Tips for Hosting a Cocktail Party
Are you planning to host a cocktail party for your friends but don’t know where to start? Whether you’re planning a girls’ night in or just want to bring everyone together, we’ve got you covered with our cocktail party hosting tips and ideas.
Tip 1: Determine when you’re hosting and who your guests will be
First, you should decide which type of cocktail party you want to host. Maybe you’d like to feature a trendy cocktail. Perhaps you’d like to throw a tapas and sangria party. Or, maybe you just want an excuse to get fancy. See our suggestions below to help you choose.
Next, nail down your guest list. An ideal cocktail party size is about 15 guests. That way, guests can mingle with multiple people.
Mixing familiar faces with new ones keeps the conversation lively. If you want a couple-oriented vibe, invite your friends and their partners.
To make sure that everyone’s schedule lines up, give guests at least a month’s notice. Guests with children have calendars that book up especially quickly.
Decide on how you’d like to send your invitations. If you’d like to keep it relaxed, it’s as easy as texting all of your friends with the date and time. If you’d like some help tracking your guest list, consider using Paperless Post or Evite. A simple email to your guests with your party details also works.
Tip 2: Choose the kind of cocktail party you want to host
Here are different types of cocktail parties:
- Classic Cocktail Party: Choose an impressive signature cocktail for the evening and build your accompanying menu around that.
- Casual get-together: Gather a signature cocktail, wine, beer, and some easy-to-prepare finger foods.
Themed Cocktail Party: Guests can dress for the occasion, and you can serve drinks and food that match the theme.
Of an Era: Choose an iconic time in history that featured well-known cocktails
- Roaring ’20s party: Gin Rickey, Sidecar, Manhattan
- 1950s: Martini, Mint Julep, Tom Collins
- 2000s: Cosmopolitan, Sex on The Beach, Vodka Red Bull
- Tropical/Tiki: Mai Tai, Zombie, Piña Colada, Lapu Lapu
- Wintry: Hot Toddy, Hot Buttered Rum, Irish Coffee, Butter Beer
- Of an Era: Choose an iconic time in history that featured well-known cocktails
Tip 3: What you’ll need to make cocktails
To plan how much alcohol to buy, we recommend Love to Know’s comprehensive article Calculate Enough Alcohol for a Party of Any Size.
If some of your guests don’t drink, be sure to get ingredients for a mocktail or a selection of sparkly non-alcoholic drinks.
Mixers & Garnishes
Get the mixers needed for your planned drinks. If you aren’t serving pre-planned drinks, the best mixers to have on hand are grapefruit juice, orange juice, and tonic water.
Garnishes can be lemons and limes, olives, cocktail cherries, cinnamon sticks, sugar and salt, or fresh herbs, like mint, rosemary, and lavender.
Ice & an Ice Bucket
You should keep at least three bags of ice on hand. Have one bag ready to access in an ice bucket near your drinks area and one or two ready to go in your nearest freezer.
Make sure that you have the right kind of glasses for your theme.
- If your party is casual, you can buy simple compostable plastic cups or reusable plastic martini “glasses.”
- If your party is elegant, invest in glass tumblers, martini glasses, or vintage cocktail glasses, which can all be thrifted at many local second-hand shops or purchased at BevMo.
- To help guests to keep track of their glasses, invest in glass markers. Set these markers out in the bar area and let guests choose their own. Festive options are:
- Glass-safe markers like liquid chalk markers
- Static cling drink markers
- Beverage bands
- Reusable charm tags
- Hanging markers
Accessories for crafting cocktails
- Cocktail strainers
- Cocktail muddlers
- Cocktail shakers
- Cocktail spoons
- Jigger measures
- Garnishing tools
If you don’t want to buy all of the tools, see if you can borrow them from a friend.
Don’t forget to pick out some fun cocktail napkins!
Tip 4: Build your food menu
Think of your cocktail party in two acts: “Arrival” and “Mingling.”
When your guests arrive, you should have finger foods (olives, nuts, crudites) available for them to help themselves to as they sip their first drinks.
Be sure to include many snacks and appetizers to nibble on throughout the evening, particularly if you’re serving hard liquor. Tasty party food keeps your guests happy.
Serve at least 12 appetizer pieces per guest.
Appetizers could be:
- Charcuterie boards
- Charcuterie boards are a combination of cured meats, various cheeses, assorted olives, nuts, dried fruits, crackers or small pieces of bread, and sometimes jellies and jams.
