Throwing a cocktail party can be a daunting, and often expensive, task. But with the right amount of planning and a modest budget, hosting an evening of drinks and dancing for your friends, or colleagues can actually be a lot of fun. This party-planning checklist will save you time and money, while still allowing you to make a good impression on your guests.
- Theme. Nearly every type of party requires a theme. Whether you choose to go all out with costumes and favors, or keep it subtle with a simple color scheme or flavor palette, having a theme will make planning your cocktail party a breeze. If you're choosing to stick with a flavor for your theme, be sure to incorporate it into everything including the cocktails and the hors d'oeuvres. For example, if bacon is the key ingredient, you might serve bacon-wrapped dates with bacon-infused vodka bloody marys.
- Hors d’oeuvres. A cocktail party’s prime concern is the stuff in your guest’s glasses–the cocktail–which means that you can get away without serving a full-course menu. But that doesn’t imply that you get to skip the food entirely, after all, you and your guests will need something substantial to soak up all that booze. Having a variety of six or seven different hors d’oeuvres will keep your guests sated and happy. Remember to tie in these small bites with the general theme of your party, they should also compliment whatever cocktails you’ll be serving. And don’t forget to throw in a little something for your vegetarian friends.
- Cocktails. Before deciding on drinks, it will help to decide whether you want to hose a full bar, a themed bar or a signature cocktail bar. A Signature cocktail bar is typically the easiest and least expensive, as it features just one or two mixed drinks, rather than every type of tipple under the sun. A themed bar is another great option and allows guests to focus on one type of liquor with a variety of mixers. A full bar, of course, features a cornucopia of spirits, mixers and garnishes while leaving zero room for complaint—on the downside, a full bar can become very costly.
- Wine and beer. When planning your drink selection, keep in mind that not everyone loves cocktails, and some of your guests may shun the hard stuff altogether. That said, it’s a good idea to choose a red and a white that will each compliment your food selection. And let’s not forget the folks who just can’t live without their beer. We’re not suggesting that you become overly accommodating here (after all, it is your party), but a good host will keep at least one type of beer on tap for his guests. If you feel like these low brow selections detract from your fancy bar setup, simply keep them in the kitchen and let your guests know that they’re available.
Décor and music. Be sure to arrange your space accordingly well before any of your guests arrive (you wouldn’t want to seem frazzled and unprepared when the doorbell rings). The area should allow your guests to move easily throughout the room and should also have ample seating (enough for about 15-percent of your guests) and small surfaces, like lounge tables, to place drinks. Make a playlist in advance that suits the mood of the evening, or, if you’ve got the extra cash, hire a DJ. Use dim lighting and candles to set the mood.