How to Host a Great Cocktail Party

cocktail party

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Cocktail parties are perfect for a range of different occasions, from formal business events to charity fundraisers or even just a sophisticated way to celebrate a birthday with friends and family. No matter what reason you have for hosting a cocktail party, everyone can agree that they can hard work to organise, but it doesn’t have to be hassle! 

The first thing you need to do when planning your cocktail party, is set your budget, make the guest list and set a date. Then you’ll need to decide if you’re  hosting again home or hiring a venue. Then you can move on to the fun stuff like the actual cocktails, the food menu and the theme. After that, sort out the invites, supplies and the order of events and you’re ready to throw the perfect cocktail party! 
 
We’ll go through everything you need to know, plus plenty of ideas along the way to make sure your cocktail party is a roaring success. So let’s get into the best tips!

Decide your Budget First

Cocktail parties aren’t the cheapest and the cost of your party can creep up faster than you’d think. That’s why you should set yourself a budget before planning anything else. It’ll prevent you from overspending by inviting too many guests, having too many cocktails and fancy decorations, if you figure out how much you’re willing to spend from the get go.
 
Once you’ve decided how much you want your party to cost, make sure you track it electronically using a programme like Microsoft excel. Keep your spending log up to date to make sure you don’t get carried away and overspend. 
 
If you need some help planning your cocktail party on a budget, then check out our quick party planning budget tips!

Finalise the Guest List

If you’ve followed our advice and set your budget first, then deciding how many guests to invite to your cocktail party shouldn’t be too much trouble. Be realistic about how many guests you can afford to cater for without spending too much and stressing yourself out. 
 
If you’re hosting your cocktail party at home, aim for 25 guests or less to keep it manageable. But if you have a large venue and are hosting to your cocktail party as a charity or business event, you might be able to invite a lot more guests.
 
If you need more help deciding your guest list, take a look at our guide on how many guests to invite to your party

When Should your Cocktail Party Be?

Next on the cocktail party checklist, is deciding when your event will be. This depends what vibe you’re going for. Most cocktail parties are around 2 hours long, and the best time slot is 18:00-20:00. This is a good time to serve some food and drinks and mingle, without the party going on too long or late in the night. 
However, if it’s a casual get together with friends and family, then you can get away with hosting later on in the night. 
 
Friday and Saturday are your best days to throw a cocktail party to get the best attendance. But if you’ve left  it a bit late planning your cocktail party, then a lot of your guests might already have plans and your preferred venues might be booked up.
 
The good thing about cocktail parties, is that you can pretty much host them whenever you want. If you’re hosting on a weeknight, try not to go on any later than 21:00 or start any earlier than 18:00 otherwise your guests might be put off. Feel free to host it in the afternoon on a weekend too, but try and start it after 16:00 if you can.

Pick your Party Venue

Once you’ve finalised your budget, guest list and chosen your ideal date and time, you should start thinking about the venue. If you’re hosting a casual get together, then why not host your cocktail party at home? It’s the most cost effective option if you’re on a budget. But if you’re hosting a larger party, you’ll need to book a venue. 

Hosting a Cocktail Party at Home

Check out these some tips to hosting a great cocktail party at home. 

Get Rid of Any Clutter

The first thing you need to do to maximise your party space is get rid of all the clutter. Furniture or ornaments that don’t serve a purpose at your cocktail party need to go elsewhere. Moving clutter either upstairs or in a garage is a great way to help host a party in a small space.

Re-Arrange the Furniture 

Stackable chairs are a great space saver. You can have them upstairs to keep your main party space free, and bring them out if more of your guests want to sit down. 

If your living room is square-shaped, rather than rectangular, it’s best to have all of your furniture on the edge of the room and your food and drinks tables in the middle to maximise the space. 

Your guests are likely to congregate around tables, so dot them around to spread people out. You can have a few different small tables to ensure your guests can move between them without creating a queue. 

But if your space is narrower instead, it can be a good idea to have one long table in the centre with all your food and drink. Then you can place chairs around the edge. This will create a flow around the area that prevents congestion when your guests are moving about. 

If you don’t have enough room for many chairs, you can always throw down some pillows and blankets. It’s a good space saver because more people can usually fit on a blanket than a bench and it’ll take up less room. 

Have Plenty of Bins

Make sure there are enough bins at various places in your house. Number one, it’ll make the cleaning up process a lot quicker. Plus it’ll stop more people getting up and moving around creating congestion if there is a bin near them. Having a lot of people moving about is what makes your area seem smaller. When people are sat down and settled, you’re likely to feel the effects of a small space a lot less. 

