There's something really festive about a cocktail party that just makes everyone feel like celebrating. One of the best parts is that you don't have to blow your budget to throw a cocktail party because you're not spending a lot of money on the food.
Planning a Cocktail Party
First, decide on a guest list for your cocktail party, or at least have a general idea of how many people you think might attend. This number dictates the amount of food, drinks and seating you need, so it's important to have a good estimate before you begin the rest of your planning.
Think about how long you would like your party to last. Most traditional cocktail parties are two or three hours long. Your party can last longer, but again, you will need more food and drink if you're planning a longer party.
Cocktail Drink Supplies
Consider which types of drinks you want to offer. You won't be able to provide alcohol and mixers for every drink under the sun, but there are a few basics you'll want to have on hand, such as:
- Orange juice
- Fresh lemons and limes
- Club soda
- Ginger Ale
- Tomato juice
- Horseradish and Worcestershire sauce (for Bloody Marys)
Also, provide red and white wine along with a couple of varieties of beer for the less adventurous. Have bottled water available for those who want it. You might also want to learn how to make a couple of fun nonalcoholic drinks for any nondrinkers and designated drivers in your group.
Once you have your basic list you can go shopping for supplies.
How Much Do You Need?
The main thing you'll need to determine is how much liquor you'll need. You don't want to go overboard and blow your budget on drinks no one wants, but you also don't want to run out of alcohol before the night is over.
Calculating Alcohol Amounts
A good rule of thumb to follow is one bottle of wine for every two people at the party, as well as a six-pack of beer for every two people. If you know that you have more wine drinkers than beer drinkers coming to the party, you can play with these numbers a little.
You should also have about a pound of ice for each person who you expect to drink cocktails..
Have a Good Variety: Theme Ideas and Glasses
Buying liquor is always a tricky proposition because you never know what different people are going to want to drink. You might end up running out of whiskey while no one touches the gin. It's probably a good idea to buy a couple of bottles of each different kind of liquor, so you'll have a good supply and so that people can sample different brands.
If you want to save money on this aspect of the party, consider offering just a few "theme" cocktails. This is a fun way to spice up your party and reign in your budget. For example, a "south of the border" party might include Mexican beer, mojitos, margaritas and tequila shots. A martini party could offer two or three different kinds of martinis. You would still want to offer beer, wine, and nonalcoholic options, but sticking to a couple of signature drinks could help corral your budget while giving you a theme for food, décor and dress code.
Also remember that you will need glasses for the different kinds of drinks you plan to serve. Wine glasses work for juice, water and cola as well as wine. Beer can be drunk from bottles if you don't mind the look of bottles cluttering up your party. Highball and lowball glasses are a must, as are margarita or martini glasses if you are planning to feature those cocktails. Plan to have twice as many glasses as you have attendees. This may mean you'll have to rent glasses, but it is a nice touch to have real glassware for your party.
Cocktail Parties and Food
Cocktail parties focus on the drinks, but great food is really important, too. The idea is to provide people with little bites they can eat with one hand (because the other hand is holding a drink) and without utensils (because you won't have enough chairs for everyone to sit down at once).
A Range of Smart Choices
What you serve is entirely up to you, though having a theme can help tremendously. It's a good idea to have some meat-free appetizers in case you have any vegetarians attending the party. You should also try to serve things that are good hot (or cold) as well as at room temperature, unless you have a way to keep hot things hot and cold things cold throughout the party.
Checking out appetizer recipes online and in cookbooks is a great way to get started. It's a great idea to have a couple of things that are easy to pop in the mouth, as well as a cheese tray with bread or crackers for those who are drinking wine. Fruit or vegetables cut small are also a good idea (with or without the chocolate or cheese fondue). Don't forget tiny sweet treats like mini cookies, small pieces of fudge or brownies to tame the sweet teeth in the house.
It's a good rule of thumb to have about six appetizers per person. However, you don't want to run out of food, so it's always good to have a little extra. That's where things like fruit and vegetables can really save you if you run out of mini pizzas or canapés.
Seating and Other Matters
It's customary to have about half as many seats as you have guests at a cocktail party. The idea is that this will encourage people to mingle more because they can't sit down. If you don't feel like inflicting that kind of inconvenience on your friends, have seats available for almost everyone. You'll still get the feel of a fun party without forcing people to be on their feet.
The dress code for a cocktail party can be anything from black tie to black jeans. Having a theme and announcing it on your invitations will give guests an idea of how they should dress. They'll understand that you dress differently for a luau-themed party than you do for a Sex in the City-style bash.
Creating A Memorable Bash
After all the planning and preparation, don't forget to have fun and enjoy being with your friends while trying some new food and drinks. Cocktail parties are a lot of fun to throw and even more fun to attend. Plan well, and your friends will remember your swanky party for a long time to come.