Here is a short list of things you're unlikely to hear at a party: "Let's start a game of Monopoly." "Oh I love discussing politics." And of course, from the host: "I wish I spent more time in the kitchen and away from my guests." When it comes to hosting an effortless event, the key isn't an open floor plan or even your grandmother's cookie recipe—it's having hidden secrets like Whole Foods and the corner coffee shop in your back pocket.
Even the experts agree: It's OK—nay, it's expected—that you, as a host, rely on a few store-bought staples to round our your spread and save your time and sanity in the kitchen. To prove it, we asked a few party masters what they like to grab from the store before a big bash. (Survey says: appetizers and desserts!)
And psst... Want to learn more about our experts? Check out their "table cred" right here: Meet the Entertaining Experts
"There's no need to make appetizers or desserts that require too much work. Find one local store that offers great cured meats and cheeses and another that makes great desserts. Pick up your favorite fixings on the way home and arrange them on a pretty platter. Done and done."
— Kate Arends, Wit & Delight
"Margarita Mix. There are some great natural options like Tommy's Margarita Mix that save a ton of time, especially if you are entertaining a larger group."
— Lauren Conrad, The Little Market
"My appetizers are always store bought. My go-to is a giant cheese spread made with tapenades, cheeses, and charcuterie all from my local deli. I just have to open the containers and lay it out pretty on my cheeseboard."
— Jordan Ferney, Oh Happy Day!
"Desserts, I think. I wish I was more of a baker—so for now, I would pick up cakes, cookies, macarons or creatively flavored donuts (Donut Friend is a favorite) to serve as sweets."
— Chantal Aida Gordon, The Horticult
"Fresh cut pineapple, definitely. I'll freeze it and use it for smoothies. I also do the same for bagged organic spinach; it's spun dry and can be stored in the bag as is in the freezer for drinks. I realize smoothies may not scream 'entertaining,' but with everyone on some kind of crazy health kick lately, you'd be surprised how popular it is to bring out the Vitamix."
— Danny Seo, Naturally, Danny Seo
"Ice cream. I never had any interest in making it, though it's something I really love."
— Holly Becker, Decor8
"Pesto. Don't get me wrong. It's totally worth it to buy fresh basil and make it yourself, but if you're in a pinch or on a budget, I promise store bought vs homemade is not going to make or break your dish."
— Roxy Te, Society Social
"Labor-intensive things like homemade pasta. It's a fun thing to do on a Sunday evening but maybe not for a dinner party when you have a lot of other things to do. So, I'll outsource and buy fresh pasta at Whole Foods or Eataly."
— Sarah Ashley Schiear, Salt House Market
"Desserts. I am not a baker by any means so store bought desserts save my life. To make them unique, I add fresh fruit or a chocolate or caramel sauce."
— Michiel Perry, Black Southern Belle
"I secretly love to buy the 'homemade' dessert toppings from a local bakery—like their caramel and vanilla bourbon sauces, or the extra fluffy whipped cream. Of course you can also never go wrong with King's Hawaiian Rolls, either."
— Ashley Rose, Sugar & Cloth
"Truthfully, I think half the fun of entertaining is the homemade side of it all. That being said, I know we're all looking to stress a little less, and save as much time as possible. How I stay cool, calm, and collected is focusing on cutting my prep time in half. I'll purchase as many pre-cut ingredients possible such as vegetables, fruits, nuts, cheeses, etc. I also pass on the from-scratch pie dough, and go with the ready-to-bake kind."
— Mandy Kellogg Rye, Waiting on Martha
"I love to assemble appetizers using high-quality store-bought ingredients: olives, cheeses, baguette slices, figs or pears, marcona almonds, some charcuterie. It's delicious and easy—and lets me focus on the main course!"
— Camille Styles, CamilleStyles.com
"Anything possible. There's so much to do when entertaining that if you can buy anything and add to it, it's way better than feeling the pressure to make everything from scratch."
— Joy Cho, Oh Joy!