Everything You Should Know to Host a Flawless Cocktail Party


The Spruce / Margot Cavin 

Cocktail parties may have taken a little break during the more casual decades of the 1960s and 1970s, but since then they have regained their popularity with full strength. Wine and beer are still popular beverages, but there has been a tremendous resurgence in the popularity of mixed drinks.

For the busy host, a cocktail party is a convenient way to entertain any kind of guest list ranging from neighbors to business associates. The typical time for this party is only two hours. Because of the fluid nature of this party, you can mix guests who might not feel comfortable sitting across from one another at a three-hour dinner party.

One of the best parts of hosting a cocktail party is that you can experiment with a wide variety of food on your menu. Since everyone will be eating only little tastes, if they don't like something, you can be confident that there will be plenty of other choices for them. Everyone is likely to find something they will enjoy.


But returning to the most important part of the cocktail party, the cocktails, below is a list of some current favorite cocktails. 

  • Cosmopolitan - A fun, pink drink that was popularized on the HBO series Sex and the City.
  • Dirty Martini - Don't worry, you won't need to wash after this drink. But with the addition of olive juice, this drink has a salty bite to it.
  • Chocolate Martini - This drink has special appeal to anyone with a sweet tooth. But it doesn't look like what you'd expect.
  • Apple Martini - I don't know if this would count toward your 5-a-day fruit and veggie requirement!

Watch Now: 7 Things You're Doing Wrong When You Make Cocktails at Home

Cocktail Tips

Whether you're an experienced cocktail party host or are just stepping into the stylish world of cocktail party entertaining, here are tips to help make your next party a successful event.

  1. Stock up on plenty of ice. You'll need it for chilling bottles of beer, wine or champagne as well as serving in drinks on the rocks. A good rule of thumb is ​to plan to have one pound of ice per guest.
  2. Be prepared with an assortment of glass styles to cover the type of drinks you plan to serve. These include wine glasses for wines, juice and water; straight-sided highballs for tall drinks; tumblers for spirits and juices; and martini glasses.
  3. Have twice as many glasses on hand as guests. For wine, champagne and martini glasses, wine glass charms will help guests to keep track of glasses as they mill about your party.
  4. For a two-hour party where you only plan on serving wine and/or champagne, you'll need to have one bottle for every two guests. Have a mix of white and red varieties. White used to be the predominant favorite, but red is becoming just as popular.
  5. For a basic bar, you'll want to stock up on vodka, whiskey, wines, and beer. For a more complete bar, you can add gin, tequila, rum, bourbon, vermouth, sherry, and brandy.
  6. Don't forget to stock up on mixers including orange juice, soda, tonic, ginger ale, cola, tomato juice, Tabasco, lemons, limes, horseradish, and Worcestershire sauce.
  7. If you anticipate your guests will be wine drinkers, you can prepare by uncorking a few bottles in advance, and then replacing the corks.
  8. Consider hiring a bartender to mix the drinks for your party. That will allow you much more time to socialize with your guests. There are even caterers that specialize in bartending services only.
  9. Have coffee available for any guests that may need a little assistance at the end of the party. Your local taxi company phone number should also be handy and offered to any guests you believe shouldn't be driving.
  10. A cocktail party is not a family event--encourage your guests with children to find a sitter for the night. 

Food Tips

The beauty of cocktail party food is that it can be a fun, eclectic selection of items. Since nobody will be eating lots of any one item, you can toss in a few experiments and still have enough safe items so that no one will go home hungry. Here are some basic guidelines for planning your cocktail party menu:

  • Aim for variety in your menu including seafood, meat selections, finger food, canapes, hot and cold dishes.
  • Although sweets are not typically considered cocktail party food, it's nice to offer one or two sweet nibbles toward the end of the party. In addition to satisfying any lurking sweet teeth, it helps to let guests know that the party will be wrapping up soon.
  • When estimating food quantities, plan on serving approximately six bites per person, per hour for a two-hour party, when no dinner will be served.
  • For hors d'oeuvres that are not pieces, such as cheese and dips, one ounce is equivalent to one bite.
  • It is always better to overestimate than underestimate the amount of food you serve.

Menu for a Cocktail Party

If pressed for time, you could leave off one or two of these choices. But since many can be made in advance, why would you want to?

Paige's Hot Peppered Candy Walnuts - This recipe is a highly recommended accompaniment to martinis.

Tapenade Cracker Bites - This very easy nibble uses all prepared foods.

Four Cheese Pate Recipe - This recipe is like a dressed up cheese ball. It's easy because no baking or cooking is required.

Salmon Tarts - Another very easy bite that uses only three ingredients.

Szechwan Cold Garlic Shrimp - This one will take a bit of work, but since a lot of the recipe can be prepared in advance, it's worth it.

Beef Satay - These little sticks of beef are accompanied by a peanut dipping sauce.

Bruschetta - An elegant and popular hors d'oeuvres.

Forgotten Cookies - A simple and foolproof treat.

Mocha Shortbread - The texture of shortbread almost makes it fall into the savory category fitting for a cocktail party.