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I'm having a cocktail party - need advice

I've been reading many posts on chowhound about food and party etiquette (both hosts and guests) and wanted some advice/opinions about a cocktail party my new husband and I are hosting.
We secretly eloped in May and are celebrating our marriage in July with a cocktail celebration, starting at 7:30 pm, at our new house. We sent out announcements within a week of returning from our honeymoon, then about 2 weeks later sent out invitations to the party. We are expecting about 80 people. We'd like it to be more of a cocktail party than a wedding reception, despite the fact that's what we're celebrating. E.g I won't be wearing anything like a wedding dress.

Some questions and issues:
How much food to serve? (it will be staffed)
We are serving wine, beer and sparkling wine (just enough for a toast) - how much should we have?
If it tacky not to have liquor for mixed drinks? (We don't drink hard liquor and don't want the extra expense) We'd like to keep it simple.
What to have for those who don't drink? (ie. pregnant or designated drivers)
Decorations? We're renting tables, linens and plates - no cutlery since it's all finger food.
Any suggestions for interesting, non-wedding-y desserts? (simple, please - no chocolate fountains).
Any interesting decoration ideas? It will be mostly outside on our 3rd floor deck and in our backyard.
Any advice is welcome.

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  1. First off - congrats on your marriage!

    Re: food - are you having it catered? If so - let the caterer decide on quantities. If not - I think I'll let those who've done catering help you out there. My first inclination would be to say 6-10 passed hors' do'eurves per person, but that might be high (or low - I just don't know!)

    It is not tacky NOT to have mixed drinks, IMO - you're paying for it. And for those that don't drink - orange juice, cranberry juice, water, and/or a non-alcoholic punch would work.

    Perhaps some small fruit tartlets might be nice for a dessert or bite-sized assorted cheesecakes. Or maybe let people make s'mores? LOL Totally "non-wedding-y" there!

    I'm not big on decorations, so I can't help you there. But I'm sure you'll get lots of great advice here - and again, congratulations!

    1. Check some recipe books out of the library. There are ones just for entertaining, such as Martha Stewart's HorsD'oeuvres handbook. It gives ideas of amounts, depending on the type party. Only appetizers, fix 8 to 10 and make enough for 3 per guests. Other books will give you drink amounts.

      I have an 1969 Better homes and Garden Guide to Entertaining. It lists amounts of beverages you need for guests such as one bottle of wine 4 to 8 servings.

      It is your home and you serve what you want. Lots of people serve bottled waters, soft drinks, fruit punches, sparkling grape juice. Mixed drinks are a huge pain for groups over 6 or 8. Don't worry about that one.

      Desserts: cookies, brownies, cupcakes, ice cream bars or the little cups that come with a wooden spoon, mixed minature candy bars, rent a cotton candy machine.

      I love bubbles. How about little battery run bubble machines as center pieces. Place bottles of bubbles on the tables also. They come in all types of bottles, including champagne shapes, cell phones. Pinwheels stuck in small flower arrangements. You are outside, use the wind.

      Remember the two of you are to have fun at this party.

      Congratulations on your marriage.

      1. Not sure if you are having it catered, but if not, you should consider it. 80 people is a lot of people and I would think that you would want to spend time with your guests.

        Not tacky to just have wine, beer and no hard liquor. People won't miss it. They will just drink what you have.

        1 Reply
        1. re: valerie

          I agree about the catering if you can afford it. I did a 50 person wedding tea for my sister, and just came back from her birthday party for about 170 people. Even though the latter was grilled burgers and hot dogs, and she pretty much bought everything else, it was an awful lot of work and it's hard to enjoy yourself when you are making sure that the guests' needs are met.

          I agree with the other posters about not worrying about serving mixed drinks.

        2. Because your party is at 7:30PM, you need to go heavy on the food or, as tacky as it sounds, people will leave to go out to dinner. I was in catering for years, and whenever someone wanted to do a cocktail reception during what is traditonally a "mealtime" I would suggest they at least include a Pasta option to fill people up, especially when drinking is involved. Not serving hard liquor is fine, and probably a wise decision if you are not serving dinner.

          1. Congratulations! What a wonderful way to celebrate.

            As for soft drinks, I find lemonade and iced tea a nice offering. You can buy cartons of lemonade, pour it into nice glass pitchers, and slice a few lemons into it to make it look special. Juices are nice but not my preference for an evening cocktail party.

            You indicate "no cutlery since it's all finger food" but I would suggest that you offer cutlery. Not everyone likes to eat finger foods with their fingers, especially if it's a little greasy (mini-egg rolls, for instance) or potentially messy or may take more than one bite. Especially if folks are going to be a little dressed up.

            Desserts - chocolate-dipped strawberries, cutout cookies in fun shapes, decadent brownies. For bite-size, I love mini black-bottom cupcakes; there are lots of recipes online. Fresh fruit skewers are refreshing. Or why not ask your guests to bring some desserts?

            As for decorations, simple bunches of fresh flowers are always enchanting. You may be able to raid someone's garden at this time of year (with their permission, of course!). I'd use flowers and nothing else.

            Good luck, and most of all, have fun!