Planning a Successful Cocktail Party
by YaDa Chef
Have you ever wanted to throw a successful cocktail party like the one you see in the movies, but are not quite sure how to do it? Do you think you do not have the time or the money for one of those fabulous events and do not want something reminiscent of your college day parties? They are easy to plan and can be relatively inexpensive.
Plan to have a theme, and I am not talking about a "costume" like the roaring 20's. Choose one or two signature drinks, build a menu around the drinks and then go with colors for plates, candles etc that will reflect the feeling. ie mojito inspired night can have everything served on green plates and platters. Remember you are supposed to have as much fun as your guests. Follow the step by step instructions and you will have a stress free and successful cocktail party.
Choose the theme
A theme can be as simple as a color or be inspired by a drink. A good example would be a "Tropical Heat" theme. Plates and cups and candles would be orange or red. Menu would be "tropical". The theme sets the mood. It does not mean you have to bring in palm trees and beach sand.
Picking the drink or drinks and plan the menu
A themed bar focuses on one type of liquor and an assortment of mixers. A signature cocktail bar features one or two mixed drinks. Regardless of the way you choose to serve cocktails, be sure to include an appropriate amount of wine and beer. Remember to always have plenty of water, still and sparkling. Freeze some fruit slices to make it more festive. These can be used in place of ice cubes.
A themed bar features one or sometimes two types of alcohol and a variety of mixers, plus wine, beer, and nonalcoholic drinks. A themed bar works for any liquor. Make sure you know which mixers go with the alcohol you choose.
Signature Cocktail Bar
Offer one or two signature cocktails, plus wine, beer. A signature bar is the way to go if you do not want to buy unneeded alcohol and by far the easiest on your wallet. You can mix the drinks ahead of time, then once guests arrive, add ice and serve. If guest are pouring make sure the ice and garnishes are laid out in an easily reachable manner.
You may want to provide at least two cocktail choices, made with different alcohols, for example, one with vodka and one with rum.
Plan the menu
Here is the one place that all or any of the items do not necessarily have to go with your theme. Try and have the party outside of the dinner hour or make sure you have enough food to replace a meal (6-8 types of hors d'oeuvres). We will talk later about how many of each to prepare.
If you have any "old stand-by" recipes this is a good time to break them out. If they are "meals", don't be afraid to scale down the size to serve as one of the hors d'oeuvres. Try some new recipes-don't be afraid remember these are on a small scale.
My general rule of thumb is half hot, have cold or room temperature. A fruit and cheese platter is always a winner.
When with a theme pick a couple of the foods to that are theme oriented ex. Caribbean or beach theme--spicy tequila shrimp with tapenade on crustini, grilled chicken and pineapple skewers with sweet/spicy dip. These are both served room temperature.
Pick foods you can prepare in advance. We will offer some make ahead selections at the end of the article.
Everyone loves nuts; make your own candied spice nuts or mix. Hit the gourmet olive bar for some extra munchies.
Enlist the help of a friend or two to help serve if you are doing passed hot hors d'oeuvres.
How to determine how much food and alcohol to have
Remember, cocktail parties are normally hosted before or after the dinner our. The food is not meant to replace a meal. A good rule of thumb is three to five different types of hors d'oeuvres planning on two to three of each per person.
If your cocktail party takes place during meal hours, there should be enough food to replace the meal. Prepare six to ten types of hors d'oeuvres planning on two to three of each per person.
Guys tend to eat more than women, so if you have lots of up and comers on your guest list, plan on a few more of each hors d'oeuvres.
Beverages-alcohol and non
• Each guest will drink an average of two drinks the first hour and one drink each hour thereafter.
• Figure on four to five glasses per bottle of wine and two to three glasses per person. That means one bottle will serve two guests. Try to find out if your guests prefer red or white. Right now red is more popular.
• There are approximately 26 shots per a one-liter bottle of alcohol. Calculate two to three cocktails per person.
• Plan on having two litres of mix per litre of alcohol. Mixers to plan on having would be club soda, tonic, cola, diet cola, and lemon lime soda. If you are featuring martinis get one bottle 750ml of vermouth (dry) per four to five bottles of vodka or gin. Same for manhattans except also get a bottle of sweet (red) vermouth.
• Garnishes are just that a garnish and not part of a meal. Plan on one lemon or lime per guest 1/2 orange and nine olives, 3 cherries per person. It never hurts to have a little extra for those guests that inevitable nibble on the garnish.
• Plan on one and a half pounds of ice per person. This sounds like a lot, but you will need to ice down the beer and wine unless you have a small refrigerator by the bar.
Creating a guest list
Keep it simple. We have so many online options today. Facebook, Myspace, regular e-mail or even online services like Evite. Electronic invites make keeping track of RSV P's easy. Telephone and in person works well to and can make your invitees feel special.
