This isn’t just in the movies. You can do this. I promise. I will help you.
Where to begin in the wonderful world of planning a cocktail party? Ahh, let’s see. Let’s start with the guests.
You’re looking at inviting between 12-30 people. The whole idea of a cocktail party is that you maintain the intimate atmosphere. Invite a diverse range of guests, everyone from your crazy cousin Joe with the wild camping stories to your straight-laced work colleague- there should be someone there for everyone to talk to, crazed or not.
Friday night cocktail parties are nice if you want a more casual, laid-back vibe. It will usually be a winding-down-after-work-with-a-few-drinks shindig, so if you want a Friday night cocktail party, prepare to go more low key. Also prepare for guests to be pooped much earlier. Saturdays are most common.
Speaking of time, your cocktail party should go for about three hours and should commence after 6pm. Don’t ask why, just do it.
Create the right ambiance. Do some cleaning before your guests arrive- get rid of any clutter. You want your guests to be free to move and mingle. Keep as many clear surfaces as you can for resting drinks and platters of nibbles. LIGHTING is extremely important. Think dim, think seductive, think subdued. Use lamps- no overhead lights allowed. Oriental style paper lamps give off a wonderful golden glow. Tealight candles in pretty holders would look lovely lining your coffee table, on the TV unit, in the bathroom. Burn a subtle essential oil to set the mood. Citrus oils like lemon, lime and orange are great, invigorating, uplifting scents that brighten the mood of the room instantly. For a more sensuous, seductive scent, opt for ylang ylang, patchouli, orange, sandalwood, lavender and jasmine oils.
Music is an important aspect of every cocktail party. Stick to easy listening music- jazz, acoustic, anything that makes you feel relaxed. This isn’t the time to show off your love for old-school rap or headbanging heavy-metal.
Next, it’s important to set up an area that will be recognised as ‘the bar’ and more importantly, choose someone to be your bartender. You can either hire a professional if you feel like splashing out the cash, or pick a friend or family member who makes great conversation, mixes great drinks and can talk to everyone. They will be one of the biggest assets of your party.
Now it’s time to think about the supplies you need for your bar.
Be prepared with a variety of glasses– shot, highball, martini, champagne flutes and wine glasses. You need to have enough for two-three glasses per guest because we’re going to assume that they will be emptying these glasses and dumping them around your living room. Don’t scrimp on the ice- you need a lot, crushed for use in drinks, but you are also going to need it to keep drinks cold beneath the bar. You need to ensure your bar is stocked with enough grog to make these people happy. Assume 1 bottle of wine for every two wine drinkers. Beer drinkers should expect to consume a six-pack per couple.
Choose a few key liquors that you want as the base for your mixed cocktails rather than buying every single bottle of alcohol in the the bottle shop. I would go for vodka, Midori, bourbon, Bailey’s Irish Cream and Frangelico as bases and only offer cocktails based on these drinks. Then there is milk, cream, honey, lemon, pineapple, orange and cranberry juices, garnishes like olives, fruit peels, chocolate syrups, citrus slices, etc.
The best way to work out which alcohol to buy is to sit down and create your own little cocktail menu. Think of 5-7 different cocktails you would like to serve- they could be well-known mixes or your own concoctions. You can later print these out on cute little cards and leave them laying around on tables and at the bar for guests to peruse.
Don’t make the night miserable for your designated drivers. Offer some tasty non-alcoholic beverages. Tropical drinks are always a hit.
Next is the most important part- the food. Estimate six pieces per person, but I would always go over that because I would rather have too much food rather than not enough. The most important basics of any gathering are the customary bowl of nuts. If you snip open a pack of Nobby’s, you’re dead. Go to a proper deli. Buy some pistachios, pecans, Brazil nuts and almonds. Roast them yourself beforehand or cook them up with some chili, sugar and a bit of butter for a caliente spicy nut mix. Whatever you do with the nuts, just make sure they are the first thing your guests see upon arrival. Spread small bowls around the room for guests to help themselves.
Cheese platters please everyone- buy some really good French or Australian Brie or Camembert and serve the cheeses on a platter amid beautiful dried figs, chunks of toasted sourdough bread and wafer biscuits. The wine drinkers will love you for this.
A smoked salmon platter is essential. Lay your slices of smoked salmon out attractively on a platter accompanied with lemon wedges, a tiny bowl with salted capers, another small bowl with some cream cheese and scatter the platter with thinly sliced Spanish onion and some dill. Pure heaven.
Now for the hearty stuff. If you want to make this stuff from scratch, all the power to you, but I would personally suggest buying a few bits and pieces.
If you’re having a theme to your cocktail party, try and stick to it when it comes time for the food. If your theme is Oriental, go for platters of sushi, rice paper rolls, prawn toasts and all that jazz. This part is really up to you- only you can decide the type of fare you want to serve. Just remember it needs to be eaten with the hands, with minimal mess, whilst looking as sexy as possible. There is nothing fun about a room full of guests with fetta cheese splattering the front of their shirts and pesto dribbling down their chins. Stuff like tartlettes, bruschetta, tapas, skewered anything- chicken satay, beef, prawns, scallops, fruit, anything!
You can’t go wrong with pieces of melon wrapped in prosciutto; mushrooms stuffed with fetta cheese and olives; tandoori chicken bites, vegetable samosas; sushi; Thai fish cakes with a gorgeous sweet chilli dipping sauce; mini quiches, caramelised onion and fetta tarts and the like. Make a variety- and make sure there are vegetarian options. It’s also very important to find out about nut or other allergies beforehand.
Sweets. Sweets are the hint that the evening is almost over. Bring out trays of delectable little desserts like gooey chocolate tarts, grilled fruit kebabs with a honey cinammon dipping sauce, berry tarts, a platter of gourmet chocolates, mini-cheesecakes- don’t go overboard. Your guests will either be too trashed or too full to bother cramming their faces with dessert, so go easy.
When you think you should start winding up the party, start offering coffee to your guests- this usually goes hand in hand with the desserts. They will get the hint and start to wrap things up.
Don’t forget to have fun and mingle with your guests!
If any of your guests are trashed, endeavour to call them a taxi or arrange for them to get home safely. It’s not cool to let your friends or family drink and drive.