How to host the perfect cocktail party

The secret to hosting a memorable cocktail party is pre-planning! In our latest blog post, we’ll cover everything you need to know to host the perfect cocktail party that goes off without a hitch, from invitations to cocktail party catering. Your guests will appreciate your efforts and enjoy the night, while you’ll look like a star in front of your boss.

Timing

As cocktail parties don’t normally include a full dinner, we recommend starting the party just a little after dinner time. For evening cocktail parties, 7pm is an ideal time to start your event. The best length for a cocktail party to run is normally two to three hours. So if your event starts at 7pm, the ideal time for the party to end would be around 9-10pm.

It would be ideal to hold the cocktail party on a Friday or Saturday, as the majority of people don’t have to go to work the next day. However, it’s important to take your guest list into consideration when deciding on timings. For example, if your guests are retirees, you would have more flexibility with days and you could potentially start at 6pm or hold it in the late afternoon.

What to wear

Simple elegant clothing is the norm, unless specified otherwise.

For men:

  • Dress pants and a nice shirt
  • Ties are optional unless the invitation states to dress formally
  • Don’t wear a tuxedo – that would be overdressed
  • Suit or blazer
  • Dress shoes

For women

  • The classic ‘little black dress’ never goes wrong
  • An elegant cocktail dress, but keep hemlines and necklines appropriate
  • A skirt and blouse
  • Pant suit
  • Wear heels. If you’re uncomfortable in heels, wear flats, but make sure they’re classy flats. Don’t wear sneakers.

Tip: A cocktail party is not a great time to break in new shoes. Make sure your shoes are comfortable and are easy to walk in.
 

simple elegant clothing is the norm for cocktail parties

The invitations

Make a great first impression with your invitations. There’s nothing wrong with sending out e-vites, but for cocktail parties that are a little more formal, it’s a good idea to mail the invitation. To create a sense of anticipation and curiosity about the event, consider sending the printed invitations in something other than an envelope. For example, a glass bottle, box or record sleeve. This can serve as a memento after the event, but also sets the scene.

Don’t forget to include the essentials:

  • RSVP information
  • Dress code
  • Event details including time and venue
  • Parking, transportation information or details on how to get to the venue, if required
     

Party drinks

You don’t need to have a fully stocked bar to host a fabulous cocktail party. The primary purpose of your cocktail party is to let your guests socialise, so keep it simple with:

  • A few signature or easy cocktails
  • Red and white wine
  • Beer – offer a selection of dark, light and maybe even craft beers
  • Some non-alcoholic drinks – whether it’s soft drinks, juice or mocktails, don’t forget to cater for the non-drinkers

When your guests arrive, greet them at the door with the offer of a drink. This will make them feel welcome and lets them mingle straight away without needing to go on the hunt for drink when they first arrive.

Have stations set up all over your entertaining space with different cocktails and simple snacks like finger food catering or nibbles. This will give your guests a chance to move around the room and mingle. Do not put all your drinks and food in one place!

Tip: Provide a printed drinks and cocktail menu on the night. Your bartender or wait staff won’t need to keep repeating the same thing over again and it will help your guests order what they want rather than grabbing the first drink offered to them. A printed menu with a description of the cocktails available makes it easier to order too.
 

have some signature cocktails at your party

Cocktail party catering

It’s important to provide food if alcohol is being served. Begin the night with some simple nibbles, such as cheese, nuts and olives and introduce more gourmet finger food and canapes as the night progresses. This allows your guests to nibble consistently throughout the night and enjoy some variety. Just as you would with a dinner party, include a selection of finger food items for variety, including seafood, meat, vegetables, cheese and sweets. Don’t forget to cater for special diets by providing some vegetarian, vegan or gluten free options.

Ideally, everything on your catering menu would be served at room temperature to avoid using unattractive chafing dishes. If you would like a hot item served, ensure that it can be pulled directly out of the oven and served immediately.

Some cocktail party event catering ideas could include:

  • Roving oyster shuckers
  • Caprese bites
  • Petit tartlets with a variety of fillings
  • Satay chicken skewers
  • Scallops
  • Tempura vegetables
  • Crab cakes
  • Antipasto
  • Smoked salmon bites

How many finger food pieces or canapes per person?

If you’re catering for a two hour cocktail event, we recommend you order between 8-9 pieces of finger food or canapes per person. For a three hour event, we recommend ordering between 10-12 finger food pieces or canapes per person. If you need further guidance, don't hesitate to speak to one of our events catering gurus.

Tip: Always serve finger food at your cocktail event! Try to resist serving anything that’s too messy (like ribs or wings), or where a plate is required. It’s difficult trying to carry a plate of food and a drink at the same time while you’re trying to eat. Plus, it’s also not very elegant trying to eat those spicy chicken wings!

gourmet finger food catering for your cocktail party

Photo credit: Laissez Faire Catering

Decorations

Scatter vases of fresh elegant flowers or simple decorations throughout your entertaining space. Be practical about the placement of small tables to avoid crowding. It should allow people to easily socialise and perch their drinks on, or for wait staff to collect used napkins and glasses. It shouldn’t get in the way of guests being able to move around.

To set a warm and inviting ambiance to the party, use indirect lighting and keep it dim. The trick is to have just enough light for your guests to be able to see each other and make their way around. Overhead lights can be too harsh and glaring and fluorescent lights can be extremely unflattering.

You don’t need to go all out with entertainment for a cocktail party. Keep it simple with mellow music that’s conducive for conversations, or get someone to sing live.

Tip: Add another dimension to your event with scented candles.
 

Hosting a memorable cocktail party

You’ll never throw a boring cocktail party ever again with our tricks and tips! If it’s too time-consuming or stressful to plan a cocktail party, you can enlist the help of our experienced event managers to handle your event for you. Give us a call on 1300 851 900 for a free quote and let us handle everything from start to end, including event catering, decorations, theming, flowers, alcohol delivery and more. With over 18 years’ experience and access to exceptional corporate caterers and supplies in Australia, we’ll make your cocktail party in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane a success!

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