Stagger the Arrival Time

Another thing you can do that’ll help you host a baby shower in a small space, is to stagger the arrival time. Having a large window for your guests to arrive, stops a massive influx of people at one time. This will make it seem like the area is larger, because trying to cram everyone in at once will highlight a small space even more. 

cocktail party

Hiring a Venue

If you’re hiring a venue, there’s some things you need to consider to make sure you pick the best one. There are plenty of options that might be suitable, including restaurants, function rooms and bars, so here are some things to think about to help you decide. 
 

Venue Size 

The size, and ultimately the cost, of your venue will mostly depend on how many guests you’re inviting.

Venue Location

Try and choose a central location that’s convenient for the majority of guests. You might have your eye on a venue that’s quite far away, but some guests might be put off if they will struggle to get home after the party without paying a fortune for transport.

If you’re planning on going out afterwards, make sure your venue isn’t too far from any clubs or bars. Ideally, you want a short taxi ride or direct public transport. 
 

Inside or Outside 

If you’re hosting a winter anniversary party, it’s probably best to go with the safe option and host inside. But if you want to celebrate the occasion outdoors, check that the venue has a plan B in case the weather doesn’t go your way.  

The Bar

Some venues offer drinks, but others just leave you to it. Think about the kind of cocktails you want to serve at your party and if the venue fits in with your plans.

Any Extras

Some venues offer additional services which might sway your decision, for example a food, decorations or some entertainment. Try and consider the whole package when choosing a venue to make sure you get a good deal.

Overall Cost 

This depends on how luxurious your venue is, how many guests it caters for, and if there are any extras included. Make sure you are strict with yourself when choosing the venue and remember our advice about sticking to your budget! 

Cocktail Menu

Now it’s time for the fun stuff. Of course, a cocktail party needs a great drinks menu. If you’re hosting at a venue with a bar, talk to them beforehand to discuss what drinks you would like to serve to your guests.

If you’re hosting at home or your venue doesn’t provide drinks, then our advice is to keep it simple. Don’t overload yourself with lots of different cocktails. You’ll end up spending a fortune on ingredients and it’ll take forever to make them all. Instead, pick around 3-4 cocktails and offer some wine or gin if you’d like, along with some soft drinks like juice. Or you could even offer some mocktails for the designated driver. 
 
But what cocktails are best? If you’re choosing 3 cocktails, then go for 2 classics and 1 speciality drinks. This way, your menu is likely to keep everyone happy and you’ll get the chance to impress your guests with the speciality cocktail. If you want to ensure your menu has something for everyone, then have one sour drink, one sweet and fruity drink, and a stronger alcoholic option. 
 
Here’s a list of 15 classic cocktails to get you started. 
 

Classic Sour Cocktails

  • Amaretto sour
  • Cuba libre
  • Daiquiri
  • Caipirinha 
  • Mojito

Classic Sweet/ Fruity Cocktails

  • Bramble
  • Piña Colada
  • Mai Tai 
  • Singapore Sling
  • Peach Bellini 

Strong Classic Cocktails

  • Black Russian
  • Old Fashioned
  • Aviation
  • Martini
  • Negroni
Here are a few of our favourite easy to make speciality cocktail and mocktail recipes. 
 

Ginger Berry Mule Recipe

Ingredients per Serving:
 
  • Blueberry vodka (12.5ml)
  • Cherry vodka (12.5ml)
  • Sugar syrup (12.5ml)
  • Juice from 1/2 lemon
  • Handful of raspberries
  • Ginger beer

Shake the vodka, sugar syrup, lemon juice and raspberries in a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Double strain and serve in a tall glass filled with ice cubes and top with ginger beer. Garnish with some fresh ginger cubes. 

Chilli and Basil Crush Recipe

Ingredients per Serving:

  • White rum (25ml)
  • Sugar syrup (12.5ml)
  • Juice from 1/2 lime
  • Handful  of basil leaves
  • 3 slices of red chilli
Muddle the ingredients, then shake with ice and double strain into a tall glass filled with ice cubes and top with crushed ice. Garnish with a whole chilli on the side of the glass. 
 

Lemon and Basil Spritzer Recipe (non-alcoholic)

Ingredients per Serving:

  • Soda/ lemonade 250ml
  • Basil leaves
  • Sugar syrup 25ml 
  • Juice from 1/2 Lemon 

Cut the lemon into quarters, add a few basil leaves and the sugar syrup and then muddle in a chilled glass. Fill the glass with ice and top with soda or lemonade. 

 
Take a look at our list of the 10 best party drinks for some more great recipes!
party drink

It's All About the Details

The ice is super important but often overlooked at cocktail parties. You’ll need high quality ice to make sure your cocktails are perfectly diluted and chilled when shaking and serving. 
 
