Party Plan: Planning a Cocktail Party Part 1

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Check out these tips for planning a cocktail party part 1:

  • You can send invitations by mail or hand-deliver—creative invitations that are coordinated to your theme can enhance the excitement of your guests before the party.
  • But you prefer a low-key approach, you can also call during the day when people are at work and just leaving the details on their answering machine or sending e–mail.
  • As a rule of thumb, invite roughly twice as many guests as you’d like and expect half of them to show.
  • Make sure you spell out the time frame — 5:30 pm to 7:30 pm is the traditional cocktail hour (6:00-8:00 pm will also work if your guests don’t get away from work early) Mentioning the hour your party is over is important for two reasons — it politely suggests that it’s not a dinner party and that it doesn’t require an entire evening’s commitment.
  • A cocktail party provides you with a great excuse to look fabulous. Just for fun, tell your friends to dress semi-formally. More formal attire will add to the experience – and guests are less likely to over-imbibe and get out of hand if they feel more respectable.
  • At a cocktail party, it is easy to mix guests who might not feel comfortable sitting across from one another at a dinner party. Also, if you have invited guests to a party who may not have met other guests, you may consider having a bar area where you would make cocktails and entertain people who might have problems socializing with strangers.
  • Remember cocktail parties should be low-stress. The object is to get together with old friends, and maybe make new ones, but most of all to have fun. This is not a house inspection. But there are a few ways to spruce up your apartment in next to no time and create a welcoming ambience. Make sure to pay attention to the little details that set the mood for your party.
  • Choose which area of your home to use for your party well in advance, and set it up the day before the party so you have plenty of time to make last-minute changes. When choosing a location, think about the season and theme of your party—for example, have it in a room with a view of the garden if it’s spring, or near your fireplace in the winter.
  • It’s easy if you make the kitchen and living room the base of all cocktail operations. This way, you limit the traffic to two or three rooms and remove the need to clean your apartment from top to bottom. Since dim lighting works best for cocktail parties, this means no one is going to notice if you have dust bunnies under your sofa. Plus, the party itself is pretty much guaranteed to make a mess and require a cleaning. If you’re in a hurry, skip the initial thorough cleaning, and focus on what’s important. Hide all unnecessary items, such as bills, magazines, and papers, and polish any shiny surfaces. Keep the doors to all other rooms (except the bathroom) firmly shut and direct your guests to the main living areas. Don’t forget to stake out an area such as a closet or spare bedroom for coats and bags during appropriate seasons.
  • Arrange furniture so that guests can move throughout the rooms easily, clearing out extra furniture if necessary.
  • Leave some furniture placed against the walls or in small clusters—there should be seating for 10 to 15 percent of your guests. Not enough chairs for everyone? Perfect–parties hit a dead end when everyone is sitting down. If it is not a dinner party, a good rule of thumb is to provide one seat for every two guests. People circulate more and have a better time.
  • If the space you choose is going to be crowded, use a large (preferably round) center table as the one and only food station. If your space is a little too big for the number of guests, then use multiple small tables to create mini food stations, which will encourage guests to move throughout the room.
  • The heart of a good party is lively conversation, so do what you can to stimulate it. Always set up the food and the bar in different places, to minimize traffic and increase circulation.
  • Don’t forget to include small drop-leaf tables where guests can put used glasses or napkins. Place a tray on the table to signal that it’s a drop-off area. This will also make it easier for you to pick up any discarded items. At larger parties, set up a behind-the-scenes sanitation station where you can leave dirty dishes and trays until you have time to tend to them after the party. Include a table for dishes, a bucket for any leftover liquid, and a trash can.
  • Decorations are a matter of taste and time for the hostess. You can go all out decorating your home and table for the appropriate season, or as cocktails are for grownups, you can go for a clean, spare look —clear away any excessive clutter (hide it in one of the closed-off rooms if necessary). Flowers are not a must-have for cocktail parties—with guests standing and mingling in a crowded room, arrangements often go unnoticed—but if you do want to decorate with flowers, opt for one large, high arrangement, which will make a stronger impression than several small ones. For maximum impact, place flowers on your main food station or at the bar, where guests are guaranteed to see them. Keep the arrangement simple, focusing on one color or one type of flower. Flowers are also a nice touch in the bathroom. If you want to use specific types of flowers, you may need to place an order with a florist ahead of time.
  • The kitchen needs to be well lighted to ensure that no one accidentally blends his/her fingers with the margarita mix, but the living room should be dimly lit to encourage relaxed mingling. Avoid unflattering overhead lights and instead use mood-enhancing candlelight. To get enough light, place candles in clusters. To jazz up your candles, wrap patterned paper—preferably something that speaks to your party’s theme—around votive or candle holders and fasten with tape. If you don’t want to use candles, stick to table and floor lamps. Everyone looks better in soft lighting.
  • Choose music that is soft and subtle. No one should have to shout to be heard over your soundtrack. Instrumentals, jazz and classical music work best in the beginning. You can build up to livelier and louder music later in the party if you like. Music helps your guests relax and gets them in the proper party mood. Choose tunes that match your theme or the atmosphere you want to create. The most hassle-free way to deal with music is to create a playlist for the party so the music is taken care of for the entire evening, and you won’t have to scramble to change CDs while trying to serve food. You can also let one of your guests play deejay. Assign the job to one person, or have several guests take turns. You might even want to get out an old record player and a bunch of 45s, but this idea also works with a selection of CDs or a digital music player—you can even ask guests to bring their own iPods. To avoid any awkward silences, it’s smart to have a backup playlist ready to go. Remember to check that your stereo and speaker equipment is in working order before the party.
  • The most important place to clean before the party is the bathroom. Almost all guests will visit this brightly lit room at least once, so you really need to make it spotless. For ambiance, add small touches like fresh flowers, bowls of fruit and disposable hand towels in the restroom. For an extra touch of hospitality, decorate with flowers or candles and fill a basket with treats like mints and hand cream.
  • Buy more than enough ice. Remember that you’re not just using it for drinks, but also for chilling bottles and cans. Generally, having one pound of ice per guest should be adequate.

Read more tips for planning a cocktail party in next Monday’s post.

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