1. Create a budget:
Yea, we know that sounds like a snore. You don’t want to have restraints when it comes to perfect party-throwing! But having an idea of how much and where you want to dedicate your funds can prevent you from going all out in one area and then suddenly realizing you are too cash strapped to properly fund another area (Like the booze. Party foul!)
2. Set the stage:
Pick an idea, theme, or focal point and stick with it. There is a mind-numbingly vast array of party ideas, and you might find that you like them all! But just like when putting together an outfit or decorating your house, less can be more (when you mix 5 bold prints no one knows where to look and it causes sensory overload that leads to mental collapse! Or at least a lot of eye-rolling). Otherwise you may end up in a mish-mash of ideas that leave guests wondering if there were two cohesive thoughts that found their way together during the entire party planning process.
When you have one focal point or theme it not only stands out (making your party stand out), but you also have a solid structure to build your party around. It gives you direction and helps you zero in on the best ideas for your unique soiree.
3. The guest list:
It’s tempting to add your besties or the usual go-to party peeps, but it’s also great to mix things up a bit. Of course, have your go-to guests on the list, but add in other interesting or entertaining characters (think less sloppy drunk drama-stirrer types and more “Most interesting Man (or Woman) in the World’ types) that can bring something fresh to the party and mingle well with others.
4. Grab interest with your invites:
Sure, now that everything is done digitally, good old paper invitations are almost a novelty, but here’s the secret—you don’t have to use paper either. Give your guests a taste of what they can expect (also generates buzz and excitement) by using objects as invitations. For example, dollar store cocktail glasses with an invitation tag tied around the stem. If you are crafty enough, personalize each glass with individual names in paint. Or say your party is a Mardi Gras/masked ball kind of theme, print the invitation on the back of party store masks and give them out to guests. It’s not only unforgettable, its usable (even to bring to the party) long after the party is over.
5. Have a signature cocktail:
Well obviously there’s going to be cocktails at a cocktail party, but one signature drink can be the highlight of the booze selection. It is even cooler when it goes along with the party theme. Just for instance, say your party has a 1920’s-based theme. Break out a prohibition era cocktail like a Bees Knees, Sidecar, or Southside Fizz. Or you can tap into your inner bartender and come up with your own unique concoction (which you’ll get to make up an ultra-awesome name for, of course).
6. Create a Food Hop:
An idea similar to bar or party hopping, only with food—and your guests don’t have to go anywhere. You already know you need some party foods, and you might have an idea of what you want them to be. But here’s where most people slip up—having the same food out all party long. I mean, your guests can only eat so many cream-cheese crab balls or fancy pigs-in-a-blanket before they’re over it. Don’t let hungry guests have to pick over the same foods all night—serve different foods at different times. You may have the olives, cheese, or charcuterie out for the first hour then move on to setting out a variety of hot hors d’oeuvres over the next couple of hours. You can cap the night off with a round of finger desserts to keep the energy going. If you have the space for it, create food stations all around the party.
7. Decoration Do’s and Don’ts:
Put down the paper streamers and back away slowly. This is an adult cocktail party is it not? We know you can come up with something better than that. This doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be an element of fun or lightness to your decorations, but cocktail party decorations should have some sophistication to them.
Decorations can be as simple as fresh flowers strategically placed around the party zone, used as centerpieces, and/or placed on food and drink tables—perfect for an elegant theme. Maybe your party theme is a bit more elaborate. A party with a nautical theme could include wooden lanterns with fishing nets, driftwood accents, and blue and white color schemes.
Here’s a secret—food and drinks can be part of the décor. Again, with a nautical themed party you might make your signature drink using blue curacao, salted rims, and nautical drink stirrers. A party with a 60’s theme might a table set up with low-ball glasses, martini shakers, garnishes, and champagne cocktails in glasses. Pre-make the drinks and set them up on the table with everything else that goes along with it, creating an attention-grabbing focal point.
8. Create ambience:
Decorations set the theme, but ambience sets the mood. Candles, string lighting, or dimmed lights can create and elegant or relaxed atmosphere to the party. As an added bonus, low lighting can help party goers feel just a little bit less self conscious and have the perfect amount of light for awesome selfie-taking.
9. Don’t forget the laughs:
For some, cocktail party might conjure up images of a stuffy affair where people talk about stuffy subjects like stocks and the economy. For others, it may strike terror into their heart to think that they have to spend hours coming up with conversations (and ways to get out of conversations) with people they know or even worse *gasp* strangers (cue the horrified shrieking and intense sweating). This is supposed to be fun, isn’t it?
There’s no doubt that sometimes even the closest friends run out of things to talk about and it can be awkward for people who don’t know each other to just strike up a conversation. Placing ice breaker conversation cards–especially ones that lend themselves to humorous responses—around the room can help get the conversation going or keep it flowing, encouraging funny stories or witty comments. We’ve even seen icebreaker cocktail napkins that come with fun facts, sayings, or that you can customize yourself. Don’t let your guests flounder for stuff to say, give them a hand.
10. Don’t forget to mingle:
Speaking of not letting your guests flounder, get in there and be a part of things. You might be so busy with various party essentials, bartending, or hiding behind hosting so you can introvert in the kitchen by yourself, but you need to get in there and have a good time, too (or help your guests have a good time). After all, you are the one common denominator between all your guests and can act as a bridge to introducing people and opening up the way for conversations.
One of the secrets here is planning ahead. Think of your guests and what various ones might have in common so that you can help them along (“Did you know Susan has a creepy doll collection just like you? Discuss!”). There’s no shame in thinking of things to say ahead of time. Have of a few funny stories or cute anecdotes in mind that you can break out to keep things lively.
11. Details make the difference:
They sound like such a small thing and you might think it’s not worth the effort. After all, who will notice or even care (especially once everyone is 2 or 3 cocktails in). But they do matter. One grain of sand is totally insignificant but lots of grains together make up a beach. Little details can help pull together the whole party or the theme and can create micro-memories. Don’t forget things like custom ice cubes that are made with juice or wine or have fruit, mint, or candy frozen into the middle. Have a little bit of glitz to jazz up the food table or get creative with garnishes. The possibilities are endless—imagine away!
12. Plan your playlist:
With all the other party planning things you have to do, the easiest way to throw music into the mix would be to attach your iPhone to some speakers and put it on shuffle. But do you really want to worry that your unedited gangsta rap might pop into that lineup and offend your boss or your secretly downloaded 90’s boy band album is going to make its musical debut?
A little bit of planning can prevent a downloaded “How to quit biting your toenails” self-help podcast from creating your worst party faux pas’ nightmare (NOT speaking from personal experience!). Take a few minutes to create a party-appropriate playlist that features upbeat music that keeps guests bopping and tapping their feet but won’t overtake conversations.
13. Chuck your playlist and go with a live band:
Everyone forgets a pre-recorded party play list, but no one forgets a live band. Your teenage neighbor’s heavy metal garage band might not the direction you would want to take with a cocktail party, but a brass band adds the perfect amount of sophistication to a cocktail party. Many brass bands have repertoire’s that go beyond just jazz and can bring in lively renditions of popular songs or other genres at just the right volume.
14. Don’t forget to get your guests home safe:
Cocktails, food, decorations, and a thousand other details might be on your mind, so it can be easy to forget the after the party part. Many guests will have had drinks, and the secret to being an ultra-host is to plan for a safe aftermath. Have an Uber app or taxi company phone number at the ready, ask designated drivers to volunteer beforehand, or have a space where partiers can sleep over if necessary.
Most of all, it’s no secret that you want to prepare well, don’t let the stress get you, and allow yourself and your guests to have a good (and ultimately safe) time.