Planning the Perfect Cocktail Party

When planning the perfect cocktail party, think about incorporating a theme. This will set the mood of the event without adding to your budget and it will aid you with ideas for food, drinks, and décor. Your theme can be discreet, such as a flavor, color or cocktail that is represented throughout the evening. I have created a few guidelines to make your next cocktail party experience easy and stress-free. We will cover everything you need to host a fabulous fête, including planning, selecting a menu, setting up the bar, and setting the scene.

The Planning

Cocktail party planning starts with sending invitations. They may be formal or informal, but what is important is that they convey proper information regarding the time and the place of the party.

Canapés with salami
Canapés with salami

The Menu
The traditional cocktail party fare is hors d'oeuvres—small, savory finger foods that can be eaten in one or two bites. Typically, hors d'oeuvres are served before a meal and are not meant to be a substitute for a meal, however, nowadays I find that it's common for hors d'oeuvres to wind up replacing meals, so if your party takes place during dinner hours, plan to serve enough food to constitute a meal. Since you will be making various types of hors d'oeuvres, you can serve high priced items such as caviar or smoked salmon and still have a little change left over.

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 to find something they will enjoy. If you are not in the mood to prepare and cook, hiring a caterer or a personal chef will allow you to have fun with planning the theme, menu, drinks and decorations. The beauty of cocktail party food is that it can be a fun, eclectic selection of items. Prepare a cocktail menu and plan out how you will prepare everything ahead of time.

Serve a Signature cocktail
Serve a Signature cocktail

The Bar
Plan to serve wine and beer, as well as supplies for several kinds of cocktails. Have non-alcoholic alternatives on hand as well, and be sure you'll have enough ice. You can also create a Signature drink if you have a theme setting. For instance, a James Bond theme you could feature martinis, shaken not stirred!

Candlelight Ambience
Candlelight Ambience

The Scene
Choose which area of your home to use for your party well in advance, and set it up the day before the party so you have plenty of time to make last-minute changes. Arrange furniture so that guests can move throughout the room easily, clearing out extra furniture if necessary. Although most guests will be mingling, leave some furniture placed against the walls or in small clusters—there should be seating for 10 to 15 percent of your guests.

Set up drinks and hors d'oeuvres a good distance from each other or at opposite ends of the room, to cut down on traffic around them. Decorate with table linens, candles and simple floral arrangements. The complexity of the arrangements and quality of the linens should reflect the formality of the event. Lighting helps establish the mood of a party. Avoid unflattering overhead lights and instead use mood-enhancing candlelight. To get enough light, place candles in clusters. To jazz up your candles, wrap patterned paper around votive or candle holders and fastens with tape. If you don't want to use candles, stick to table and floor lamps.

Music helps your guests relax and gets them in the proper party mood. Choose tunes that match your theme or the atmosphere you want to create. The most hassle-free way to deal with music is to create a playlist for the party so the music is taken care of for the entire evening and you won't have to scramble to change CDs while trying to serve food. Have a few party games up your sleeve to break the ice and encourage your guests to mingle…and there you have it! The key to any great party is for the host to have as much fun as the guests.

Another martini or canapé anyone............?

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