How to Plan a Cocktail Party 

 Originally Written: September 30, 2009

By  Hanna Trafford

cocktail-party_mlo041A cocktail party is a great way to start off a long evening. Invite your guests for a short period before larger function (whether the larger function is in your home or not) Keep nibbles and drinks to a minimum.

This is the type of party where you get what I would call “a crowd”. Most often, you will have more guests than chairs to sit on. Your guest will be standing, walking around, eating, drinking and visiting each other.

Planning reflects the scenario – you need to consider all details and prepare accordingly to avoid dissapointments. Hope this simple guide will help you in have a succesfull event!

Your Guests:

We have already established that they will be mostly standing, walking around, etc. It is a good idea to set the time on your invitations near the dinner hour – assuming that your cocktail party preceeds a dinner event. So – your invitations should read:  Cocktails: 4:30 – 7:00 pm, dinner to follow, etc.

You may want to ask for RSVP’s on the invitations – that is always a good idea that helps tremendously with planning.

Another good idea is to advise if your home is a non-smoking home – best way to do that is to note that guest can smoke on the patio.

Menu Planning:

Variety is definitely the way to go here. Cheese, meats, seafood, fruit and pastries are in order.You can set out cold appetizers and if you are also serving hot ones, do that in smaller quantities keeping refilling warm ones directly from your oven or microwave. Keeo an eye on dips and replenish them often. Individual paltes are not neccessary but good napkins are a must.

Food should be easy to handle and eaten in one or two bites. When planning quantities, allow about 8 pieces per person.

Have extra glasses on hand and supply coffee as well as at least one non-alcoholic drink or punch for non-drinkers and designated drivers. Easiest way to serve drinks is to serve the first one to each guest and invite them to serve themselves for additional drinks. When planning the quantity of alcohol, count on 3-4 drinks per person.

Room Setting:

If you need to, move some furniture around to allow more space for your guests to mingle. Remove breakable objects that could be bumped into when there is a crowd of people. Visualize where there could be traffic jams and try to open uo the space as much as possible.

Have coasters in as many places as possible and set out your food in more than one location – along with napkins and containers to discard anything that needs to be discarded.


1 -3 weeks before the party:

  • Send out invitations
  • Plan menu by categories – hot and cold, meatm fishm cheese, veggies, sweets, spicy, mild, etc. If you can, make apetizers and free them. Stock up on drink supplies and make ice cubes.

1 -2 days prior:

  • Arrange your furniture
  • Set up bar
  • Set up food areas
  • Do final grocery shopping (Buy extra cheese and crackers – just in case)

1 day prior:

  • Transfer freezer food to refrigerator
  • Chill mixes
  • Get flowers for decor (nice idea – put single bud vases with a flower into your bathrooms)

Day of the Party:

  • Decide where coats will be put
  • Put fresh towels in the bathrooms
  • Decide who will share the hosting with you to make sure you have one person answering the door and another one taking care of guest who have already arrived

Special Touch: Make sure you have music playing softly in the background!

And – find a little time the day of your party to relax! Tired hostess is not a good hostess!

Hope this little guide was helpful to you – please feel free to send in your comments, experiences and suggestions – your comments are always welcomed!


Hanna Trafford

Hanna is the mother of two grown sons Dan and Dusan Nedelko, and is also the Grandmother to Jax, Cohen and Mila. She is the lead editor of Mama Knows and is hoping to create an exchange of communications with other grandmothers, mothers and daughters - giving everyone the opportunity to learn and share about everything that is "Mama"

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