Cocktail parties are the perfect answer when interesting people and conversation, mingling, good food and drink are your party planning objectives. Clever cocktail party planning can achieve all of these with some good planning and a little effort.
Some of the critical secrets to great cocktail party planning are:
- Invite interesting people who like to mingle and talk.
- Stage your food and drink so people need and want to move around.
- Plan 6-8 really tasty, but easy to eat, canapés.
- Engage your guests in the party and with other guests through a fun ice breaker.
The Guests are the Key Ingredient
Cocktail parties are the ideal avenue in which to introduce new people to a group of others. Choosing the right guests is critical however. If you want to introduce a friend from out of town, your boss, an important client, or even your new love to people you want them to know, consider these points:
- Invite guests who like to talk and have something interesting to say.
- Don’t invite guests who tend to incite arguments or unnecessarily heated debates.
- Let your guests know a little about your special guest in advance.
- If it is important for your special guest to meet and mingle with specific people, let them know and be sure they get introduced to each other.
- Keep your eye on your special guest throughout the evening.
- Consider asking a trusted and close friend to be a “shadow” to your special guest. If they wind up alone or with an empty glass, they can help.
- Send out invitations at least three weeks in advance, if possible, and get commitments from people that they will be attending. This may take some phone calling. But…it’s critical for your cocktail party planning process, and more importantly, for the mix and mingle factor so important to a great cocktail party.
- You want to invite enough people to make your house feel full, but not stuffed.
Mix and Mingle Logistics
Great cocktail party planning allows and encourages guests to move around and meet new people. Staging your food and drink strategically can help this. Place your food and drinks around the party area so they are easy to get to and require people to seek out the goodies you have prepared… and other people.
Wine and wine glasses can be place on a sideboard. Punch or a specialty drink can be served from a dining table or side buffet. Soft drinks, ice, liquor, and garnishes need to be near the kitchen. Be sure to have lots of beverage napkins wherever you have food or drink also.
Place small plates of nuts and candy around the house. Use your cocktail table for two of your canapés. Place the other canapés in places where you want your guests to wander – a living room end table, the dining table, on a porch, poolside, or on the balcony. If you have a kitchen pass-through or an open counter between the kitchen and the living area, that’s ideal for a hot canapé that will need replenishing.
A logistic plan like this will keep the party and the party goers moving and mixing. Another tip to save your furniture and make it easy on your guests is to place coasters around the house. They make it easy to set down a glass and get a tasty mouthful.
If you plan to have hired help, first get a bartender. You’ll need one for about every 50 guests. If you choose to have servers also, have them remove dirty napkins, canapé plates (if you use them,) and empty glasses. If your home or apartment is going to be a tight squeeze with all of your guests, consider having the canapés passed by the servers. This will reduce mixing and mingling however.
Tasty Canapés are a Hit
6-8 really special canapés are better than a table loaded down with chips, dips, and hard to handle munchies. Choose a variety of ingredients and make sure they can be picked up with one hand and eaten in one or two bites. Serve some hot and some cold. Plan for 10-12 canapés per guest. Here are some suggestions:
- Bacon wrapped scallops with a sherry and teriyaki marinade
- Ramaki – broiled bacon wrapped chicken livers and water chestnuts
- Brie bites toasted on savory crackers and topped with a dollop of preserves
- Mini skewers with one chicken chunk and a piece of pineapple
- Crab dip in mini cream puffs
- Cheddar spread on toast rounds topped with mango chutney and crisp bacon bits broiled until the cheese is warm and a little bubbly
- Mini quiche or savory tarts
- Broiled blue cheese stuffed button mushrooms
- Garlic mashed potatoes topped with parmesan and toasted hazelnuts served in individual spoons.
- Chilled cocktail shrimp with zesty horseradish mayonnaise dip
- Savory finger sandwiches of egg, salmon, chicken, lobster, and shrimp salads
- Fresh fruit kabobs on bamboo toothpicks – no more than three small colorful pieces of fruit on each.
- Devilled eggs topped with petite shrimp
- Peanut butter on savory crackers topped with dill pickle relish
- Boiled and chilled half baby red potatoes topped with sour cream, caviar, and a light splash of good vodka. (Be sure to cook the potatoes in salty water)
- Pickles, olives, and pickled vegetables (green beans, cauliflower, asparagus tips, mushrooms)
- Shot glasses of gazpacho topped with a piece of crab meat
Food ideas are endless. Just remember they need to be able to be eaten with one hand and in 1-2 bites and your guests will gobble them up!
A Fun and Not too Hokey Ice Breaker
Write an interesting fact about each of your guests on a self adhesive sticker. Leave the backing on the sticker and as each guest arrives give them a sticker with a fact about someone else on it. Ask each guest to seek out during the party the individual the sticker belongs to. Once they find the individual the sticker describes, they should hand over the sticker so he or she can place the sticker on themselves where others can see it.
This gives each guest a reason to seek out people they might not know, to mix and mingle, and once a sticker is displayed on a guest it gives everyone something to discuss with that individual when they meet them.
Here are some ideas about the kinds of interesting facts that will spark conversation:
- Just returned from a trip to China
- Won a sporting event recently
- Has a new baby
- Just changed jobs
- Is moving to a new city
- Wrote a book and got it published
- Is a professional singer/dancer/musician
- Ran a marathon in the last year
- Has a vintage car
- Loves live concerts
- Collects coins/stamps/recipes
These are all somewhat gender neutral and “safe” topics to discuss with a new acquaintance. The idea is to give two people who may not know each other something interesting to talk about and have some fun with it.
Try a few of these ideas and you will accomplish your cocktail party planning objectives. You and your guests will all have a fun and memorable evening to remember. They may have a new friend or two also!