8 Tips to Throw a Cocktail Party That’s the Best Ever!

BY NANCY MATTIA ON DECEMBER 30TH, 2016

There’s something very glam about cocktail parties. Armed with a drink in one hand and a canapé in the other, you mingle with a guest or two, making carefree conversation, and then casually move on to other drinks, food, and people. It’s a party that can be done any time of the year and, since you’re serving nibbles and not dinner, it’s an affordable way to socialize. Here are 10 tips to ensure it’s a smash. Cheers!

1. Give your party a theme

Whether it’s a luau in the middle of winter or your favorite color combo, a theme gives a party cohesiveness. “It raises the bar and makes everyone feel like they’re coming to something special,” says Nisa Lee, a caterer and event planner in Pelham, New York. Use your theme to plan the décor, food, and drinks. Let’s say you decide on a chess theme. Play off the game’s classic black-and-white palette, Lee suggests. Serve White Russians, black bean soup shots, and truffle mac and cheese made with a white cheese, such as Gouda. Your table linens? Checkered, of course.

2. Send an invitation

To set the tone that this is not your run-of-the-mill affair, send guests a themed invitation three to four weeks before the party. Go old school and mail an invite or email a card with an appropriate design. Include the names of the party hosts, date, time, location and RSVP info.

3. Make everything one or two bites

At a cocktail party, it’s assumed people will be standing most or all of the time. Given the lack of tables and chairs, serve foods that don’t require a fork or knife to eat. For a three-hour party with 50 to 75 guests, Lee suggests serving seven different hors d’oeuvres. Plan on two pieces per person. Also plan on offering two or three desserts.

4. Put the bar in a strategic place

Since guests tend to cluster around the booze, position it away from the entrance or other high-traffic area to avoid a bottleneck. By installing the bar deeper into the room and away from other busy areas like the kitchen, you’ll improve the party’s flow and ambiance. Have one bar for every 50 guests, Lee says.

5. Serve what you can afford

Just because it’s a cocktail party, don’t feel obligated to have a full bar if that’s not in your budget. One option is to offer one type of alcohol like vodka, with a variety of mixers, says Lee, so guests can make martinis, tonics, and other vodka-based libations. Or serve wine, beer, and a signature cocktail; in summer, the party pro suggests Pimm’s and lemonade; in winter, sugar and spice hot cocoa.

6. Have the right equipment

You’ll need plenty of trays, which you can rent from a party-supply company or borrow from family and friends. Also, if guests will be serving themselves, have multiple pitchers (filled with premade cocktails like margaritas), corkscrews, bottle openers, jiggers, an ice bucket and tongs and a trashcan.

7. Buy extra ice

Long before you run out of liquor, you’ll run out of ice, so buy more than you think you’ll need, just in case.

8. Have great tunes

“Music will set the party’s tone,” Lee says. A party with a bad selection of tunes will deflate the party’s spirit, while an up-tempo playlist mixing instrumentals and classics will keep the guests energized.

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