Hosting a GOOD cocktail party at home doesn't need to be complicated or expensive. Planning ahead of time and adding a few fancy touches is all it takes to make your cocktail party memorable! Learn how to host properly below.
Don't get me wrong. Party planning is NOT easy. I never said it was. The toughest part is determining WHAT to serve and HOW MUCH of it to make. Drinks are easier than food. But both can be a headache and cost a lot of money if not planned out in advance.
I hope to offer you some valuable tips and things to keep in mind when it comes to proper cocktail party etiquette.
My Top 10 Hosting Tips
Keeping these things in mind while planning out your party will help to ensure you throw a memorable cocktail party that people will rave about! I also go into further detail about each tip below!
- Don't have your guests knock! Don't make your guests wait for you.
- Set The Tone Within The First 5 Minutes! Remind your guests that it is a party and that it's time to have fun!
- Have cocktails and food ready to go. It IS a cocktail party after all!
- Have trash cans nearby. -Something SO important but frequently overlooked. I explain why below.
- Have plenty of ice. No one wants a warm drink.
- Have non-alcoholic options. Don't assume everyone can/wants to drink alcohol.
- Purchase some signs, Signs will make your party less stressful. Plus guests always appreciate them!
- Turn on appropriate music and make a playlist.
- Offer a variety of food spread out. Hot, cold, vegetarian, GF, you never know your guests dietary restrictions.
- Have one "Wow" item. This is the one thing your guests will never forget.
1. Don't Have Your Guests Knock
Unless you have a small guest list and want to personally greet each guest, this will save you the headache of running back and forth. Something that has personally bothered me as a guest when attending parties is walking up to a house not knowing where to enter or if I am allowed to enter even after multiple knocks. It is weird and unwelcoming.
Since cocktail parties usually consist of larger gatherings with multiple people coming at different times, it could take an hour or so for all of your guests to arrive so why make them wait for you to let them in? What if its cold? What if you don't hear them knocking? What if they don't know what door to enter? Instead, have a clear sign on/by the front of the house that tells them where to enter and lets them know it's okay to enter. The sign can say, "Cocktail Are Ready, Come On In!". This allows your guests to come right in with the anticipation of fun to come!
Items To Make This Happen
2. Set The Tone Within The First 5 Minutes
The best hosts know that setting the tone for the rest of the night occurs in the first five minutes of walking into a party. I mean, just think about. When YOU walk into a party, it takes seconds to get a feel of the vibe. Since cocktail parties are already short, every minute counts!
Immediately Offer Your Guests A Drink
Better yet, have a drink ready if you know what they like. There's no better welcome than being greeted at a party with a cold drink. It makes the guest feel special, welcome and ready to party.
As your guests walk in, if they have coats, take them asap! Making them hold them or wait for you to take them is not setting the right tone. Have a place in mind to put the coats that is out of sight but a somewhere guests have access to if they need to leave early. You can have a coat sign for this as well at the entrance in case you are busy welcoming other guests.
If you don't want your guests to leave their shoes on, the best way to do this is leave a sign with a large bin for them to put their shoes in. The sign can say, "Before you grab some booze, politely leave your shoes."
Items To Make This Happen
3. Have Drinks/Food Ready To Go
The worst mistake a host can do is still be prepping for the party AFTER the party has started. I have to say I am VERY guilty of this especially when it comes to food. You should never be cooking/cleaning when guests arrive unless, of course, it's your family or close friends who don't mind. But if we're talking your typically cocktail party, everything should be classy and professional.
Consider greeting your guests with a cocktail! What better way to start a cocktail party?!
A signature cocktail is something I highly recommend. It is something people will remember and appreciate. When choosing a signature cocktail, make sure it is tasty, not too sweet, not too strong and simple to make. I recommend choosing a drink that can be served in batches so you are not put on bartender duty all night. And don't forget to give your drink a name!
Pitcher Drink Ideas (Great for self-serving!)
- Margarita Pitcher - Flavor twists- watermelon/cranberry/mango.
- Strawberry Gin Smash- Great for the summer time.
- The Figgy Sparkler- Best around the holidays.
Always have a wide selection of drinks available. After all, it is a cocktail party so you want more than two drink options.
These are some of the more popular cocktails you might want to offer.
- Wine- Have a few bottles of wine available. White, red, rose, dry and sweet. Plan on serving a bottle for every 2-3 people.