Count on 6 out of 10 people you invite that say yes to actually show up. Ladies are more likely to attend when they say they will. Invite more guys if you want the sexes to be evenly represented.
If you have a lot of time and some extra money on your hands or are really organized theme, use the theme of your party to set the look of your invitations. For example, in lieu of a traditional invitation send an object that communicates the theme of your party. If you're hosting a beach themed party go to the dollar store and get flip flops and send the invite on one of them to each of the people you are inviting.
Let the guests know if you want them to show up in themed attire. A prize for best three would really help to get them in the mood. Be sure to mention that on the invitation.
Setting the mood
Choosing and Arranging the Space
Set up your area the day before the party so you have plenty of time to make last-minute changes. Make sure guests can move throughout the room easily. Remove furniture if you need to. Remember you want enough seating for about 1/4 of the guest. People have a tendency to just sit and not move.
If you do not have much room use one centrally located table or buffet for your food. If you have plenty of space create "food stations" around the room. This helps the guests to move about and mingle.
Have plenty of waste bins for the trash and have a couple of places to deposit dirty dishes and plates. You may have to put a used glass on them just to give everyone the "subtle" hint.
Keep the lighting low, not so low you can not see. Unless you are looking for that "nightclub" feel. Everyone wants to be able to see what they are eating and drinking.
Cleaning before and After
Relax this is a fun thing. Unless you are throwing a black tie affair, then hire the cleaners. Otherwise tidy up and make sure you can not write your name in the dust. It is only going to get dirty anyway. My one exception is the place everyone snoops...the bathroom. Make sure it is spotless. Put out disposable guest towels (they look like high end napkins).
Enlist the help of a dear friend to pick the big stuff up and then leave the rest until the next day.
Putting it all together
Three weeks before:
• Send out the invitations
• Start planning the menu, theme and music
Two weeks before:
• If you have the freezer space make and freeze your hors d'oeuvres
• Inventory your serving platters and utensils. If you are using chaffing dishes check the sterno.
• Buy and decorations, napkins and anything non-perishable you may need
One week before:
• Put your game plan down on paper for the party day. Schedule your time accordingly for set up and last day food preparation. Always give yourself 20-30 minutes more than you think is necessary. You want everything done before the first guest arrives.
• Call the friend or friends who will be helping with set up/break down
• Count the RSV P's and contact anyone invited that has not yet responded
One Day before:
• Pick up flowers if you are using any
• Prep any foods that need to be made at the last minute
• Set up the party space. Rearrange any furniture if necessary, set up the bar
• Clean the bathroom
Two hours before
• Buy ice
• Double check everything. Make a last minute run to the store or better yet have your "helper" do this—this is the time to make a last-minute run to the store.
• Set up the bar and cut up the garnishes
One hour before:
• Reheat or thaw any frozen hors d'oeuvres
• Get dressed and ready to go
Thirty minutes before:
• Ice down the beverages if using buckets or tubs for service
• Put room temperature food out
• Light the sternos if using chaffing dishes
• Put on the music, set the lights, light any candles you will be using
Fifteen minutes before:
• Put food into the chaffing dishes
• Relax pour yourself a drink
Make ahead recipes
Here are some classic cocktail party menus not seen much anymore, but still fantastic!
Dipping Bowl for vegetables or crackers
The Thirst Inviter:
• 1 large clove of garlic grated 2 chopped hard boiled eggs
• 1 pint sour cream 1 green bell pepper chopped
• 1 tsp dry mustard 1 TB chopped parsley
• 1 TB grated horseradish 2 TB chili sauce
Blend the sour cream and garlic. Beat in with a wooden spoon eggs, horseradish and dry mustard. Add remaining ingredients. Let chill in refrigerator at least two hours.
• 6 hard boiled eggs 2 TB anchovy paste
• 1 TB chopped chives 1 tsp lemon juice
Cut eggs in half length wise. Remove egg yolks. Mash egg yolks and combine with remaining ingredients. Spoon or pipe mixer into the egg whites with a pastry bag. Garnish with chopped parsley, paprika a slice of olive or pickled onion.
• 12 slices fine grained salami sliced thing 1 clove garlic grated
• 1 package of cream cheese 3 TB chopped parsley
• 1 tsp dry mustard 1/2 tsp dry mustard
• 1 tsp grated horseradish 1/2 tsp salt
Cut the salami slices in half and wind them around your pinky to form cornucopias (horns). Press the edges together and place them in a large mesh rack. Place in refrigerator for 1 hour.
Blend the cream cheese with the remaining ingredients until smooth. Fill a pastry bag and fill the salami return to refrigerator until ready to serve.