Spring is starting to turn to summer across most of the United States, and with summer comes an upswing in cocktail parties. Having co-hosted more than a few parties myself, I have a few tips to offer that will help you host a successful bash.
1. Don't Let 'Em Dry Out
This is perhaps the most important tip of all: make sure you serve plenty of water. Keep it everywhere, keep it handy, and keep it highly visible. Whenever we had friends over to our garden apartment, we'd keep large galvanized-steel tubs in the yard, full of ice and bottles of water, white wine, and beer. We also kept water in the fridge and in a cooler in the living room. People could hardly get up from a chair without finding a bottle of water close at hand.
It can be fun to offer two or three different kinds of water, but don't go crazy. Fill large glass bottles with tap water, and serve sparkling water or mineral water if you're a fan. No one is going to complain if you don't have Vitamin Water or three different flavors of sparkling. Do consider having a nice non-water option for non-drinkers, though, such as sparkling juice, fresh lemonade, or interesting sodas.
2. Don't Keep 'Em Hungry
Too much booze and nothing to eat is a recipe for disaster, and food is half the fun of a party anyway. Finger foods and passed appetizers are perfect for cocktail parties, and many can be prepped in advance. Bonus points: Think about how the flavors of what you're serving will mesh with the flavors of your cocktails. You don't want to get too matchy-matchy, but you don't want to have strong flavors competing with each other.
3. Don't Overcomplicate Things
Make big batches of cocktails (here's how) rather than attempting to mix a dozen different drinks to order. You'll have a better time if you're not shaking Ramos Gin Fizzes all evening, trust me. If you don't go the batched-cocktail route, consider having one or two signature cocktails with recipes for guests to chose from.
4. Don't Run Out!
Designate a friend or relative as your emergency gofer—when someone emails you to ask what they can bring, ask if they're up for the task. Make sure he or she is familiar with your neighborhood and can dash out for extra ice, tonic water, or wine if you run out.
A few days before the party, make a list and check your supplies. What do you need to prepare and serve your food and drinks? Do you have enough plates? Glasses? Serving utensils? Pitchers? Punch bowls? Platters? Trash cans? Napkins? Coolers? Borrow or buy extras in case you have surprise guests or something breaks.
5. Don't Lose Your Cool
You'll need ice and plenty of it. Think of all the various reasons you'll need ice: cubes for service, ice for stirring/shaking, ice in coolers or tubs for chilling drinks. If you have time and freezer space, prepare a few gallon bags of ice in advance. Large cubes are great for rocks drinks, for example, and for stirring or shaking drinks. Use supermarket ice for chilling beer, wine, and bottled water in a cooler or metal tub, but try to prepare cubes for serving. Have an Emergency Ice Re-stocking Plan in place, in the event you run out.
6. Please Hammer, Don't Hurt 'Em
Think about how your guests are going to get safely home. You don't want people on the road who are putting themselves or others in danger, and you don't want to hear that your friend fell down a flight of subway stairs, so be prepared with the numbers of cab companies—consider taping it to the door or fridge—or enlist friends to serve as designated drivers. Having a first-aid kit on hand is probably a great idea, too.
7. Don't Panic!
Finally, expect things to go wrong, sometimes drastically. At one party we hosted, our oven failed halfway into the second batch of chicken wings. Fortunately, I had a grill, so I was able to finish cooking them outside. Being a gracious host means going with the flow, though, and helping everyone to have a good time, no matter what goes wrong.
What do you do in the days leading up to a big party? What tips have you learned over your hosting experiences?