Planning a Cocktail Party

“A medium vodka dry Martini – with a slice of lemon peel. Shaken and not stirred.” James Bond (Sean Connery) in Dr No.

Imagine a cocktail party where the men are dashing and the women glamorous – and you at the centre the perfect host!

Now if you’re feeling inspired, stop! Think! A little planning beforehand will help make your cocktail party go with an even bigger swing!

  • Choose a date. A late Sunday afternoon or early evening affair is likely to accommodate more people than a Friday or Saturday night. Pick a date well in advance.
  • Decide whom you’re going to invite. A mix of about 10-12 old and new friends works well – as long as you pick carefully!
  • Send out formal invitations at least three weeks in advance. Receiving a proper invite through the post, especially if it’s unexpected, is all the more exciting. State times, dress code and what to expect in the way of food and drinks. If you’re having a themed party (see Cocktail Party Themes), the invitation is the place to let people know.
For Example: Welcome to Breakfast at Tiffany’s
Please join us from 6.00 pm to 9.00 pm
for ice-cold dry martinis and swanky hors d’oeuvres
Tuxedo and little black dress optional but very desirable!

  • Plan your food and drink (See Cocktail Party Food). Make a shopping list and buy non-perishables in advance. Don’t forget the non-alcoholic cocktails for the designated driver.
  • Design the party area. As well as seats and space for mingling, you need a table to act as cocktail bar and another table for the nibbles. If you’re having a theme, you’ll need to think about any decoration you want for the room.
  • Flowers, candles and music will all help set the scene. Again, planning in advance is the key.
  • Sort out your glasses. You’ll need to allow at least two per person. If you don’t have enough, borrow some from your local off-licence, or visit some charity shops: you may be able to pick up cocktail glasses cheaply. Wine glass charms will help your guests remember which glass is theirs.
  • Practise mixing cocktails. Not only will this make you look good in front of your guests, you’ll get to drink what you practise on!
  • You’ll need plenty of ice. A cool box filled with ready-prepared ice cubes should last you a while – but start freezing the cubes early in the day.
  • It’s pleasant to end the evening with some sweet nibbles and coffee – maybe Irish coffee. As well as satisfying the sweet-toothed amongst your guests, it signals that it’s nearly time to go home.
  • Have the phone number of a taxi firm to hand in case your innocent-seeming cocktails prove too tempting for some of your guests!
Stocking the Bar We suggest you offer a small number of cocktails based on the same one or two spirits. The contents of your bar will depend on which ones you choose, but a basic cocktail bar will contain some or most of these:

  • Vodka
  • Rum
  • Gin
  • Bourbon
  • Scotch
  • Tequila

You could stock up on the liqueurs, such as Crème de Menthe, Baileys or Drambuie, but that’s getting a bit extravagant and not really necessary if you don’t already have some in the house. But you will need some or all of these mixers:

  • Fruit juices
  • Soda water
  • Tonic water
  • Coca cola
  • Ginger ale
  • Angostura bitters
  • Tabasco sauce

And don’t forget dry vermouth if you’re planning martinis!


  • Some experts say the more the garnish, the worse the drink, but some cocktails benefit from an olive (martini), a cherry or a twist of lemon or lime peel (Manhattan). And plenty of ice!
  • Salt or sugar-rimmed glasses can look very attractive. Rub a wedge of lime or lemon around the rim of the glass. Spread some coarse salt or caster sugar on a saucer and dip the rim in it. Chill.
Extras To look the bees’ knees, your bar will need at least 1 cocktail shaker and an ice bucket, plus toothpicks and olives. Cocktail umbrellas and plastic olive swords are optional depending on the theme.

How Much?

  • Allow 3 or 4 cocktails per person. A 750 ml bottle will give you about 16 cocktails. Play safe and buy a little more than think you need.
  • If you’ve decided to offer 2 or 3 cocktails, make them up in iced pitchers and have them ready to pour.
And Finally

  • Home measures tend to be more generous than bar measures so add lots of mixer to the drink.
  • A cocktail party is meant to be fun – for the host as well as the guests! Be well prepared and enjoy yourself!

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