8 Things a Good Host Should Always Have in Their Kitchen

October  5, 2017

It’s happened to all of us: the doorbell rings and the neighbor is there, angling to come in for a cup of coffee. Or the in-laws call to say they just happen to be in the area and are stopping by for a “quick visit.” Cue the panic. But with a little bit of advance planning, there’s no reason to worry.

As Dorothy Draper famously wrote in her 1941 title, Entertaining is Fun! How to Be a Popular Hostess, “The first requisite for such a party is good liquor. The second is plenty of it.” While you may not want to offer a cocktail to the friend dropping off the kids from school at 4pm, the gist holds true: focus on the essentials. If you can offer a simple drink and a snack in a relatively tidy home, you’re golden.

So what should you keep in stock? A savvy host always has a few staples in case of an entertaining emergency:


Renowned event producer David Stark recommends stocking a few good quality bottles, as well as having multiples if you want to open a second (or third). His checklist? Three bottles of each: red, white, and prosecco; as well as flat and sparkling water. For Beth Kirby of Local Milk, she opts for one more unique bottle. “Our go to is usually a natural orange wine. Either guests aren't familiar with it, and it becomes a great conversation piece and new experience, or they are familiar with it and are happily surprised by it. I've yet to meet anyone who didn't at least find it interesting!”

Basic Spirits

There’s no need to go over the top, but having a few basic bottles of liquor will serve you well in the entertaining department. We’ve explored how to build the perfect bar cart before, but as a refresh, it’s good to have at least the following on hand: gin, vodka, bourbon, tequila, and rum.

Coffee and Tea

Sometimes all you want to do is sit down with a steaming mug of tea or coffee. Always keep some fresh coffee beans as well as a few different options of good-quality tea. You can’t go wrong with a good black tea, matcha, and a decaf option like mint. And be sure to have an array of sweeteners to offer suggests Stark, “even if you don’t use artificial sweeteners, there’s always a guest that wants Equal or some such product.”


No need to build a full cheese board; just having one (or maybe two) good cheeses in the fridge will serve you well in a pinch. Consider stocking something like a good sharp cheddar that will be a tasty snack, but will also likely get used whether or not you have any guests pop by. Stark recommends having a few chunks of parmesan ready to go. For Kirby, “I'm pretty religious about always having a baguette on hand and a hunk of some cheese or another, the stinkier, the better. I'm a washed rind cheese fan, and Epoisses is my all time favorite, but be sure to double bag it because it will stink up your whole house!

Olives or Pickles

A couple of containers of olives or pickles keep for quite a long time in the fridge, take two seconds to transfer into a pretty dish, and are a great complement to the cheese you’ll be serving. Opt for good quality kalamata olives or the like and Stark recommends cornichons.


Buy whatever you’d find yourself snacking on solo: walnuts, mixed nuts, salted almonds. If you want to up the ante, Marcona almonds are always a crowd pleaser.


Stark recommends always having a “few boxes of artisanal crackers." Perhaps you have a basic wheat cracker, one with a fresh herb baked in like rosemary, or a simple salted thin that can complement just about anything. These should be tasty on their own or with the cheese you’ll be offering.

A Sweet Treat

Both Kirby and Stark recommend having a bit of chocolate for “when that sweet tooth strikes.” Stark likes dark chocolate or chocolate-covered almonds and Kirby opts for really great quality chocolate.

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What do you always have on hand to entertain in a snap? Tell us in the comments!


See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Mary
  • Brett Ortiz
    Brett Ortiz
  • lulubelle
  • Libby O'Connell
    Libby O'Connell
  • Kristina Bates
    Kristina Bates


Mary October 21, 2022
RIP Beth Kirby. She always had great suggestions. She was also a great photographer. She had a beautiful Instagram page and a sweet little family that she dearly loved. I hope she is at peace
Brett O. October 20, 2022
Stinky cheese? absolutely not! very few people like it. Orange wine? no. Champagne and solid whites and reds, good basic spirits and appropriate mixers, nuts, crackers and neutral cheeses.
lulubelle October 20, 2022
Thanks Brett! Solid advice.
lulubelle October 17, 2022
Rum, but no Scotch?
Seriously, five-yr.-old post is very needed after COVID controlled our lives. It lacks specific recommendations. What kind of pickles? What brands of crackers?
And how to have a fresh baguette on hand daily? Gooey, stinky cheeses don't keep. More details, please. Thank you!
Peter M. October 18, 2022
I hear you. Still, I found it a relief to have one new food52 article that wasn't an advertisement for the store in disguise of an article.
Libby O. October 17, 2022
For Serving tea or coffee in the afternoon, I like to have English muffins or baguettes in the freezer. (There are some great GF options too) . Plus, depending on my guests: 3 excellent jams (always including apricot) or Almond butter or smoked ham & mustard. We always have manchego cheese on hand too . It has very low lactose but excellent flavor and texture. Cornichons. Organic butter. All of this stuff has a long shelf life when stored correctly.
Kristina B. October 17, 2022
I love marinated artichoke hearts and always have these on hand. I also keep an assortment of mustards to go with the crackers and cheese. Goat cheese or Neufchatel cheese are also a favorite with a little bit of specialty preserves poured over to serve.
CatMom December 3, 2021
Would be nice to see some more vegetarian AND vegan options. Other than hummus, pita, organic fruit & vegetables & nuts. Some of which weren't mentioned.
Wow, this post is so old.
Michelle November 3, 2017
It would be nice to see some suggestions other than alcohol. Not everybody drinks.
Butternut P. October 28, 2017
Sardines, baguette, cheese, olives, pickles, EVOO, balsamic vinegar, tomatoes.
nouveauchef October 28, 2017
A can of white beans - you can make a quick white bean dip with it and basic pantry staples. Always tasty!
Antoniabalonia October 27, 2017
I always have smoked salmon in the fridge and stuffed grape leaves in the pantry on top of all the other things on this list.
Jennifer October 8, 2017
Water with lemon slices in a pitcher in the fridge, for family or for unexpected guests. Cut-up fruit and crudites--great for healthy snacks and welcome guests who drop in. And stale pretzels to put out when cornered into being hospitable to someone you hope won't linger.
Tazmin A. October 8, 2017
I love the stale pretzels offering and comment!
Liz October 6, 2017
We always, ALWAYS have a block of cream cheese in the fridge and some crackers in the cupboard. It's amazing what you can mix up to serve with a glass of wine or a beer in a pinch.
And only last weekend I doubled the pasta and added extra créme fraîche to our dinner to accomodate drop ins.
BerryBaby October 5, 2017
Have everything on your list! However, people don't stop by like they did back when I was growing up. Sundays were visiting days where friends and relatives went out for a Sunday drive and would spur of the moment drop by. No phone call, they just pulled in the drive to visit. Cue my mother, she'd run to the kitchen to start a pot of coffee on the stove. One of us would go to the basement and get out a boxed cake. You had to serve the guests 'coffee and...' as they called it. They never said what the 'and' was but usually it was cake.
ktr October 5, 2017
The Catholic Churches near us have "coffee and" usually monthly. I had never heard of it before moving here. Interesting to hear the phrase used by someone else.
BerryBaby October 7, 2017
I think it's a midwest and maybe east coast saying. Have never heard it out here...west coast.
Sharon J. September 20, 2018
It’s definitely a Eastern thing. I grew up on the West Coast my entire life ( Phx, Santa Cruz, Vegas, Portland, etc...) plus I travelled constantly and never heard it until moving to Kentucky. Now the influence may be from further East, yet currently resides in Kentucky.
Either way, I love it!!!