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.