Cocktail Party Essentials

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02 Dec 2010

Cocktail parties are fantastic for summer entertaining – there is nothing quite like a cocktail to get the party started in a glamorous and fun way. However, regardless of what kind of crowd you're entertaining, there are a few basic guidelines that need to be adhered to if you are going to throw a successful cocktail soiree.

The bar
Since the bar is the core of the party, go through the following bar checklist and make sure you have ample stock of everything you will need:

Ice: You cannot have too much ice – the more ice you have, the colder it will stay and the better it will taste. Keep two tubs by the bar: one to chill bottles, the other to scoop from when mixing drinks. With regards to ice, rather over cater, as you will be surprised how quickly you go through ice.

Glassware: Allow three glasses per guest. Have a mixture of short glasses (for liquor on the rocks), tall glasses (for drinks containing bubbles or juice) and stemware (for cocktails or wine).

Cocktail hardware: You will need the following behind the bar: a bottle opener, corkscrew, bar spoon (or swizzle sticks), cocktail shaker, shot glasses, straws and cocktail decorations, cutting board, paring knife, cocktail napkins, tea towels, pitchers for mixes, and ice-crusher or a liquidizer with a glass jug and an ice scoop.

Garnishes: I am sure you have heard it said, it’s the little things that make all the difference, and when you are talking about cocktails, this would refer to the garnishes. Stock various fruits such as lemons, limes and cocktail olives, and get seasonal with cherries, strawberries or other fresh fruit. Exotic fruits such as kiwis, star fruits and pawpaw for example, make a real statement.

Napkins: Allow five paper napkins per guest. Have smaller cocktail napkins on hand, too.

To drink
It is estimated that one 750ml bottle of wine pours 4 to 6 glasses. One 750ml bottle of spirits pours about 26 tots. The most basic bar set-up will include white and red wine, gin, vodka, rum, whiskey, vermouth, triple sec and beer. Over and above this, you will need a variety of mixers, including soda water, tonic water, cola and diet cola, ginger ale, cranberry and orange juices, lemonade and still water.

Surf the Internet or buy a cocktail recipe book to source various cocktail recipes to serve at your party – some favorite cocktails include the caipirinha, martini, blue martini, rock shandy, daiquiri, gin and tonic, margarita – the list is endless and subjective to your particular theme and taste. It is advisable to try them out well in advance before deciding to serve them.

The food
Prepare the menu – aim for variety of ingredients including meat, vegetarian, hot, cold, spicy, and sweet. If you're not serving dinner, estimate 10 portions per person, but remember that it's better to have too much food than not enough. Savoury items that are great snack foods include pita breads and dips, dolmades, samoosas, olives, mini quiches, sausage rolls, meatballs, mini skewers, various cheeses and bruschetta. Interesting snacks include cold soup serve in shot glasses, asparagus wrapped in Carpaccio or Parma ham, and stuffed mini vetkoek.

With regards to the snacks, the only limit is your imagination, but the true trick to a successful cocktail menu lies in serving small portions of a wide variety of different interesting delicacies – make sure it never gets boring and that it is concluded with a delicious array of sweet treats! Remember, you don’t necessarily need to hire a caterer, as you can pre-prepare most of the snacks beforehand. To impress, be sure to create an aesthetically appealing and striking buffet table that will attract the eye and “wow” guests. Most people eat with their eyes, so if the presentation looks good, you have won most of the battle!

Setting the ambience
As with any party, it’s the ambience and mood that will make or break the affair – as such make sure you have taken care of the music, the lighting and the décor. Candles and fairy lights always create a wonderfully warm and romantic ambience. Themes are also a good way of getting people into the party spirit, and the 1920s theme is particularly suited to cocktail parties. This is a great theme as most elements can revolve around it, including the music, the drinks, the snacks, the décor and of course the dress code.

Remember, that a cocktail party is not a dinner party and as such a good rule of thumb is to provide one seat for every two invitees. In this way, guests will circulate, socialise more and have a better time. Also, try and create

various hot spots with different ambiences – a cosy area for those who need a break from the maddening crowd, a louder dance area for those who feel the need to get down, and a quiet area with comfortable seating for those who would like to enjoy the conversation of others for example. However, to make sure that the party is not disjointed, try and ensure that all the different areas flow onto one another and that they are all seamlessly joined.

Tricks of the trade
- Pre-mix cocktail juices and pre-cut fruit garnishes. Store them in sealable containers in the fridge.
- Put vodka in the freezer overnight. Cold vodka will keep drinks cool longer.
- Make things even easier by serving a signature cocktail. People will love your personal touch.

Offer coffee to your guests towards the end of the party as a courtesy, but remember that coffee does not help increase sobriety. Keep the number of a local taxi service handy for those guests lacking a designated driver.– Antonella Desi

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About the Author
Antonella  Dési

Antonella Dési

Freelance lifestyle writer at

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