- Beer- Have a few in-season beers including pale ales and lighter options. Opt for bottles over cans if your going for a classier cocktail party. Take it over the top by placing a few beer mugs on ice next to the beer.
- Champagne- Champagne is not a must but if you know some of your guests are fans, offer a couple bottles. Dry and sweet or in between to be safe.
- Hard Liquor- If you have a bar area or table to set one up, add some popular hard liquors like vodka, rum, gin, whiskey and/or bourbon. Do not feel like you need to offer every option but if you have it on hand, why not. Keep in mind if you DO offer multiple liquors, you should also offer mixers.
- Mixers- The most popular mixers are cranberry juice, orange juice, soda like sprite/coke, tonic water and seltzer water.
- Bar Accessories- Make sure to have accessories like stirrers, napkins, shakers if needed, highball glasses, etc.
It is important to set up your station separate from the food to avoid over-crowding. A table can be propped up if you need additional room. An ice bucket is important to have nearby especially at the bar station.
Items To Make It Happen
- Beverage Dispenser - For your guests to help themselves
- Cocktail Shaker Set- This is great for making ANY drink!
- Ice Cube Trays- These will make those awesome whiskey balls and large cubes.
- Cocktail Napkins- These are adorable!
- Highball Glasses- (Set of 6)- Great for serving making mixed drinks.
- Cocktail Straws- For mixed drinks.
4. Have Multiple Trash Cans
This is such a simple and inexpensive thing that matters. When guests are holding onto trash because they can't find or are not near a trash can, they are uncomfortable and end up leaving a mess behind. Rather than discarding the trash, they leave it on a table. If they were near a trash can, they would throw out their trash technically doing the cleanup for you!
Other than in the kitchen, place one near the food table and drink station or wherever your guests tend to gather. Having multiple trash cans will also keep you from needing to empty it every hour which I would HATE to do during a cocktail party.
*To make them look a little less "ugly", a great idea is to place your trash can inside a decorative basket lined with a white or clear trash bag.
5. Have Plenty of Ice
What's a cocktail party without ICE?! If you want to save money, start putting your ice machine to work a week ahead of time so you have enough and don't run out the day of. You can always purchase bags of ice at your local store and keep it inside coolers. But for some reason, coolers aren't very cocktail party "chic", so instead invest in an ice bucket!
If you want to impress your guests and love little details, purchase ice cube molds to make your own ice balls or cubes. You will want to do this in advance since they take a few hours to make. But the end results is your guests wont need as much ice since the ice is larger. Plus, the idea is that the larger ice balls will not water your drink down as much as smaller cubes do!
Items To Make It Happen
- Insulated Ice Bucket- This guy is insulated!! How awesome. Plus it looks super chic.
- Ice Ball Mold- This one makes 9 at once!
- Ice Cube Mold- This makes 8 large cubes!
6. Have Non-Alcoholic Drink Options
It is common courtesy to have all options for guests when you have a party. And if we are inviting people to a cocktail party without non-alcoholic cocktails, they wont be coming back. There are plenty of options from non-alcoholic beers to sparkling cider to fancy virgin drinks. It is easy to make a fun drink that everyone can enjoy!
How To Make It Happen
- Non-alcoholic Spirit Pack- This pack is classy and fun.
- Mocktail recipes- Make your own mocktails!
- Fresh Fruit- Adding strawberries/pineapple/cherries on the side will make any mocktail fun!
7. Purchase Some Signs!
Have you as a guest ever been to a party and wonder, "What's IN that?" or "Is there meat in there?". Why have your guests wonder about anything? Like I mentioned above, signs are a personal touch that politely tell your guests what to do, what food is what and where to find things. I don't want guests at my cocktail party looking for the cocktails, not knowing if something is GF or worse, wondering if they can help themselves to something. But by putting a sign saying, "Come Right In!" or "Make Your Own Cocktail!" or "Gluten Free Quesadillas", is an easy way to inform your guests of these little details while encouraging them to have fun!
After all, we don't want to have to run around to all of your guests and tell them, "The food is over there", or "I have wine in that room". Let the signs do the talking for you so you can enjoy your cocktail! You will thank me later.
How To Make It Happen
- Mini Chalkboard Signs- These are ideal for hanging on drink dispensers or placing on cocktail or appetizer tables.
