A Note on Cocktail Parties

If there is one thing I have learned about cocktail parties, it is this:  the simpler, the better.  Sure, you want everyone to be festive and have a good time, but it turns out that you don’t have to bust your hump to make a good party.  In fact, if you put too much time into the preparation for the party, you’ll find yourself exhausted and the affair will often come off as overwrought.  Simply put, people come to your party to see you and your friends, not for a big spread of fancy appetizers and complicated drinks.

For me, I always attend a cocktail party with a lot of gratitude for the host for putting the event on at all.  It isn’t often that people get a larger group of people together for an occasion, and to host such an affair is both stressful and rewarding.  As a guest, I just appreciate that someone was thoughtful about scheduling a gathering and providing some good cheer.  As a host, I think it is best to remember that perfect parties are never really all that fun, and almost come off as a non-event.  Keep it casual, but with a sense of occasion, no matter when you decide to hold your next cocktail party.

Regarding food, it turns out that people often gravitate to the simplest snacks.  Cheese and crackers, mixed nuts, and crudite plates are all simple crowd-pleasers.  Pick one or two slightly more complicated items from your latest food magazine or from a quick review your favorite food website; if you can make items in advance, all the better.  Remember, you want to spend time with your guests, not slaving over the oven.  Try to keep items small and portable, without gloppy sauces and or napkin-necessary greasiness.  Don’t forget sweet items, too.  Cookies are a great cocktail item to have around, because they contrast the saltiness of savory bites.  Savory usually = salty, and salty usually = more drinks, which we all know can end up being messy.  Keep everyone noshing and talking and not just sipping.

As for drinks, have several options in terms of booziness.  Some people can handle more than one Martini or Vodka Stinger, but I don’t happen to be one of those people.  Though the old-school rules of cocktail parties say to serve strictly spirits, I see nothing wrong with giving people the choice of beer or wine instead.  The old rules also say to have a fully stocked bar available for people to mix their own drinks.  Well, that might be an option someday, but for now, we try to keep costs low by offering two or three options, premixed in pitchers or punch bowls.  An old-fashioned drink (Manhattan, Sidecar, etc.) is always welcome for those who like a kick, and most people love anything made with sparkling wine or champagne.  I know I do!

Other than that, come up with a quick, but thoughtful playlist that is a mix of both upbeat and mellow (but not too much of either), and have some fresh flowers and candles around.  You’ll be surprised how just a little prep work can make for a great get together.


17 thoughts on “A Note on Cocktail Parties

  1. Mark says:

    Erica and I were just talking about making big batches of cocktails for our next party (after reading about these different cocktails in Esquire).

    Can you please post recipes for some of your big-batch cocktails? Especially the sparkling drinks.


  2. Pretty Project says:

    Throwing a Christmas cocktail party in a few days; thanks for the insight! 🙂


  3. Excellent suggestions. I always tend to overdo it. Before the party even begins I’m already exhausted. You can bet I’ll follow your advice for my next get together.


  4. kelly says:

    I enjoy the occasional cocktail party but feel ill at ease when it’s work related. Nothing beats the fun and frolic of friends but co workers and spouses I have nothing in common with irk me. Still, I agree about being appreciative of the hosts willingness to put such a soiree together. Cheers!

  5. […] Fashionably Fun In Miscellaneous on 2009/12/07 at 11:58 am Ever throw a party just to spend the whole thing kooked up in a rocker because your feet are hurting and too tired to enjoy your friends and family?  Well I’ve found a WP blogger that demystifies the perfect party with an active host (and how you can have one). Check it out at Shallots Web: The Culture of Food. […]

  6. trinaramirez says:

    very good insight. i love being the hostess with the mostess and typically go a bit over the top. the next party i throw, i’ll be sure to keep it down to a minimum. thanks.

  7. I can’t drink yet, but I am oh so close to the right age, and I must say I’ve been reading up on how to mix yummy drinks. I can’t wait until I’m actually able to! It will be so much fun, and these parties will be my favorite.

  8. wOw…nice article . thanks for sharing…well done.

  9. Irene Suwarno says:

    I think providing variety of small snacks is a great idea for the cocktail parties, also for the drink could be wine, beer, and cocktails, of course.

  10. softballgirl78 says:

    These are good tips. I’ll be sure to pass them along to people I know…I’m under 21 so I won’t be holding one anytime soon, but I can still pass along the tips.

  11. nadia says:

    really like the blog. I am hosting a party next week and I always go way overboard on the food. This is going to inspire me to take a step back and keep it simple,,enjoy the day more! nadia

  12. P.M. says:

    What is the old school rule of coctail parties about Jaegger Bombs?

  13. livejumpplay says:

    Brillian ideas. I must say that I have attended some Cocktail parties that have quite over done, but have always had my most fun at the simpler ones.

  14. momromp says:

    I always like the idea of giving a cocktail party in theory, but never in practice. You give some realistic suggestions, a welcome change from articles that give you an impossible to-do list for the “simplest party ever!”. Thanks for a nice dose of rationality!

  15. Ada Wang says:

    I just read your blog for 2 weeks, and I am already a hugh fun, from Beijing….

  16. I totally agree with not over thinking things. I used to worry too much about making sure there was enough of everything and that everything was in order. It’s a lot more fun for everyone if you’re free to move around and mingle.

    One thing that I did realize was that I didn’t really have any proper cocktail glasses. I had a few over-sized rocks glasses and a lot of pint glasses and coffee mugs, though. As a result, people tended to get more loaded than they would otherwise. A quick trip to the store for some glassware changed that.

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