Holiday Primer: Throwing a Great Cocktail Party

As the August sun sets over the hill side, you realize that soon the nights will turn a little bit colder and crisper, and thoughts of holiday parties and gatherings will begin to be whispered among your friends. Whether you’re thinking of hosting a quiet evening with your friends or a large gathering fit for royalty, there are a number of tried and true techniques for making any cocktail party memorable.

One of the main ideas that make a cocktail party run smoothly is the fact that it was planned well ahead of time. Now granted, you can’t really predict everything that will happen at your party, but if you plan for what you want to happen, you can have the confidence to make changes as necessary when the holiday season throws a few snowballs your direction. So, instead of leaving everything to a few days before the big event, start planning the menu, the music and the guest list well in advance.

Depending on how casual your cocktail party is, friends and family might come early to ‘help out’ with the preparation for the party. Although the idea behind this is a wonderful and generous one, I personally would caution against this practice. Your guest should not be there to work, they are there to enjoy your hospitality. Beyond that, if they are unfamiliar with the plan for the cocktail party, chances area they will add more complications than are truly necessary. A simple answer is to not open your home to guests prior to the time of the party, but if you feel that this is being ungracious to the early arrivals, asking them to keep you company in conversation while you check on the last minute details is an option.

As stated earlier, preparation is truly the key to an enjoyable holiday cocktail party. Prior to the day of the party, make sure you are well stock in various drinks, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic, snacks and appetizers, and a good amount of food for your guests. The last thing a host or hostess should have to do is run out and gets some more ice, crackers, or whatever during the celebration. A great rule of thumb is to expect each person to drink and eat for two. Also, choose foods that are easy to handle, tried and true favorites, and offer only a small chance of creating a mess. The last thing your guests need to do is worry about their clothes being ruined by a sauce dripping down the front of their shirts!

Once the cocktail party has started, try to relax and enjoy yourself. You’re duty, as a host or hostess is to make sure that your guests are comfortable and having a good time. If they sense that you are uncomfortable, they will be come stressed as well, sensing that a problem is afoot. For parties where not everyone is known to each other, be sure to make the necessary introductions and bring some conversation starters into the mix. For example, if your friend Sandy is an amateur gardener, perhaps her and your next door neighbor can discuss the best way to trim the rose bushes that form the boundary between the two yards. In addition, most parties will have people who are willing to regal others with various stories. If these people are among your friends, and you know that they won’t put others to sleep, by all means, wind them up and let them go. They’ll be able to provide entertainment while you check on other aspects of your party.

Above all, don’t worry about including everyone in the same conversation or activity. A sign of a great cocktail party is when everyone feels comfortable enough to talk freely, with various pockets of interest and conversation floating around the room. Also, some people simply feel more comfortable watching things from a far. If you run into these wall flowers, simply inquire as to their needs or wants, and respect their wish to engage with the party as they see fit.

One item that needs to be addressed is the practice of alcohol consumption during the cocktail party. At one time it was considered impolite to inquire about how a person will get home from the party, but with the number of drunk driving accidents each year, it becomes imperative that a safe alternative to drunk driving be presented to your guests. If you have the inclination and the room at your home, you are welcome to offer your guests a room for the night, or easy access to a taxi service is not uncalled for. Another trick is to stop serving alcohol at a certain time, giving your guests time to become sober before their journey home.

A holiday cocktail party is a great time to be with friends, laugh about the past year, and make your dream plans for the future. With a little planning, your job as a host or hostess can be just as enjoyable as sitting down on your porch and watching the sunset.

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