Sunday, December 28, 2008

Host, toast, and boast. Easy cocktail party tips.

photo by Martha Stewart

This time of year brings about ample opportunities to get together with friends and neighbors, and we are often asked about some tips for planning a simple but elegant cocktail party. So, as we enter into a New Year, here are just a sampling of some of our entertaining ideas.

The most important thing about entertaining is that it should be enjoyable for all - including the host and hostess! A little planning ahead of time will ease those last minute jitters and allow you to enjoy your guests and your party. Here we go:

  • Estimate the amount of liquor you will need. We use these numbers for a basic 2.5 hour cocktail party. Adjust up or down depending on the amount of food, the age of your guests, the time of day and the weather (cold drinks may goes down faster on hot days!).
COCKTAILS: 2.5 per person
CHAMPAGNE: 1 bottle for every 2 - 3 guests
WINE: 1 bottle for every 2 - 3 guests
LIQUOR: 1 liter for every 10 - 12 guests
BOTTLED WATER: 1 liter for every 2 guests

  • Packaged snacked are absolutely fine to serve! Bags of pistachios, chips, and snack mix are economical and are always a hit. Frozen quiches and other frozen finger foods come in handy if the crowd is larger than expected or unusually hungry!
  • Organize early: write lists, shop, and make your plan a week or two ahead of time.
  • Polish any silver trays and clean all crystal days before the party. This is not a fun thing to be doing just before the doorbell rings!
  • Clean your oven to ensure that there is nothing in the bottom of it that may cause an unwelcome odor or smoke while you have guests.
  • Set bread sticks or flat breads out in tall glasses or vases on the buffet. They add height and an interesting addition to your display.
  • Use cloth cocktail napkins rather than paper for a more refined look. (We purchase these year round when we spot them on sale.)
  • Set your iPod or CD player with appropriate music for the group. Test it out before the first guest arrives and have the music playing 15 minutes early (to put a festive mood in the air!)
  • Create a sparkling evening by clustering one color of pillar candles of various heights throughout the room or on the mantel. Stick to either one candle aroma or odorless candles.
  • Twinkle lights are always a hit. Wrap them in ficus trees or indoor plants for some extra glow.
  • Be sure you have a candle lighter that is in working order. Light candles 20 - 30 minutes before guests arrive.
  • Set out any cheeses on a marble slab or cutting board covered with a dome or kitchen towel, a few hours before the party so they may be served at room temperature.
  • Small clusters of grapes make easy and pretty decor on cheese displays and serving platters. Be sure they are cleaned well and cut into small enough clusters so that a guest may take one to enjoy.
  • Cut flowers can be placed in carafes, fancy glasses, Thomas Jefferson cups, mason jars and a variety of vases for an interesting addition to your decor. Place them throughout the house for a nice touch.
  • Dim the lights to create a cozy atmosphere - especially if you have lots of candle to add ambiance.
  • Don't forget the bathrooms. A nice candle, hand soap, a flower, and pressed guest towels show guests that you've left nothing untouched.
  • Light a fire in the fireplace (in the winter) and assign a friend to ensure it keeps glowing all night. During warmer months, consider placing colorful daisies or mums in the fireplace... you can replant them when the party is over.
  • Place appetizers on small plates throughout the room so that guests never have to go far for a bite.
  • If you have special photographs of fun times with your guests, put them in frames and display them throughout your party. They bring back fond memories and are great conversation starters for any 'newbies' in the group.
  • Separate the bar area from the main food area to avoid bottlenecks and to encourage mingling.
  • Pre-pour trays of a colorful drink or champagne with a lavender sprig to offer guests upon arrival.
  • If the weather outside is frightful, be sure to set aside an area for coats and purses.
  • Consider hiring someone to help be your behind the scenes hostess - picking up empty plates, dishes, and keeping the bar area clean throughout the evening.
  • Don't forget to offer non-alcoholic beverages for guests.
  • Consider a small 'thank you' happy for your guests when they leave. An inexpensive small silver frame, a candle in a organza bag, or Polaroid photos taken through the night and laid on the table by the door will help show your appreciation - and help your guests remember the lovely evening.
Most of all, enjoy yourself. Like most things in life, entertaining just takes practice. The more you do it, the easier it becomes.

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