How to Throw an Impromptu Cocktail Party

Think it's impossible to pull together a last-minute cocktail party? Not with these four tips from Domestic CEO!

Amanda Thomas
5-minute read
Episode #138

As the summer approaches, it's exciting to think about entertaining friends and family — but the thought of hosting a big gathering can be downright overwhelming. So my suggestion? Stop planning.

One of the best parties I ever went to was an impromptu cocktail party held on December 23rd. Yup, that's right — the day before Christmas Eve! We were invited just the day prior, and by that point in time, everyone was either ready for the holidays or so far behind they didn't care, so the temptation of a cocktail party was too good to pass up!  It was very fun, mainly because our hosts didn't sweat the small stuff. They didn’t have time to worry or obsess, and that ended up being the best thing.

Want to throw your own last minute get-together? Here are 4 secrets to hosting an incredible cocktail party:

Own the basics

Make sure you already have a basic bar set-up on hand. Start with a good set of wine glasses and a set of all-purpose drink glasses, then add on specialty glasses, for drinks like margaritas and martinis, as needed. But starting with something to serve wine, beer, or mixed drinks in is important.

If you want your party to be memorable, do not serve drinks in disposable plastic cups!

A large serving tray or board is another handy kitchen accessory to own. I like to serve very simple and basic foods, so a tray is the perfect serving piece for party snacks, and a few good cheeses and some crackers are a snap to display on a wooden board. Make sure you own 1 or 2 good cheese knives, too, so guests can help themselves. Try serving a nutty cheddar, a warmed Brie, and a rich, buttery Havarti.

Beautiful small bowls filled with olives and nuts complete my food selections. Remember, you're not feeding a football team here! The object is for your guests to enjoy a drink and nosh on a few simple snacks. You might be thinking, "How about a bowl of potato chips or pizza rolls?" The point here is to keep it classy and memorable. Who really remembers a bowl of potato chips? (If you’re really concerned about food because most of your friends are former football players, ask everyone to bring a little something — either an appetizer or dessert. My friends are always down for bringing some party food.)

Finally, keep an ample supply of cocktail napkins handy. so guests can use them for both drinks and snacks. Believe it or not, that little touch goes a long way towards making your party memorable.

Serve a signature drink

If you want the party to be memorable, choose one sophisticated cocktail that not only tastes delicious, but looks appealing, too.

When throwing any cocktail party, I like to keep the alcohol selections pretty simple. I'll offer one deep and delicious red, one crisp and refreshing white, and a signature cocktail. This is not the time to offer 12 different options of hard liquor for your friends: If you want the party to be memorable, choose one sophisticated cocktail that not only tastes delicious, but looks appealing, too.

Some of my favorites include a minty mojito, a refreshing margarita, a festive pomegranate martini, or a steamy hot chocolate spiced with Cinnabon vodka in the winter months. Plan your cocktail based on the time of year you’re hosting your party. Mojitos and margaritas are delicious summer drinks, while a pomegranate martini or hot chocolate are perfect for a winter holiday party. Keep it simple and if you can, prepare a pitcher of drinks ahead of time. Remember that crystal pitcher you got for your wedding? Now is the time to use it.

Keeping the bar options simple provides one other important service: it keeps things easy for you, so you can enjoy the party, too.

Set the mood

You don't need fancy decorations to host an incredible cocktail party. In fact, I like to just scatter candles around the room, as the glow of candlelight can add plenty of mood-setting atmosphere.

Next, be sure to prepare a killer playlist — nothing makes a party like awesome music, so choose wisely! Think of the group you are inviting and what time of year it is when picking your party tunes. Obviously, if it’s December, you’ll most likely choose Christmas music, but don’t make that the only thing on your playlist. Not everyone likes holiday music (in fact, some people don’t like it at all!), so try to select create a nice range of songs that everyone will enjoy.

I recommend not playing music too loud — you want your guests to be able to comfortably carry on conversations.

Plan some games

It may seem like a juvenile thing to do, but I like to plan a few party games for my guests. Getting the group involved in some silly activities can really gets the party going! Here are some of my favorites:

  • Celebrity: This is an involved game that requires some space, since the version I prefer involves pantomime. Everybody does a good imitation after a drink or two (or thinks they do!) so this is an awesome game for a cocktail party. Click this link for detailed instructions on how to play.
  • Who Am I? (Aka The Famous Person Game): Write the name of a different famous person, from history or pop culture, on a Post-It, making sure there is one for each guest. Place one sticky on each guest’s forehead or on his back. Using the "20 Questions" format, each person then asks fellow dining companions questions to try and figure out their celebrity identity. The person who guesses their identity in the least number of questions wins.
  • I Never: Have each guest write down a secret act they have committed in the past, beginning the confession with. “I never...” Put the secrets in a bowl, and then let everyone take turns reading one secret aloud. After each secret is read, try and guess whose secret it is. We guarantee that if you don’t already know your dining companions well, you will by the end of the night! Want to create a bonus point version? Anyone who has also committed the secret act wins 10 points. Trust me, this game is awesome.

These games are guaranteed to liven up any party so don’t be afraid to add one or more to your impromptu cocktail party.

If the thought of throwing a party still gives you a nervous stomach, consider hiring some help. You can hire just one affordable server from most catering services, so If you really want to keep party prep stress to a minimum, get someone else to do the work. This frees you up to have just as much fun as your guests!

For some delicious cocktail ideas, head over to my Cocktail Hour board on Pinterest.