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The ULTIMATE Cocktail Party Guide EVER – FREE!

The ULTIMATE Cocktail Party Guide EVER – FREE!

The secret to hosting the best cocktail party ever is pre-planning!

In this comprehensive post, we are going to cover every important aspect you need to know to plan the perfect cocktail party.

Your guests will appreciate your efforts and your social clout will rise!


Be a Social Catalyst at your Cocktail Party


Sometimes when people host a cocktail party, they become so engrossed in preparing drinks and serving food, they end up spending very little social time with their guests. This defeats the purpose of a good cocktail party!

Remember, as the host you need to be the catalyst in getting other people socializing and having fun.

  • When each guest arrives, or as soon after they arrive as possible, you should make sure you meet and greet them.
  • Tell them you are happy to see them and ask if you can take their coat.
  • Ask them if they would like something to drink.

The idea is to help your quests make a social connection by pointing out some common bond between them.

As the cocktail party progresses, work your way around the room spending time with each and every guest. If it looks like someone is a bit shy, introduce them to someone else and point out a common bond. For example, you might say something like, “Mike, isn’t your son about to start college? Sara’s daughter has been accepted to Stanford.”


Recruit a Co-Host Or Hire a Bartender

It can be difficult to meet and greet all your guests, make introductions, and converse with your guests if you also function as the bartender. For this reason, cocktail parties run much more smoothly if you enlist the help of a co-host. This person should be someone with whom you work well together such as your significant other, a family member, or a good friend. Alternately, you could hire a bartender for your cocktail party.

Party Timing

It is just as important to establish what time the party will end on your invitations as what time your party will begin. 

Since cocktail parties do not normally include dinner, it is best to start the party a little after dinner time. Therefore, a good beginning time for evening cocktail parties is 7:00 p.m. The best timeframe for a cocktail party is two to three hours, so if you start at 7:00 p.m, a good ending time would be 9:00-10:00 p.m. 

Most cocktail parties take place on a Friday or Saturday evening because the majority of people do not have to go to work the next day. However, you should consider your guest list, first and foremost, when deciding when to have your party. For example, if you are hosting a cocktail party for college students on winter break, it might actually be better to have your party mid-week since many college students work on the weekends. Likewise, if your guest list includes mostly retirees, you have more flexibility with the day of the party. You may also want to bump the start time up to 6:00 p.m or even have it mid-afternoon.

What To Wear

Simple elegant clothing is the norm at a cocktail party, unless you specifically state something different on your invitations. Another way of saying this is “dressy casual.” You want to wear something in between casual and formal. 


  • Dress pants and a nice shirt.
  • You can also wear a blazer but a tie is optional unless you have stated to dress formally on the invitations.
  • Also, make sure you are well groomed but be cautious about cologne and aftershave because some of your guests may have chemical sensitivities.


  • The classic “little black dress”
  • An elegant cocktail dress always works.
  • A skirt and blouse
  •  A pant suit
  • If you are uncomfortable in heels, by all means wear flats, but make sure they are classy flats.
  • Keep your accessories relatively simple
  • Consider your guests who may be sensitive to chemicals when deciding how much perfume, if any, to wear.

Remember too, hosting a cocktail party is not a good time to break in a pair of new shoes! You want to wear shoes you’ve worn at least a few times before and you know are comfortable and easy to walk in. Here are some great style ideas for women.

What Drinks To Serve

You do not have to go to bartender school or have a fully stocked bar to host the best cocktail party ever. In fact, the best cocktail parties tend to keep things simple by doing away with the concept of offering a full bar. Instead, they offer :

  • A few signature cocktails
  • Red wine
  • White wine
  • Dark beers
  • Light beers
  • Some non-alcoholic drinks.

Click here for drink ideas.

Remember, the primary purpose of your cocktail party is to socialize, not to offer a full array of mixed drinks. For the latter, your guests could just as well go to a bar.


Provide a Printed Menu Of Drinks

Proving your guests with a printed menu of drinks will help your cocktail party run more smoothly in several ways.

  1. The menu will prevent you, or your bartender, from having to repeat the same thing over and over.
  2. It will help your guests order what they truly desire rather than the first drink offered to them.
  3. If you provide descriptions for each featured cocktail, this will help those less savvy about cocktails decide what to try without feeling embarrassed about their lack of knowledge.

Be sure to list the types of wines, beers, and non-alcoholic drinks you have on hand too. To make your cocktail menus more attractive, choose a stylish font and print them on paper with a nice texture or pre-printed design. You can get some really nice papers from most office supply stores.

Always Use Fresh Ice Made With Purified Water

Although a solid, ice is porous and will take on the stale taste and odor of any food stored in the freezer. Unfortunately, this can then be transferred to your drinks which can throw the taste and/or smell of your cocktails off. You don’t want a subtle fish odor or the hint of garlic in your cocktails! Furthermore, store bought pre-made ice is often made with water that is contaminated. Therefore, if you really want to serve your guests the best ever cocktails, you’ll need to make fresh homemade ice the day of the party using purified water. Cleaning your freezer and putting open boxes of baking soda in it a few days before you make the ice will help your ice taste better too. 

More About Ice

Ice is a more important element than you may think because it can make or break your signature cocktails and even the non-alcoholic sodas you serve!

  • It is always best to use large cubes of ice that have less surface area so they don’t melt as fast. One-inch cubes are a nice size for most cocktails and they look attractive in the glass.
  • It may also be worth investing in some silicone ice trays because ice cubes are easier to remove from silicone. Plus, silicone trays tend to make clearer ice if you start with a silicone tray at room temperature. This is because the ice freezes more slowly and traps less bubbles at the surface.
  • If you really want to impress your guests, you can buy higher end ice cube trays that will make crystal clear ice in interesting shapes such as sparkling diamonds!

