Cocktail parties: who doesn’t love them? They are fun, chic, and perfect for catching up with friends or meeting new people. You also wouldn’t be the first person to find romance at one! There is always a good reason to throw a cocktail party: you can have something special to celebrate or simply have some spare drinks burning a hole in your home bar. However, getting it just right can be trickier than it looks – especially if you want your party to stand out from the pack!
Unlike more structured events or parties, a cocktail party allows for much more improvisation, experimentation and, therefore, excitement. It can be as simple or as extravagant as you want it to be. A rooftop, some bespoke cocktails, and good friends can make for a perfect evening. A more formal party requires a touch more elegance and refinement – think champagne cocktails and mouth-watering, eye-catching finger food. Beautifully served canapés can be the crowning element for your evening. So if you’ve always wanted to throw a cocktail party your guests won’t forget – we have collected a few tips and tricks to help you along the way.
Preparation and Clarity for the Cocktail Party
The key to any good cocktail party is making it look effortless. As the host you should be mingling and enjoying the night as much as your guests do (it’s your party after all!). No one will enjoy it if you are running around preparing food and drinks. Just image being at a cocktail party and the host is really stressed out – would you sit back and relax? Plan your party well and it will be a night to remember for everyone.
Choosing a theme for your cocktail party will do a lot of the planning work for you, as well as add that crucial sense of occasion. This doesn’t mean your guests must all come dressed as The Dude from the film The Big Lebowski while you serve White Russians – a theme can be understated like a particular colour or flavour that runs through the entire evening. Cocktail parties are about treating all the senses and party themes will tie together the drinks, food, decorations and music to make your party pop.
Speaking of drinks, cocktail parties must have cocktails. However, most of us haven’t mastered the art of mixology (though we all should!). As much as we would like to, we would struggle to cater to everyone’s individual tastes. Not only that, estimating how much of every drink to have in stock for your guests would be nigh on impossible. A neat way of sidestepping this problem is to let your party themes dictate the three or four cocktails that will be served at your party – as well as a non-alcoholic alternative. Make it for example a Russian evening with caviar and vodka cocktails. If you are feeling particularly adventurous you can include a dessert cocktail for towards the end of the evening, which is a great way to motivate your guests to stay until the grand finale.
Choosing three or four cocktails will make it easier to stock up on drinks and, most importantly, make the evening a shared experience. A cocktail party is meant for meeting and mingling, and having interesting cocktails is a guaranteed icebreaker and talking point. You can also print the cocktail recipes that you will be serving on the party invitation, so the guests can see what will be on offer. A party you remember is one you have been looking forward to and this is a good way of raising the anticipation and keeping the RSVP ratio high. You can even let your guests try their hand at mixology themselves, using the cocktail recipes on the invite as a guideline!
Mix Your Foods as well as Your Drinks
Dare to be different with the food at your cocktail party. The traditional fare at cocktail parties is hors d’oeuvres – bite-sized, savoury finger food – and they are just as important as the cocktails, and should be equally fun. To paraphrase old Sam Johnson: whoever is tired of hors d’oeuvres is tired of life.
The watchword here is mix and match: serving hors d’oeuvres of different temperatures, flavours and textures will keep your guests guessing. Hiring a private chef to do the food preparation is the easiest option, as he or she will know which foods to serve alongside the cocktails of the evening. If this is not an option for you don’t panic: downsizing your favourite meals – such as serving soup in a shot glass or a mini portion of fish & chips in an empty sardine can – is a sure-fire way to add a shine of quirky sophistication to the proceedings. Decoration and the way your food is served can already do the trick. Don’t have enough serving trays to show off your culinary creations? Just use small mirrors or picture frames instead! In short: go nuts! (and don’t forget to serve actual nuts – along with party staples like bread, cheese and hummus – so you have a back-up in case your culinary experiments don’t come off as well as you’d hoped).
Make the Unexpected Spectacular
Cocktail parties are a heady mix of occasion and fun, and the setting is the glass that holds them together. This is where improvisation will reap handsome rewards. It begins with the party invitation: why limit yourself to merely including the menu? For example, if you’re going for a spy theme you could print the invitation in tiny letters and include a magnifying glass, or even write the invitation in lemon juice – which works as invisible ink – with instructions to hold the invitation by a fire to make it appear.
A cocktail party demands a lot of glasses and a lot of ice, and unless you hire a some service staff including a private chef, chances are you won’t have enough of either in your home. Turn this limitation into an advantage by, for example, using vintage teacups or old jam jars to serve the cocktails, using a toolbox to create unexpected ice-cubes, freezing flowers into ice-cubes or put prints on the napkins. This will leave your guests talking for days to come.
In the end, whatever kind of cocktail party you end up throwing, on the night itself the ultimate trick to throwing a perfect cocktail party is being a good host. Breathe some life into the party and then see where it takes you with its own momentum (and the vodka cocktails). As we said in the beginning, it should be a night to remember for everyone!