When it comes to hosting a cocktail party for family and friends, I pull out all the stops! There is simply no limit to what I might put on the table. I usually serve something from the meat (beef or pork), chicken, and seafood groups; a flavored nut of some kind (usually cashews); a vegetable tray with a dip; and some sort of cheese ball, dip, or plate. I try to have at least two hot hors d’oeuvres, a cold, rolled, and cut-up “something”; and a variety of dips, dunks, and spreads surrounded by crackers and lightly toasted baguette slices. If it’s a summer party, I include a big platter of fresh cut-up fruit. I try to stay away from overly salted food such as potato chips as much as possible. So if, for example, I am serving Onion Dip with potato chips, I probably would skip the nuts and serve the dip with lower sodium chips.
Serve your hors d’oeuvres on the prettiest dishes you own. Arrange them at different levels (tiered serving dish or one or two on cake pedestals) to provide interest. Place them on a table which has been decorated as simply or as elaborately as your taste and budget allow. Just a small vase of flowers and a couple of candles can turn a boring table into a magic landscape.
For the sweet lovers in the crowd, serve an easy to eat dessert such as a cookie or a plate of lovely chocolates.
Beverages are always the most difficult part of the party planning for me. My husband and I entertain our good friends and family a lot, so after many years of dining and drinking together, Mr. C. and I can be reasonably sure of the drinks this set of guests will enjoy. But when it comes to having the neighbors in, or a group that we don’t usually entertain in our home, it is a completely different story. For those occasions, we usually serve a signature drink such as a martini, Manhattan, or margarita, and have available an assortment of other hard liquors along with additives such as club soda, tonic, and sodas. Champagne, red wine, white wine, and a couple of good beers are also available. Plan your beverages to include a few interesting non-alcoholic choices too. Unlike the days when I was first throwing parties, people are much more cognizant of drinking too much and driving. (Thank goodness!) So consider serving a special “Designated Driver Cocktail”. And if possible, serve the beverages in nice glasses. If you are on a budget, plan a trip to Value Village or Goodwill and pick up some inexpensive cocktail glasses. They will all be different, but that look can be really fun.
After many years of hosting parties, I have found that 9 different hors d’oeuvres and 1 sweet are just about the right amount of variety for a cocktail party. Then, even if you have a guest who is a vegetarian, or gluten intolerant, or has an allergy to a specific food, such as nuts, there are still choices available.
The best thing about hosting a cocktail party is that much of the food preparation can and in most cases should be done well in advance. Most cocktail parties begin around 8:00 pm. It is fairly safe to assume that your guests will have eaten at least a small “something” earlier in the evening. But cocktail parties often go late, especially on New Year’s Eve, so plan to have food available however long the party lasts.
And the most important thing to remember – have fun at your own party. If you are having fun, your guests will too. Don’t hesitate to ask a guest to pitch in for last minute assistance. Most people are glad to lend a helping hand.