- Standing Chalkboard (Medium)- This one is great for placing on a table to tell guests what to do or where to find something.
- Large Chalkboard- This large sign is perfect for placing outside the party or at the front of your house to direct people to a certain location. It is also great for writing the appetizer or drink menu on! What about that shoe sign I mentioned above?
8. Play Appropriate Music
Music is everything. I have and will always believe that. That's why people spend thousands for bands at weddings.
If you are truly going for a cocktail party vibe, then stick to it. If you have a Spotify account, search "Cocktail Music" playlist and pick and choose songs from there. You don't want music that is too slow or too aggressive either. Go through your playlist before the party and make sure all the songs are suited for the adults who are attending your party. What is the average age range? Frank Sinatra is always a hit no matter what age. Jazz music is also great and tends to set a classy, upbeat vibe. Take the time to do this and then set it on repeat for the party.
Something to think about is where the music is playing. If the music is in one room, people will most likely want to stay in that room. If you can, try to add a speaker to another room or play another Alexa if you have elsewhere in the house especially if people are outside and inside or upstairs and downstairs. Something like this will make a cocktail party stand out.
9. Offer A Variety Of Food
Food is the third most important thing at a cocktail party. Behind cocktails and music. It is important to have a variety of snacks, cold and hot food. Put those chafing dishes to work. Now-a-days they have small chafing dishes some that are electric too! Just remember that you don't want to be setting up food while guests arrive so set it and forget it.
The best kind of cocktail party food is finger foods that are easy to eat! You don't want your guests juggling their cocktail, a food plate and silverware all at once. It is uncomfortable and a waste of dishes. One to two-bite food is best!
I recommend serving 1-2 cold appetizers since they can typically be made hours or the day before. Then 1-2 hot appetizer that you keep hot in a chafing dish. Along with those, have a few easy to make snacks that are spread out around the party that pair well with cocktails.
- These Canapé Crackers, Stuffed Greek Cucumber Cups, Mini Canapé Toasts With Sweet Cheese, Phyllo Cups With Roasted Peppers & Burrata Cheese are all three great appetizers that are fancy, can be served cold and delicious! Here are more cold finger food ideas!
- These Skewered Party Appetizers On Mini Toothpicks are perfect to eat with a cocktail in hand!
- Don't forget to check out these 59 Finger Food Ideas too!
- Greek Meze Platter- Grazing boards are super fun these days and this one is Greek inspired.
- Cheese board with dried fruit and crackers
- Nuts or Trail Mixes- These go great with cocktails!
- Glazed Holiday Pecans- If its closer to the holidays, this one is always a hit.
- Spicy Garlic Roasted Chickpeas- Perfect for snacking and healthy too.
- 31 EASY Party Snack Ideas You MUST Serve
- Chafing Dish- This chafing dish is awesome since it has 3 slots perfect for appetizers.
- Tiered Serving Platter- This one is classy and ideal for serving appetizers.
It is important to spread the food around the party so you can encourage people to mingle rather than crowding in one tight spot.
10. Have A "Wow" Item
The best parties are the ones that are memorable. Average parties are never remembered and I always say, why throw a party that will be soon forgotten? To make your party memorable, you must have a "wow" item. Something that makes your guests think, "Wow, that is awesome", or "Wow, this is amazing".
It could be an appetizer you serve that is unique, delicious and comes straight out of the oven. (Something most parties don't have.) My Filet Oscar Crostini Appetizer is definitely a "wow" appetizer. Or this Baked Greek Shrimp Saganaki which you could light on fire as you serve like they do in Greek restaurants. (Do at your own risk.)
It could even be a signature drink that you offer your guests but not just an average drink. Something that is fun and different. Try a smoked old fashioned instead of the normal version.
Another wow idea is to set up a massive charcuterie spread. I'm talking at least 3 x 2 feet. A dining table or kitchen island would work perfectly. Lay out some butcher paper down and start piling cheeses, fruits, snacks, etc. Then there's no need to worry about preparing or serving food once guests arrive.
Final Party Tips
Hosting your own cocktail party at home does not need to be complicated to be classy. The most important thing is the drinks are good and the atmosphere is inviting. Adding small details are what people remember. Encourage your guests to try new drinks and always have a drink in hand. Lastly, always make sure that everyone drinks responsibly and has the uber or lyft app so they get home safely.