What is a Cocktail Party?

Cocktail PartyCocktail parties bring to mind old-school Hollywood movies, so play up the retro theme with soft candlelight and black-and-white decorations with silver accents.

You want your guests on their feet and mingling, so push couches back to the wall or move them from the room to create more space to mill. If your room allows it, create small sitting areas where guests can break off and engage in small, private convos. Small side tables placed around the room give guests a handy spot to park their drink, and carefully placed blank matchbooks and pens encourage bar-style romance and sharing of digits.

Set up a bar area and keep it well stocked with booze, juices, mixers, ice, fruit and olive garnishes, assorted glassware, groovy drink stirrers and cocktail napkins. And don’t forget cocktail recipe books to spark liquid creativity. If you don’t want to stock a full bar, buy a few favorite liquors and mixers and print out a fancy menu of drink options with the title “Specialties of the House.”


Dress to the nines! If your guests will indulge you and go all out, that is. If not, encourage them to dress to the sixes, at least.

Let’s face it; not everybody likes to dress up. And not everybody will. If that’s the case with your friends, you have two good options. One is to make it a costume party, where you ask people to dress up in over-the-top finery like top hats and monacles. The other is to stick with the black-and-white decoration theme and ask them to dress in one or both colors. It won’t necessarily make them dress up, but the sharp color contrast will lend a little flair to your affair.

Cocktail Party IdeasIf your guests are game for dressing up, ask them to make it swanky. Men will naturally veer toward a sharp jacket, but dare them to go an extra step: an ascot instead of a shirt and tie, or a deliberately complicated, slick hairstyle like a pompadour. Ladies should wear their fanciest frocks and get creative with wraps, gloves, jewels and enormous cocktail rings. Add a fan or a flower in your hair for added intrigue.


Splashy drinks are the centerpiece of any good cocktail party. Keep the cocktails center stage by getting your guests to compete in one, or more, of these contests:

• Have the martini snobs compete for best mixologist. Be sure you have vodka, gin, vermouth, olives, pearl onions and lemon twists on hand so they can work their magic.

• Challenge guests to create the best new cocktail (ridiculous cocktail name mandatory). For this you’ll need an assortment of liquors, fresh fruit juices and garnishes, as well as swizzle sticks and drink umbrellas.

• In the spirit of the Tom Cruise movie Cocktail, hold a contest to see who’s best at flipping and pouring drinks. Break out the plastic glasses and shakers for this contest.


The most important thing is to keep people circulating, so don’t place your eats in one place. Set up tables in different rooms, or different parts of your party room, to make sure that guests can nosh and talk wherever they choose to park themselves.

Another saucy idea is to put on a vintage apron, and serve your guests tasty edibles from a tray. As for what to serve, think small and portable. Bite-size treats like spicy almonds, wasabi peas or Spanish peanuts are easy to snack on and keep the guests reaching for another drink. A little more elaborate but no less tasty are stuffed mushrooms, chicken satay or spanakopita.

Think about what you’ll be drinking—you’ll want to pair your beverages with whatever you’re serving. Strong cocktails call for assertive flavors, while certain wines are better matched to more subtle foods.

Things to Think About
When planning a party or gathering, there are many things to think about:

* Who is the party for?
(business, family, friends)
* What is the reason for the party? (theme, birthday,
special occasion)
* When is the party?
(day of the week, time of day)
* Where is the party going to be? (home or office)
* How many people are you inviting?
* What type of party is it?
(brunch, lunch, dinner, hors d’oeuvres, dessert, buffet,
sit-down meal)

Let’s Start Planning
After thinking about these questions, let’s start planning your party. Here is a checklist to help you:

* Make list of people to invite.
* Mark the date on your calendar.
* Send invitations (by mail, e-mail or phone).
* Plan menu, including the beverages.
* Make shopping list (food, paper goods, decorations).
* Plan cooking schedule: Determine what can be made ahead and frozen, day before, and that day, and what you are buying already prepared.
* Make list of equipment needed (rental chairs and table).
* Plan the layout of the rooms. (Make sure all the food tables are not right on top of each other to ensure smooth flow for people to mingle.)
* Plan music, if appropriate.
* Plan lighting.
* Buy or make a centerpiece or other decorations.
* Buy cleaning supplies for before and after the party.
* Make a checklist of what you are making with appropriate cooking equipment needed for each recipe.
* Make sure you have all the platters and serving pieces you will need.

During the Party
Here are some things to think about for your guests:

* Coat rack (hangers or a separate room to put coats)
* A place to put boots or umbrellas
* Ice, ice bucket, ice tongs or scoop
* Cocktail napkins (have enough for 2 per person)
* Toothpicks
* Candles
* Paper towels
* Extra toilet paper (for powder room)
* Pretty guest soaps (for powder room)
* Paper hand towels (for powder room)
* Potpourri (for powder room)
* Plates (appetizer, salad, dinner, dessert)
* Glasses (water, wine, mixed drink, beer, soda, coffee); some beverages can use the same type of glass
* Silverware (remember all of the courses, a fresh spoon or stirrer is necessary for coffee)
* If grilling, check the tank, charcoal, lighter fuel, bug spray, and citronella candles
* Coffee and assortment of tea bags
* Cream and sugar
* Salt and pepper
* Wine, beer and soda chilled
* Wine and bottle opener
* Bar garnishes (lime, lemon, olive)
* Film for the camera
* Garbage bags
* Dishwashing soap
* Club soda (for any thing that may spill, a great spot remover)
* Space to chill beverages. It only takes beer, wine and soda 20 minutes to chill on ice. A large tub or cooler can be used in a back room.

Keep a Journal
After any party, it is a good idea to record in a journal how much was left over and what people liked and didn’t like. This information will be a big help when you plan your next party. Think of your party journal as a reference to look back on when you are trying to remember your boss’s favorite drink. That way you can have it at the next event. It’s also an easy way to keep track of what you served so you don’t make the exact same menu again.

Remember to write down what you wore. Then when you have another party with the same people, you won’t wear it again.

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