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How to Host a Cocktail Party

How to Host a Cocktail Party

A cocktail party fits many different occasions, from gatherings with business associates to receptions for a graduation or engagement, to a good old fashioned get-together with friends. Cocktail parties can be formal or casual, and with or without a theme or specific occasion. There are many reasons to host a cocktail party; learning the best tips for planning it will ensure that you host a merry and memorable celebration.


In this article you will learn: 
  • Basic tips for planning a party
  • What supplies you will need
  • Tips for creating a memorable event 

Tips for Planning a Cocktail Party

As with any party, proper planning beforehand will ensure that everything goes off without a hitch so that both you and your guests can have a good time. When you are planning the event, give yourself some time to organize invitations, food and drink and a proper space to hold the party. The tips below provide a starting point for your party plans:

  • Determine the party theme. As stated above, some cocktail parties are planned in honor of special events, such as birthdays, holidays, promotions or engagements. With parties like these, the theme of celebration is usually the same, but the colors, decorations or even the drinks might be different depending on the occasion. Some parties have no particular justification other than a gathering of friends, which can give you the freedom to incorporate a theme or not, depending on your choice as the host. For example, you could choose to make it a Hawaiian-themed cocktail party, with grass skirts, island music and tropical drinks. Three women share a martini
  • Keep it casual, or go formal. When people hear the term “cocktail party,” they may assume that the occasion calls for excess formality, such as prim and proper attire. This is often not the case. The theme of the party, or the occasion of the celebration often dictates the general attitude or feel of the party. Many cocktail parties are simply a gathering of friends. However, if the party is meant to be a more formal affair, it may help to point this out on the invitation so that guests are aware of how they should dress and what they can expect.
  • Plan for the right number of guests. The number of guests is important to know for any party or gathering in which you will be planning a food and drink menu. It helps to send out invitations with a request to R.S.V.P. in order to get an accurate head-count. This will also help you determine where you can hold your party, how many chairs you will need, and if you have enough glassware.
  • Choose a location. Cocktail parties are traditionally held at the host’s home. This is made even easier if you have a home bar from which to serve drinks. If you have a home bar, you may also have a room where you like to entertain guests. This could be all you need to host a great party. However, the number of guests may dictate where your party can be held. If your home or yard cannot accommodate your guests, you may need to look into a reception room in a local hotel or another local reception space. » Tips for Home Bar Design
  • Decide between a drink menu or a full bar. When hosting a cocktail party, you want to make sure you give ample attention to the drinks you plan to serve. For themed events, a limited drink menu is usually preferable. This gives you more control over the alcohol, mixers and recipes you need for the party. For larger parties with a variety of people, a full bar may be the way to go to give you a better chance of suiting the majority of your guests’ tastes.
  • Provide snacks. Although cocktail parties are centered primarily around the drinks, a good host always offers something to nibble on. Depending on the types of drinks you plan to serve, you can usually figure out an appropriate plate or two of appetizer-style snacks. For instance, fresh fruit and thai-style chicken skewers would go well with a Hawaiian-themed cocktail party. On the other hand, miniature quiches or stuffed mushrooms may go better with a more formal cocktail event. Consider your guests’ tastes as well as your budget when thinking about what types of food to offer.

Essential Supplies for a Cocktail Party

Party hosts make a point of having all the necessary supplies on hand so that they have all the details covered. Home bar aficionados may have the upper-hand in this case, since they have probably hosted people for drinks before and likely have a well-stocked home bar to begin with. Whether or not you have the perfect home bar for hosting a cocktail party, take a look at the following tips for supplies to have on hand for your party:

Martini glasses in the back of a home bar
  • Essential bar tools. The experienced home bartender keeps a variety of all the essential bar tools on hand. Depending on your theme and drink menu, you may only need a few things to pull off a fabulous cocktail party. Be sure to stock up on a wide selection of home bar supplies.
  • Adequate amounts of ice. Cocktails are always better when served ice-cold. In fact, ice is often a key ingredient for mixing and serving drinks. Make sure you have enough ice on hand the day of the party, whether from a home ice-maker or bagged ice from a store.
  • A full set (or more) of glassware. Depending on your collection of glasses, you may already be well-prepared for a flock of friends all drinking martinis. If not, you may need to think about augmenting your set of bar glassware. The last thing you want to do is serve a fancy martini in a rocks glass.
  • An alternative to cocktails. Although the party is a cocktail party, it is a good idea to have a small selection of wine, beer, and soda available. Some guests may be driving home, and others may simply prefer a different kind of drink.

Tips for a Successful Cocktail Party

Once you have a solid plan in place, you can begin to relax and to enjoy the party. A few more tips for success on the day of the party will cover any last-minute details and give you the peace of mind to enjoy the party yourself.

  • Add fun garnishes to your drinks. Make the cocktails your own by adding fun and unique garnishes to the drinks. This can be as simple as cocktail umbrella, or a fancy slice of exotic fruit, such as a kiwi or a star fruit. These simple additions can make your drinks more memorable and fun for your guests.
  • Provide games and activities. Hosting an event with guests who do not know one another can be a great opportunity for ice breakers or other social games. Pull out your most recent edition of Trivial Pursuit and break into teams for a little friendly competition, or try a rousing game of charades. These can add flare and laughter to any party. If the weather is good, consider taking the party outside for bocce ball or badminton, if you have the right equipment.
  • Hand out party favors. A great send off for your guests is a party favor. This can be just about anything, from a candle to a small bag of candy to a gift card, if your company is sponsoring your party. Your guests are sure to remember the great party you hosted with this small, fun gesture.

Your cocktail party can be as casual, as formal, and as fun as you make it. When you have taken time to plan, prepare with the right equipment and think about how to give your guests the best time possible, your cocktail party is sure to be a memorable event for all.