Ditch the supermarket bags of ice and instead make your own. Boil water and freeze it in large tubs to make the clearest ice and then crack it when you’re ready to use it. 
 
You can also use high quality ice moulds and use the same technique of boiling freezing. If you want to be a bit more adventurous, add edible flowers or fruit to the water for an added touch.
 
Don’t forget to use the freshest possible ingredients too. That means your lime and lemon juice should be prepared only when it’s about to be used and not in advance of your party if you can. And always use fresh and not frozen fruits. 

Cocktail Party Food

Every cocktail party needs some food too. Canapes and buffet style food works best for this type of event, rather than a sit-down meal. You’ll first need to decide if you will sort the food yourself, or hire a professional caterer. 

If you’re hosting at home, think about a DIY approach to your cocktail party food to save money for your drinks. You don’t have to do everything yourself though. Think about asking close friends and family for a bit of help to take the pressure off.

But if you’re hosting a more formal corporate cocktail party, then consider hiring a caterer. Chances are the guest list will be too large to sort everything yourself, and choosing a cater allows you to serve high quality food without the hassle. 

Take a look at our ultimate party food guide for some ideas and serving size suggestions. 

10 Savoury Cocktail Party Food Ideas

  • Bruscetta
  • Deviled eggs
  • Stuffed mini peppers
  • Tomato and mascarpone pinwheels
  • Chicken satay skewers
  • Mini goat’s cheese and red onion tarts
  • Crab cakes
  • Halloumi and chorizo skewers
  • Smoked salmon and cream cheese toasts
  • Baked vegetable samosas

10 Sweet Cocktail Party Food Ideas

  • Individual lemon meringue pies
  • Vanilla cheesecake bites
  • Salted caramel truffles
  • Peanut butter brownie bites
  • Chilli and chocolate tartlets
  • Red velvet cupcakes
  • Millionaire’s shortbread
  • Cheese and water crackers
  • Lemon sorbet
  • Minature chocolate soufleé

Cocktail Party Theme Ideas

It can be a good idea to narrow down your cocktail party with a specific theme to give it more direction and make it easier to plan your menu and decorations. Here’s our list of the best cocktail party themes that you can try. 
 

Mexican Fiesta 

This theme allows you to take advantage of the national treasure, tequila! You can serve a variety of flavoured margaritas and tequila sunrises, decorate your venue with bold, bright colours and serve some great Mexican party food like mini tacos and enchiladas. 
 

Classic Cuban 

Make the most of Cuba’s rum by preparing classic cocktails like Mojitos and Daquiris. Try some unique flavours to add your own spin on these traditional drinks to to them some creative flair. Throw in some Cuba Libres too, they’re super easy and quick to make for a party.
 

Colour Based

Choosing a colour scheme will help you narrow down your decorations. You can choose a bright pink colour scheme and serve strawberry daiquiris and classic cosmopolitan or a cool blue theme and offer your guests some blue lagoon cocktails.
 

All About Martinis

This classic drink is perfect for a formal black tie event. Serve traditional martinis and throw in some variations like the espresso and rosa martinis. This theme is sure to create a sophisticated vibe when paired with fancy hors d’oeuvres and a black and white colour scheme. 

Essential Cocktail Party Supplies

You’ll need to stock up on some supplies before your party starts. Here’s a list of essential cocktail party supplies so you don’t forget anything!
 
  • Glassware
  • Cocktail shaker
  • Ice scoop
  • Shot measure
  • Tea strainer
  • Hand juicer
  • Plates
  • Cutlery
  • Serviettes/ napkins

Shindigz is a great online party supply store that you can use to find great decoration ideas with over 34,000 party supplies for every occasion and next day delivery!  

Stumps Party is another awesome party supply store offering custom event supplies and regular deals and discounts. 

Think about what kind of cocktails you’re serving and decide on the shape of glasses you’ll need. Here’s a quick guide to cocktail glasses to help you out. 

Martini Glass

This glass is designed for small drinks served without ice and the long stem ensures your hand doesn’t warm the drink up. Serve drinks in this glass without a straw.

martini glass cocktail party

Rocks Glass

Short and strong cocktails Fashioned are best served in rocks glasses filled with ice. Examples include the Negroni and Old Fashioned. 

cocktail party negroni

High Ball Glass

This glass is preferred for large drinks that tend to be on the weaker side and include a mixer and plenty of ice. Examples include the Mojito and Cuba Libre. 

cocktail party highball glass

Flutes

Flutes are specifcally designed for cocktails made with Sparkling Wine such as a Kir Royale or Peach Belini. 

cocktail party drink

Define the Dress Code

You’ll need to make sure your guests are aware of the guest code at your cocktail party too. If you’re hosting a more casual event, let your guests know because they may assume that it’s a black tie kind of a dress code otherwise.
 
