Cocktail parties are coming back. Trust us. It’s an easy way to have several people over, cocktails are getting expensive at restaurants ($15-$18!) and you don’t have to fight for a table or to be heard, and no one is rushing you away when the food is over. The beauty of a cocktail party at home is that it’s not a four or five hour commitment, like a dinner party. And you still have time for a late night meal, if you want, when reservations are easier to get.
So, how do you throw a cocktail party? How much food and liquor do you need? How much ice? Here’s a guide so you don’t go astray:
*We know that having guests over is never “effortless.” But, the ideas presented today should help provide some clear direction which will simplify the notion of hosting a cocktail party!
Set a beginning and end time. We suggest 6-8 p.m. This gives plenty of time for a heartier meal afterwards. By stating the end time, guests can make plans afterwards, knowing when the party will be finishing up, even if it’s just knowing that they will be able to watch another episode of House of Cards on Netflix. But, do give yourself at least a two-hour window for your gathering.
Tell people if this is a casual affair, if they need to wear “cocktail” attire or something in between. If you say you’re hosting a cocktail party, this question will arise, so address it in the invite.
With so many Evites and Paperless Posts today, a paper invitation is fabulous, but remember that people have been conditioned to click to reply. So, if you are sending a paper invite, which is lovely, an additional email to guests is great for an easy RSVP. An additional convenience of an electronic invitation is that guests can see who else is coming, and thus avoid social awkwardness when they assume someone is, who wasn’t on the invite list.
You’ll need ice, glassware and serving plates/platters, eating utensils, napkins.
How much ice? You will need at least one pound of ice per guest. An effective rule of thumb that errs on the side of never running out of ice is to get 10 pounds per every 4 guests.
Glassware: You’ll first need to plan your cocktail menu, but it’s nice to have some beer and wine on hand for those who may not enjoy cocktails. But, this is a cocktail party after all, so it’s just fine to not have every type of wine and beer glass available. For ease, stick to three cocktails, which all require the same glass and then double the glassware for the number of guests coming. Also, glassware that doesn’t match is perfectly fine. In fact, a collection of vintage glassware simply adds to the conversation. But, if you don’t entertain often or you don’t wish to store glassware, rent it — renting glassware is easy and many times they deliver. Highballs can be used for beer and a universal wine glass, stem or no stem, is just fine. It’s not a wine tasting party; it’s a cocktail party!
Serving Plates: Having at least three to four options of food is ideal. You will want to make sure ahead of time that you have enough platters to hold your food, so take inventory. Remember, this is not a dinner party; the cocktails should take center stage, but food is necessary.
Consider having food that only requires napkins, toothpicks and fingers to eat. It’s just easier. But, this is also a generational thing. Some people want plates, so know your guests and their expectations.
Yes, you can have a full bar on hand and a even a bartender. But, if you don’t drink cocktails at home often, the cost of all those bottles of liquor can add up. If you stick with two or three cocktails, you can streamline the alcohol needs. As mentioned before, it’s up to you if you also want to provide beer and wine — it’s a hospitable gesture, but not at all mandatory. (Remember to offer some non-alcoholic options, too.)
Do you want a theme? For example, “Come Drink Margaritas from 6 – 8 p.m on Saturday Night.” This type of planning allows you offer an expected version (the classic) and a more adventurous concoction, as well (perhaps a blood orange with jalapeño peppers). The choice of drink can also help guests know how to dress. Margaritas says something different than martinis.
Have at least three or four food options to help soak up alcohol. Also, consider different dietary needs. Having a vegetarian option and a gluten-free option are gracious since so many people do have these dietary restrictions. As stated before, we think finger foods are the way to go, as they don’t require utensils or plates, just napkins and perhaps toothpicks.
Margaritas & Mexican: Two or three different types of margaritas. Garnishes can vary from slices of lime to a strawberry. The salted rims can all be normal margarita salt, or you can mix this up to have spicy or flavored versions. For food, think guacamole, cheese stuffed jalapeños, chili relleno squares and more. Cheese dip and salsa can be hard if you don’t use plates.
Southern Cocktails & Bites: With so many Southern distilleries, it’s easy to pick a Southern-made bourbon or whiskey, a rum and a vodka. Then, find your favorite recipe for each and provide three pitchers with the liquor bottles showcased. Handwrite a note about each distillery showing pride in these small batched businesses. For food, you can’t go wrong with items that include bacon, biscuits, pimento cheese, spicy pecans or seafood. The Bacon-Grits Fritters we came across writing this look pretty amazing.
For Southern distilleries: thehoochlife.com
For Southern finger food ideas: www.southernliving.com
Day at The Races: With the hoopla about the triple crown races about to start, as well as steeplechases in many cities, a “Day at the Races” is a fun theme to work around. For cocktails, highlight mint in at least two drinks with the most obvious being Mint Juleps and a Gin & Tonic with lots of lime and mint. Then, perhaps a Bloody Mary to round out the selection. For food, think fried chicken bites, deviled eggs, ham biscuits and cheese straws.
These ideas are just to get your creative juices flowing. Above all, let the theme HELP you make the party easier; don’t pick a theme that adds stress. If you can afford it, hiring a bartender and someone to help out will allow you to enjoy your own party and leave you with a clean kitchen as well!
Music and Party Favors:
Consider making a playlist for the night. It’s approximately a two-hour party, so you could even make a playlist that is about an hour, run it twice and then give everyone the playlist as their party favor. And, speaking of party favors, you are in no way obligated to have a party favor, but it’s a nice gesture and one that should never be expected by guests.
Party favor ideas: food and music are always good party favors that you know will actually be used. Ideas: everyone contributes a song and you put it together or you make your own play list (as stated above) and make a CD (I know, so totally 90’s, but it’s effective, (see legal rules here), and gives people something tangible to leave with). For food, either buy little boxes to fill with food, or buy pre-packaged items. Ideas include filling the box with donut holes, little cookies, chocolate truffles or popcorn. For prepackaged food, consider a locally made chocolate bar or some pancake mix your guests can use the next morning. And, an urn of coffee with to-go cups is a fantastic gesture, if you want to go all out.
- In the end, just encourage your friends to get together. Life goes by quickly these days and Facebook and Twitter updates are no substitute for actual face-to-face conversations!