simply a designated shelf in the pantry closet. I keep it stocked and my kids know anything on that shelf is fair game for both them & their friends. It’s been a lifesaver when a teenage horde descends on the house unexpectedly. I keep foods we normally eat for snacks, so it doesn’t get stale or spoil.

    On a lower shelf I keep a stash of paper goods for serving guests, but I really like the Corelle idea–less waste.

  16. posted by Anita on

    I’m with @EM. Don’t wait for an “occasion” to use the good stuff, just enjoy what you have. I never keep things “just in case someone comes over” or “to use only on special occasions”. I just make sure everything I own is nice and that I wouldn’t mind having my guests eat my “regular” food out of my “everyday” plates :)

    If someone shows up unannounced, I usually have some chocolates and/or a tin of good tea biscuits in my pantry, plus my favourite tea blends, good cheese, and maybe a bottle of wine. And if I’m planning a party, making/choosing the food for it is part of the fun. I’d rather take an hour and make fresh cookies/biscotti/scones/biscuits than keep a bunch of generic finger foods on hand.

  17. posted by Jessiejack on

    I must agree with Rod & Anita on this one. I think a separate party pantry area is more clutter. My parties are usually scheduled and I enjoy shopping for fresh food,flowers etc. If they are spontaneous, guests are served from whatever crackers, cheese etc is on hand or we make a quick stop at the store. I would never stock snacks on hold for a possible party.

  18. posted by Confused on

    I agree with Rod & Jessiejack. A party pantry sounds like clutter to me.

    If these aspects are important to you, wouldn’t the items you need already be in your home, stored in an uncluttered, accessible way? Why create a whole new space for them? Or worse yet, go out and buy more things to put somewhere new?

    I guess I don’t get it. Sorry.

  19. posted by susan on

    I have to agree with a lot of the others as well. It seems like clutter. Use the nice stuff for yourself not save it for…maybe. Shopping and preparing for a party is part of the fun and fresh homemade is better.
    I don’t get it either. Seems like potential waste (space and money) also.

  20. posted by Beth Frede on

    I think this could actually be a great idea for a young couple, maybe just getting their first place, to help them stock up on some basics (maybe “basics” that are a nicer version than what they’d buy themselves). It might be more useful to include everyday use items as well.

  21. posted by Another Deb on

    I would love to hear what people keep on hand for their own impromptu gatherings. Aside from a few bottles of wine, is there anyone who keeps fixins for a last-minute recipe that always works?

    It’s like any hobby, and if it serves your purposes, it won’t be clutter. Myself, I am not an entertainer. Anyone who drops by the house looking for a nip and a snack is likely to get a dose of Nyquil and a few outdated vitamins.

  22. posted by Karyn on

    @Rod, et al – I think the idea is that for anyone who finds the idea of a “party pantry” useful, the stuff WON’T be “sitting around a long time.” ;-) As I understand it, this suggestion is for people who tend to have guests dropping by on a fairly regular basis, as a way to plan and organize their lives around something that’s an important part of it: company at home.

    If that’s not part of your lifestyle, then no problem, just ignore the Not Applicable To Me suggestion, just like the Company-Hosting Crowd would ignore a post on how to better organize one’s life around, say, sitting at home playing World Of Warcraft. ;-)

    For what it’s worth, I’m pretty much a hermit, albeit not the WOW-playing kind, but even so I find it useful to think in terms of having a few nonperishable items on hand for those times when friends or family drop by on short notice. Of course, I also have a half-dozen independent pizza parlors within delivery range, so often as not my answer is, “Let’s order pizza!”

  23. posted by Marie on

    Holy nitrates, Batman! That list is a migraine waiting to happen.

    We are extremely casual, and any unexpected guests we have know that and go with the flow. (Seriously, we have hippie wanderer friends who live in other countries drop in out of the blue.) We might decide to start grilling salmon at midnight, or make breakfast out of cookie dough. There’s no rhyme or reason to our pantry, I must admit.

  24. posted by Sky on

    Dawn F: I love your picnic basket with your napkins, plates, etc. I have my Mom’s, think I’ll do the same!

    As for the party pantry, not my style. Too complicated.

  25. posted by Sue on

    Impromptu gatherings? Can’t say I’ve ever hosted such an event.

    All of my gatherings are planned far in advance so I have time to clear my clutter, clean my house, and prepare my menu.

  26. posted by lola meyer on

    Thanks for the tip on the book Erin- I’ll be asking our library to get this. For our lifestyle, this is very useful as we tend to be the ‘social hub’ for many different groups-my son’s friends, my husband’s buddies, and my girlfriends. Sometimes it seems as if we should install a revolving door! But it’s all fun, and I am always interested in ideas for being prepared and efficient.

  27. posted by bernie on

    i absolutely love! this idea. i need a stash away from my husband and kids coz if i buy party type food for just in case, they eat it the moment it hits the pantry! i know because i have tried. i have a drawer under my pantry (that’s currently filled with clutter) that would do the job perfectly (as long as i don’t tell them it’s there!). so i can say to the school mum “sure come over for a cuppa” because i’d have something to give her with it or to friends who phone on the weekend “sure come over” coz we’d have some chips to have with the beer or wine. entertaining stresses me out but i enjoy being social so this idea will go a long way to easing that stress in future. i reckon i could store some jars of salsa, a box of tacos and some beans in there too. now i think about it, pappadams and an extra jar of mango chutney to go with the lentils and rice in the main pantry and the back up bag of frozen veg from the freezer could happily feed a whole bunch of people on the spur of the moment. i’m not very organised with my normal pantry either and am constantly running out of stuff like if only i had a tin of tomatoes i could make such and such or if only i had a tin of chickpeas i could make something else. i might use that drawer as a back up for my main pantry so i’ve always got something to make a nutritious meal with when i’ve got nothing in and i can’t bear the thought of dragging the kids to the shops. really great post…i’m off to declutter that drawer.

  28. posted by Rose on

    We lead a simple, fairly uncluttered life – but I still follow this idea. People are often stopping by our house (extended family, friends, childrens’ friends) and there are any number of occasions where we need spur-of-the moment nibbles/treats. The list is a lot of what we keep on hand.
    Just this weekend when we were working outdoors all day and neighbors were doing the same, we discovered that we were both watching/cheering for the St Louis Cardinals later that evening. Nice to invite them in to watch the game and have something on hand for refreshments. I would not have enjoyed running somewhere for food – it was enough for a hot shower and game time.

    We do replenish (even things kept in the freezer)on a somewhat regular basis, by having one of those nice evenings to ourselves that someone else mentioned (and at least a couple of those evenings have been when I’ve been so happy to have some nice quality nibbles just for the two — or four — or all six of us, along with a plate of fresh fruit. feels like luxury – and yes, we’re enjoying along the way, instead of saving it for the rainy day.)

    For our lifestyle, this idea works — and we keep it simple.

  29. posted by 5 Online Resources To Help You Unclutter & Decorate your Home | jacobW.com on

    […] categorized into Home Organization and Parties and Celebrations. The article recommends to create a party pantry for spontaneous get togethers and provides a list of items to […]

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