Encourage Your Guests To Mingle More


It is basic human nature for people to gravitate toward the people they already know. However, if you are throwing a cocktail party where not all the guests know each other already, you want to encourage your guests to mingle outside of their already established social cliques. One excellent way to accomplish this is by using three or more different food stations instead of putting all the food in one central location. You can also separate the food from the drinks. As your guests migrate between food stations and the drink station, they will meet and mingle with different people.

Glassware Variety To Use

When choosing glassware for your cocktail party, you need to carefully consider both function and presentation. We’ll first consider function.

Stemware includes wine glasses, champagne glasses, martini glasses, and margarita glasses.

The stem on these glasses serves a very functional purpose of temperature regulation. As your guests hold the stemware by the stem, this prevents their warm hand from quickly raising the temperature of the cocktail. You never put ice in stemware because it will topple over too easily. However, if you pre-chill the cocktail, it should stay cool for a long time without the warm hand touching the flute.

Half the joy of sipping wine is smelling its bouquet. Therefore, the flute opening on wine glasses serves an important function. The opening is intentionally made wide enough so your nose can enter the top of the glass when you take a sip. Since the bouquet on white wines is not quite as important, white wine glasses tend to have a slightly smaller flute opening than red wine glasses. Therefore, for your cocktail party, you should have a larger flute wine glass for red wine and a slightly smaller flute wine glass for white wine.

The rocks glass, aka old fashioned glass or a lowball.

This is thick and sturdy and functionally holds up to ice well without toppling over. The thickness of the glass also serves to keep the ice from melting too fast.

The high ball, aka collins glass or tall drink glass.

This is also good and sturdy and holds up to ice well. The tall cylindrical shape of the glass is also best for fizzy drinks containing soda water, like a collins, because there is less surface area at the top for the bubbles to escape. Therefore, the bubbles last longer in this kind of glass. You should be sure to serve drinks in these glasses with a straw because the alcohol tends to settle at the bottom it needs to be stirred occasionally to keep it mixed.

Champagne glasses.

The flute on champagne glasses is tall and thin, and sometimes curves inward at the very top, to reduce the surface area so the bubbles will not escape as fast. Some champagne glasses have a little “bead” etched in at the bottom of the flute to direct the champagne bubbles into a single stream.

It’s important to consider how each type of glass functions when deciding what drinks you want to serve and which type of glass to serve them in. For example, if you serve champagne in wide open red wine glasses, your champagne isn’t going to be champagne for very long because all the bubbles are going to rapidly disappear. If you try to put an ice cube in a martini glass, you are probably going to make it really awkward for your guests to hold their cocktail stable and it may cause embarrassing accidents.


Presentation of glassware

Most cocktail party hosts will choose to serve at least one signature cocktail in stemware because stemware looks so elegant. In fact, the picture of someone holding a stemware glass epitomizes a cocktail party. You can also get even fancier and chose cocktail glasses that have curved stems or wine glasses that are delicately etched or trimmed in gold or silver. 

If you don’t have enough matching glassware, you can always rent some at a party supply store. However, some cocktail hosts choose instead to intentionally have an eclectic mix of glasses, including perhaps some very unusual glassware. Some hosts like to include some antique glassware from their own family or they may even search for some in antique stores and thrift shops. In this way, the glassware becomes an interesting conversation starter. You can also let your guests choose their own glassware as a way of expressing their unique personality!

How To Garnish Your Cocktails

  • Olives
  • Cherries
  • Baby onions on a swizzle stick
  • Slices of fresh fruit
  • Curled citrus peel on the sides for a festive cocktail party feel
  • Slices of star fruit
  • Citrus fruit
  • Curls of citrus or other fruits to your ice cubes to create an interesting and unique look in highballs and lowballs


Savory Food dos and don’ts

For cocktail parties, always serve finger foods! No matter how tempted you may be to serve Uncle Tony’s totally delicious world famous baby back ribs, resist! In fact, try to resist serving anything where a plate is essential. You can’t carry a plate of food and a drink at the same time while eating. So if you give your guests a plate, they will be sitting down a large portion of the night and that is not as inducive to mingling and making new social connections as walking around.  

Take a look at Martha Stewarts 61 Easy and Delicious Finger Food Recipes.

There are a few other tips to keep in mind.

  • It is always a good idea to have at least one vegetarian option and one vegan option. You can even mention this on your drink menu for guests who are following a certain diet.
  • You may also want to have a gluten free option because many people are now trying to follow a gluten free diet.
  • Also, if you want to follow old-fashioned cocktail party etiquette, you should have at least one seafood option.


Sweet Food Ideas

It is a good idea to have at least one sweet hors d’oeuvre available from the beginning because you always have at least one sweet tooth in the crowd. Chocolate covered strawberries on a stick or another chocolate covered fruit on a stick are good options for this portion of the cocktail party. However, to help you cocktail party run more smoothly, you should bring out your most decadent desserts for the last thirty minutes of the party as this can subtly signal that it is time to start winding the cocktail party down. You’ll also leave your guests with a sweet smile on their face!


Important Last Words

The “Best Cocktail Party Guide Ever” is brought to you by PurpleSlate because we know how to throw a party!

Please take a look at our website: www.mypurpleslate.comWe offer an amazing mobile app that lets you create invitations to parties and events from your mobile phone! You can chat with your guests inside the app, beautify pictures of your event and share with your guests too.

We are excited to see you host your awesome cocktail party using our app. 


Posted by Neha Mohta on January 31, 2017.


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