- To lessen your load, you can delegate assembling them to your local Whole Foods, Costco, or a local catering company.
- Grazing tables
- Grazing tables are mega-sized charcuterie boards. Choose your serving space (a dining table, a sideboard), then make sure you buy enough food to fill it up completely and include some visual interest (cured meats arranged in an interesting formation, dips or foods that are elevated above others to create a variety of height, flowers or something colorful to mix in between your food).
- Essential elements to a grazing table are cured meats, soft and hard cheeses, fresh and dried fruits, crackers and fresh breads, and many different dips and spreads.
- Passed appetizers such as tapas, canapés, or deviled eggs
- If you are serving the appetizers yourself, include a combination of hot and cold dishes. Less time grabbing food from the oven and setting it onto a serving platter is more time you can spend with your guests.
- If you want your party to be very elegant, hire servers to pass out your appetizers. There are several companies you can contact to help you with this including TaskRabbit, and Party Host Helpers, among many others.
- Self-serve stations such as a taco bar, quesadilla bar, or make-your-own slider station
Tip 5: Prepare ahead of time
One of the keys to successful party hosting is staying relaxed. Prepare as much as you can ahead of time so that you can join the party when your guests arrive. If you have a mixologist friend, ask them ahead of time if they could work their magic at your bar.
Make a planning checklist to ensure that you’ve got everything covered. Your checklist should include your grocery or liquor store items, decorations, and tasks you need to finish around the house, like cleaning and setting up food or drinks stations.
- Figure out how long it will take you to prepare the food and drinks and how long it will take to pick up your house.
- Based on your calculations, decide if you will prepare some of the appetizers the day before. Taco bars and sliders can be prepared easily in advance.
- Decorate as much as you can the day before. Move your tables. Place your candles and set out your TableTopics cards.
- Cocktails that can be batch-prepared include Martinis, Manhattans, Mojitos, Margaritas, Sangria, Moscow Mules, and Palomas.
For a fancier party, create a cocktail menu that lists all available drinks.
Tip 6: Arrange your seating and set up an inviting bar area
While some people like to stand for the whole evening, make sure to have several different areas where guests can also sit down. Scatter the appetizers in a few locations surrounding different seating arrangements to encourage guests to move around your space.
Setting up a good bar area sets the mood for your party. The bar should include glassware, cocktail-making accessories, ice, liquor, mixers, garnishes, and cocktail napkins.
Bar setup options:
- table, sideboard, or bar cart
- a drinks station in the kitchen
- a full bar that you handle yourself (or hire someone to assist you with)
- pre-mixed drinks stations around your space
If the guests will be mixing their drinks, set up TableTopics Cocktail cards near the drinks station and let guests browse the recipes, which are located on card backs.
Be sure to include at least one “hydration station” where guests can serve themselves water to stay hydrated.
Tip 7: Plan for dynamic conversations
Mingling is vital to a good cocktail party. Encourage guests to get to know each other better by placing TableTopics cards throughout your event space.
Lay some TableTopics cards out next to the bar. Or, every time you hand a guest a cocktail, give them a TableTopics card, too. Encourage each guest to take their card, find a person they haven’t met before, and share their answers.
If you want one group activity, host a mid-party game of TableTopics to bring everyone together.
Ideal TableTopics decks for cocktail parties are:
Tip 8: Set the mood with festive decorations
Decorate your space to set your party’s mood. Hang something festive on your front door or place a lovely potted plant at your entrance. Outdoor spaces can be lit with party lights. Indoor spaces should also feature ambient lighting.
Guests will see you first, so lean into outfits that match the party theme. For a fancy cocktail party, put on your best dress. For a holiday-themed drinks party, wear an eye-catching apron or jewelry that corresponds to your theme.
Your theme could also be color-oriented. For example, if you are hosting a Spanish Sangria and tapas party, decorate your event space with colors from Spain’s flag (yellow and red). Table runners, light bulbs, candles, napkins, and napkin holders can all be customized to reflect your theme.
If guests will be standing for most of the party, make sure that your decorations are at or above eye level.
Tip 8: Reflect on your night
How did your night go? Take a minute to ponder which appetizers worked best, which drinks were the biggest hits, and what helped the conversations flow. Now, put your feet up for a while and start planning your next party!