Everything You Should Know to Host a Flawless Cocktail Party

View of holiday cocktails with rosemary garnishes

Brooke Lark / Unsplash

Cocktail parties are always an enjoyable way to host friends and loved ones for delicious drinks and bites without having to squeeze into a dark, crowded bar or restaurant. If you're looking to host your best cocktail party yet, we're here with some tried and true tips that will make things easier on you and your guests. Cheers to that!

Offer a Mix of Beverages

By no means do you need to serve the entire contents of your liquor cabinet to your guests. Choose a signature cocktail to make—maybe a gin and tonic, a seasonal vodka drink, or even a fancy martini—and then offer wine or something bubbly (Prosecco is generally a crowd pleaser!), too. Some of your guests may show up with bottles of wine as a thank you gift, but it's completely acceptable if you wish to save the beverage that they bring for another occasion.

As a general rule, it's always better to overestimate how much alcohol you'll need than run out mid-party. You can always save unused bottles for gatherings down the line or gift them the next time you're invited to someone's home.

Note that while you may technically be hosting a cocktail party, not all guests will wish to drink alcohol, and many may prefer to switch to a simple seltzer or punch after consuming one or two drinks. It is always thoughtful to set out some bottles of sparkling water, tonic water, and perhaps a fun mixer—cranberry juice and some cut up limes will do the trick—so that guests won't feel uncomfortable helping themselves to something a bit lighter.

cocktail party

Lauren Zillinger for Laura Metzler Photo

Stock Up on Refreshments

While a cocktail party isn't the same as a full-on dinner party, your guests will still expect some nibbles to enjoy as they sip their drinks. A cheese or charcuterie board is always an excellent option when hosting a large group. You can stock up on various types of cheeses (hard, soft, strong, and more mild) as well as meats, crackers, and fun garnishes—apricots, olives, mixed nuts, and grapes are always popular additions. Simply assemble the board 15 to 20 minutes before guests arrive so that it will be nice and fresh, and set it out on your kitchen island or coffee table along with some small plates, cheese knives, and cocktail napkins. This way, guests can comfortably serve themselves (and return for seconds, if they wish!), and you won't spend the entire evening on your feet passing appetizers left and right. A cheeseboard is also extremely aesthetically pleasing and can really be styled to look super sophisticated. Even if your get together is relatively casual, guests will appreciate feeling as though they're part of a special, photo-worthy event.

cocktail party

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Make It Festive

It's easy to take your living room from family hangout space to sleek party headquarters in just a snap. Clear out any clutter—school or office supplies, pet toys, shoes, and the like—and tidy your coffee table so that stray papers, magazines, and coins are out of sight, too. Display a vase of fresh flowers, light a candle or two, and set out some chic entertaining accessories for your guests to enjoy: think colorful coasters, cheeky cocktail napkins, and inspiring coffee table books to flip through. If you're hosting your party in honor of a birthday or holiday, why not embrace a bit of a theme? Set out mini cupcakes, fill a glass bowl with seasonal candies, or go big with foil balloons if you're looking to make a bold (and Instagrammable!) statement.

bar cart

Desiree Burns

Curate a Playlist

It's always nice to have music playing before your first guest arrives—it will help fill awkward silence before the room starts to fill up and will help get everyone in a cheerful mood. The songs you pick are entirely up to you. You could put on some jazz music to evoke sophisticated city hotel bar energy, cue up Adele for a moody, soulful moment, or simply allow a friend to DJ.

Don't Forget About the Rest of the House

When your guests come over, they'll need a place to drop bags and coats and will of course need to use the bathroom at some point or another. Make sure that you think about all of these logistics ahead of time! If your space allows, clear off some hangers in your closet (or if you're in a small apartment, simply make your bed and encourage guests to lay their jackets there). Wipe off your bathroom mirror, clean up the sink and its surrounding area, set out a fresh bottle or bar of soap, and be sure to stock up on toilet paper so that no one has to pull you aside mid-party and ask where they can find more!