You can have a bit of fun with the dress code too! If you’ve chosen a theme for your cocktail party, then embrace it with some fancy dress. It doesn’t have to be all suits and little black dresses at a cocktail party! 
 
Fun.com is a online huge party supply store that has loads of great costumes to choose from!

Music Sets the Mood

Set the mood at your cocktail party with some music. The classic approach is to go for a relaxed but sophisticated style like jazz or lounge music, particularly if you’re hosting earlier in the evening. 
 
But if you’re hosting later in the night, don’t be afraid of some more upbeat styles. We’re not saying you should throw some heavy drum and bass songs in your playlist, it’s definitely not the time and place for that. But some laidback Tropical House tunes can work really well. If you need some tips, check out our guide to making the perfect party playlist.
 

Apple Music is the perfect way to create a party playlist. It’s intelligent recommendation feature makes it really quick to add songs to create the perfect track list and it’s cross fade feature makes seamless song transitions. It’s only $9.99/ £9.99 per month and you can get a free 3 month trial to check it out. And don’t worry, you can use it on Android devices too!

Join over 50 million subscribers and sign up for your 3 month free trial today! 

 
Of course, you don’t have to DIY. Hiring a DJ can be a great way of raising your cocktail party to the next level. But if you really want to impress your guests, why not hire some live music? It’s a great way to keep everyone entertained and create the perfect cocktail party atmosphere.
 
Not sure what option is best, take a look at our party music tips to help you choose the best one for your cocktail party. 

Think About your Invitations

The invitations will set the tone for your party so it’s important that you spend a little bit of time preparing them.
 
If you’re hosting a formal cocktail party, then email your invitations out to various groups. But don’t be boring and send a plain email. Instead, go and look on the website Canva and create a custom invitation using one of their many templates. It’s very easy, doesn’t take long and the results are really professional.
 
You can also use Canva if you’re hosting a more casual cocktail party if you want to go all out. But another good way of inviting everyone, is to create a Facebook event. It’ll allow you to easily send your invitations in one go and keep track of who’s attending.
 
Here’s a list of the things you need to include on your cocktail party invites:
 
  • Date and time
  • Location
  • RSVP instruction
  • Dress code
  • Plus one policy

Cocktail Party Order of Events

Thinking about your order of events ahead of time is the best way to make your cocktail party run smoothly. If you’ve organised any entertainment or need to make any speeches, figure out when they’ll be. Here’s an example of the order of events at a formal cocktail party. 
 
0:00-0:30 Arrival window and offer welcome drinks
0:30-1:00 Serve food 
1:00-1:20 Entertainment 
1:20-1:30 Speeches and toasts 
1:30-2:30 Time to mingle!

Cocktail Party Hosting Tips

As the cocktail party host, you have a lot of responsibility to make sure the event runs smoothly. If you’ve followed this guide to the letter, you should be in a great position to relax and enjoy the evening. But we’ve still got a few tips you should keep in mind during the party to make sure it’s a success!

  • Have a backup plan. If disaster strikes with the food, entertainment or even the drinks, try and have a plan B ready in your head just in case.
  • Thank your guests for attending and introduce them to each other.
  • Offer everyone a drink when they arrive.
  • Keep their drinks topped up if you can.
  • Spend a little time with every guest.

Cocktail Party Planning Timeline

You should have hopefully started thinking about your cocktail party around 8 weeks in advance. But don’t worry if you’ve left it later, just use this checklist to help you prioritise everything.

8 Weeks Before

  • Set a budget
  • Make your guest list
  • Book the venue
  • Choose a theme

4 Weeks Before

  • Send your invitations
  • Create your cocktail and food menu
  • Shop for your party supplies
  • Decide on the music

1 Week Before

  • Prepare a speech if you need to
  • Follow up with any guests that haven’t responded to your invites

1-2 Days Before

  • Shop for all your food and cocktail ingredients 

Day of the Party

  • Prepare the food
  • Decorate your venue
  • Prepare the tables

So there you go! Now you all the ideas you could ever need to plan the perfect cocktail party. 

Don’t forget to take a look at our party planning timeline to make sure you’ve got everything covered. It’ll tell you everything you need to do at each stage of the party planning process so you can create an amazing party without any stress or worry about forgetting anything! It even includes a free printable party planning checklist to make sure you stay on track. 

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