How can I Prepare to Host a Cocktail Party?

Sherry Holetzky

If you have decided it’s time to prepare to host a cocktail party, the first thing you should establish is the tentative guest list. After determining who you would like to attend, you can select a date and time for the party that will fit others’ schedules, allowing as many of your invitees as possible to attend.

An hors d'oeuvre with cheese, tomato, olive and basil.
An hors d'oeuvre with cheese, tomato, olive and basil.

As you prepare to host a cocktail party, decide how you will handle each R.S.V.P. before selecting your invitations. Do you want to include simply your phone number, or would you prefer something a bit more formal, such as return cards or cards and envelopes. Discuss these options where you order stationary, and inquire about whether or not you can also have the return cards printed with your address to save you the effort of addressing them. You will certainly have plenty of other things to do as you prepare to host a cocktail party.

A cocktail in a martini glass.
A cocktail in a martini glass.

Decide whether your guests would enjoy a casual gathering or a semi formal or formal event. The occasion for which you prepare to host a cocktail party will likely play a role in the level of formality. Be sure to include the type of occasion, and the style of attire if necessary, in the invitation.

A typical cocktail dress.
A typical cocktail dress.

You will also need to consider the choice of available beverages as you prepare to host a cocktail party. Make sure to provide a good selection, as well as offering non-alcoholic beverages for guests who do not wish to imbibe, but don’t want to stand out. Another option to consider as you prepare to host a cocktail party is hiring a bartender who is capable of ordering liquor, wine, mixers, and everything else you will need, and is also able to set up an attractive yet functional bar. Choose someone with expertise in choosing wines, as well as in mixing and garnishing cocktails.

Cocktail attire for men.
Cocktail attire for men.

You will certainly want to provide something for your guests to nibble. As you prepare to host a cocktail party, you’ll need to decide what to serve, such as hot or cold hors d'oeuvres or a simple, light buffet.

Tapenade served with a slice of bread, a popular hors d'ouvre that might be served at a cocktail party.
Tapenade served with a slice of bread, a popular hors d'ouvre that might be served at a cocktail party.

Finally, when you prepare to host a cocktail party, you should contact guests who have not yet responded if the date of the party is drawing near. Calls might have been missed, or a return card, or perhaps the invitation itself, may have been lost in the mail.

Handwritten invitations can be sent out to notify people of a cocktail party.
Handwritten invitations can be sent out to notify people of a cocktail party.
If your budget allows, stock up on caviar and other elegant cocktail foods.
If your budget allows, stock up on caviar and other elegant cocktail foods.
Prep bacon-wrapped scallops and other cocktail nibbles in advance.
Prep bacon-wrapped scallops and other cocktail nibbles in advance.
Keep a selection of fruit juices on hand for mixing drinks.
Keep a selection of fruit juices on hand for mixing drinks.
Cosmopolitans made with cranberry juice are a popular cocktail at parties.
Cosmopolitans made with cranberry juice are a popular cocktail at parties.
A cocktail party expecting a large attendance might serve food buffet style.
A cocktail party expecting a large attendance might serve food buffet style.
When stocking a light buffet for a cocktail party, be sure to offer at least one vegetarian option.
When stocking a light buffet for a cocktail party, be sure to offer at least one vegetarian option.

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Discussion Comments

SarahG

@rosequartz - I know what you mean! Another easy hostess gift idea I really like is to buy inexpensive wine glasses at the craft store. You can paint each glass with colorful designs along with the name of a guest. It's a fun way to celebrate friendship while leaving your guests with a permanent memory of your evening together.

rosequartz

When I host a holiday cocktail party I like to offer a small hostess gift for each of my guests. A simple ornament in December, a small bag of flavored almonds or cinnamon roasted pecans in summer is a nice way to say, "I enjoy your company." It makes me feel happy to send my guests home with a little parting gift.

Some people I know also like to give away small jars of homemade preserves or garlic pickles, it's just a nice touch for any party.

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