How to throw a cocktail party like a pro

The do’s and don’ts of a food and beverage soiree.

Getting your crew together for yummy snacks and tasty drinks is never a bad idea. But can you throw a cocktail party like a pro?

Here are a few do’s and don’ts when it comes to entertaining, imbibing and eating with your nearest and dearest.

Do remember the basics

Your cocktail menu can be as extravagant as you like. But you’ll want to start with the basics. Think classic recipes like gin and tonics, martinis and old-fashioneds—and of course wine and beer. Whether you’re building the bar yourself or asking guests to BYOB, make sure you’re well stocked!

Tim Heuisler is an American whiskey ambassador for Beam Suntory, a company responsible for many well-known liquor brands. “When stocking your cocktail party bar, you want to be sure to have one bottle of each base spirit,” Heuisler says. “Bourbon (obviously), Scotch, gin, tequila, rum and vodka.  Even if you don’t typically drink it, someone at the party does, so you want to be prepared for all your guests.”

“And always have bitters on hand,” he recommends. “From there, liqueurs, cordials, vermouths and aperitifs, depending on what you’re making.”

Finally, don’t forget proper glasses, plating, cocktail napkins and some simple party snacks. These are some of the basics of any cocktail party.

Do consider signatures

Want to turn your drink menu up a notch?

With a little research and some planning, you could create the cocktail of the season for your friends and family. Learn how to make the best fresh-squeezed margarita. Or look for ways to infuse fruit into your signature drink. No matter what time of year it is, there’s sure to be a fruit that’s ripe and ready to pick for your get-together.

Do have snacks

Who doesn’t love a fun and sophisticated party snack? But before you plan your menu, consider asking guests about dietary restrictions. A lot of cocktail fare involves meat and cheese, and some of your guests might not be into that. Do them a solid and ask about dietary preferences or limitations in your invite.

Want to keep things simple? A potluck might be the way to go. Allowing guests to bring something they know they can eat could make them feel more comfortable, especially if they have dietary restrictions.

Do play good tunes

A good party requires good music. If you’ve themed your cocktail soiree after the Roaring ’20s or something along those lines, then the playlist should follow suit. You could even opt to change the DJ throughout the evening and give everyone a chance to play their favorite tracks.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

Ready to throw the perfect cocktail party but need a little help? Don’t be afraid to ask guests to contribute. After all, who doesn’t love a potluck?!

You can build a spreadsheet and have your friends sign up to bring their own favorite dish or beverage. In the end, it might save you time, energy and money. 

Event planning expert Brian Worley agrees. “I’m a fan of asking the guests to help supply drinks or food for the soiree,” he says. “I have done parties where everyone is encouraged to bring their favorite cocktail and the mixings to execute that drink. This helps to make the cocktail party more of an interactive experience and also ensures that all guests will have a drink that they like and enjoy.”

Don’t run out of ice

Usually the first thing requested and the first thing to run out—ice can be critical when it comes to cocktails. If you have the time to get creative, consider ice molds or metal cubes instead of your usual bags. Depending on what you plan to serve, ice could make or break your cocktail menu. Are margaritas on the menu? Make sure you’ve got extra ice!

Don’t exclude anyone

Sure, it’s a cocktail party. But there’s no reason to exclude friends who choose not to drink. There are plenty of alcohol alternatives and drink recipes for people who don’t imbibe. A quick fix for nondrinkers could be a yummy, fruit-infused mocktail or a nonalcoholic beer or wine.

While you can’t always please everyone, it won’t hurt to cover your bases. If your guests have a cup in one hand and a snack in the other, they’ll feel quenched, fed and definitely part of the party.

Don’t forget mixers

Soda water, tonics and juices are always a safe bet. But why not consider infusions? Adding some fresh fruit and herbs to the mix can make a somewhat basic cocktail even more flavorful! It might take a little extra time, but your guests will likely be impressed by the special touch. You could even consider fresh-squeezed juices to make your libations more festive and seasonally specific.

Don’t forget to have fun

Of course, you’re the host and you want to make sure everyone is happy. But don’t forget to enjoy yourself. Take time to relax and interact with your guests. And don’t spend your entire evening running around trying to make everything perfect.

Matt Doerr is the beverage director at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess, a 65-acre resort hotel in Scottsdale, Arizona. His advice for having fun when you’re the host? “Keep it simple—don’t overcomplicate the process.”

Hosting a party can be stressful if you’re running around the whole time. Just remember, this party is for you too. So take some time to sit, chat, enjoy and even ask for suggestions for the next shindig. You might get some tips you hadn’t thought of before.

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