Monday, April 22, 2013

How to Throw a Great Cocktail Party

On Saturday night Matt and I attended a mini reception in honor of two friends who just got married, and it was quite the party. Our friends Dan & Jen have been together a long time, and when they got engaged they decided to do a quiet, intimate wedding in Jamaica rather than a big affair at home. The bride's good friend Janet wanted to give them a chance to celebrate with all their friends and family though, so she sent out invitations for a surprise cocktail party shortly after they returned home.

I thought I was a decent party-thrower until we showed up at Janet's around 7:00 on Saturday - man, can that girl put an event together.

Janet really made the evening special and we had a great time. I also came away with a bunch of tips in my pocket for the next party I throw, and thought I'd share them with all of you too. So here we go! Tips to throwing a great cocktail party - without losing your mind - in no particular order:

1. Ask people to dress up.

It seems simple, but if you don't ask guests to dress up, chances are people won't. At least not in a beach town. The invitation specified "Adults only, and cocktail casual attire requested." For me, "cocktail casual" means skinny black pants, a cute top and heels. No little black dress required, but everyone showed up looking festive and feeling the cocktail party vibe.

And boys look so cute with their shirts tucked in. ;-)

2. Serve fun cocktails, duh.

I'm not a cocktail person per se. I like my wine and my craft beer. But when there are fun cocktails being served and I'm dressed up in heels, I like the idea of sipping on something a little classy, if you will. Janet printed out a sign listing Dan and Jen's favorite beverages, with a festive sparkling cocktail to top it off. She also had a bunch of other liquors, beers and wines on hand in case the signature cocktails weren't your thing.

Oh, and she got her dad to play bartender all night. Adore! He was loving serving up all the guests and was so sweet. He refused to let anyone wait on themselves.

3. Move out the couches and bring in the high tops.

Janet moved all the couches and chairs off to the sides of the rooms, and replaced them with high top tables covered in matching tablecloths. I loved this because it screamed "cocktail party" when you walked in the front door, and it also encouraged guests to mingle around rather than sit.

I moved to different tables throughout the night chatting with different friends and nibbling on different snacks wherever I went.

4. Decorate!

Okay, decorating is totally not my thing. I just never know what kind of decorations to get. Jen started by picking a color theme (green, blue and white with black accents), and then went around that. She picked up colorful candle lanterns, plastic tablecloths and big paper hanging poofs, all at Christmas Tree Shop and other craft stores where you can get things at a bargain.

She also ordered banners and large prints of Jen and Dan's wedding day and placed them around the house, which I loved.

She ordered the screen prints at Staples and then pinned them to large pieces of foam board, creating the illusion of canvas paintings. She said all four of these big photos only cost $40 total. I couldn't believe that, since photos tend to be really expensive. Definitely an idea to keep on hand for anniversary parties.

She also borrowed DJ equipment from a friend so we had tunes going all night. You better believe there was some dancing going on.

5. Cook a few things, and buy the rest.

I'm always tempted to cook a million things for parties, but it becomes overwhelming and stressful pretty quickly, especially if you have a large crowd.

There were finger foods aplenty at the party, but Jen made a few choice items and then took help from BJ's for the rest. One of the cutest hors d'ouvres was the mini grilled cheese sandwiches in cups of creamy tomato soup. Straight outta Pinterest.

Jen made the grilled cheese / tomato soup cups, along with stuffed clams, mini crab cakes and "caprese salad on a stick", which were all delish. She took help with things like pesto (side note, that Kirkland brand pesto was some of the best I've ever had), mini rice balls, puff pastry bites, shrimp cocktail, and antipasto platters with cheeses, olives, veggies and fruits.

6. Offer a small parting gift.

And last but not least, who doesn't love a little favor to take home?

Jen and Dan's wedding album was sitting out for us all to look at, and scattered around were cut outs of some of their favorite photos for us to take home. I picked a pretty beach one and it's currently hanging on our fridge.

It really was a great night and so fun to hang out with good friends all night. And now I'm inspired to throw another party soon, it's been a while.


Well, we're into another work week, but it's a 4 day one for me. In just a few short days I'll be jetting off to Miami with the girls for Nicole's bachelorette. Here's hoping these next few days fly by!


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  5. Hosting a cocktail party need not to be so glamorous or grandiose. It just need a little bit of preparation. You won't have to worry about the food because you would only serve small bites. The main consideration relies on what kind of drinks you will be serving. This is what the guests always expect in a cocktail party.

  6. Nice post!! Good to know these tips on throwing cocktail party. I am planning to arrange a cocktail party for my dear friends at one of Los Angeles event venues. Would love to use the info you have shared. Have taken great décor ideas from online for the day.