A cocktail party is a largely informal social gathering generally featuring mixed drinks, light refreshments, and an intimate guest list. Guests are encouraged to mingle while enjoying a variety of drinks served by the host or a professional bartender. An informal party may be an alternative to a formal reception or full dinner party, especially if the guests have already made other dinner plans or are planning to meet later in the evening.
When planning for a cocktail party, many experts on entertaining suggest hosts should assume at least three beverages per guest, unlike a dinner or reception where heavier foods are expected to be served and fewer mixed drinks are served. The party may include a variety of finger foods, light snacks or even heavy hors d'ouvres, but the primary focus is generally on cocktails, good conversation, and music, not on the food. An invitation should mention any special food arrangements, especially if the party is scheduled during regular dinner hours.
While a typical cocktail party often does live up to its expectation of flowing alcohol in an adult setting, it is not necessarily regarded as an exercise in public intoxication. Guests should demonstrate some restraint and drink responsibly out of respect for the party's host. Most mixed drinks are designed to be sipped over a period of time, as well as savored for their unique flavors. An informal private party may not have the same safety controls in place as a public bar or nightclub, so guests may have to monitor their own alcohol consumption and ability to drive home safely.
A well-planned party is often an exciting blend of social mixer and night on the town. Guests may share a common bond, such as work or school, or they may only know the host or a handful of other guests. Meeting new people can be much easier under the relaxed atmosphere, which is why some people prefer the term social mixer to the more direct term cocktail party. A good host should provide a selection of soft drinks and non-alcoholic versions of popular cocktails to designated drivers and those who choose not to drink alcohol for personal or religious reasons.