Hosting A Cocktail Party: Planning the Layout & Flow
The ultimate host
has planned for everything, and the party layout is an
overview of the party area
and movement of guests
Great parties take on a life of their own
- Mingle Zone
- Cocktail Service
- Arrivals &
, and a great party host works in the background
to keep the party machine
running smoothly. The party area is the best location
you have to let your party live with the least interference from you
. Mingle Zone
The closer your guests are to each other
the more energy they will generate, the more each guest will contribute to the party, and the more fun everyone will have
Create your mingle zone
by choosing a party area that is contained
and just large enough
to hold your guests. For cocktail parties, too tight is always better than too open
Arrange or place items to create the right size area
. If necessary, add plants and pull furniture into the room
. This gives you the flexibility to enlarge the space if it gets too crowded.
No sittingCocktail parties thrive on mobile, mingling guests
- Contained area
- Just large enough to accommodate your guests
- Use items to fill the room that can be pulled back or removed, if needed
- Close doors to adjoining rooms
, for this reason minimize all opportunities for guests to sit. Arrange, remove, cover, and/or decorate chairs and couches to discourage sitting
Be sure to rearrange facing chairs and couches, so guests are not tempted to sit and chat. The only exceptions are bar height stools
and chairs.Remove coffee tables and foot stools
. Not only are these tripping hazards
, your guests will find it uncomfortable to sit down
with guests standing directly in front of them.The Kitchen
Unless a particular guest is helping you with food service, keep everyone out of the kitchen
. A simple "out of my kitchen" usually does the trick.
Naturally, guests will want and try to be close to you, their host, so minimize your time in the kitchen
, as well. Keep this in mind when establishing the location of cocktail service.No TV or Computers
Remove, hide, or disable all TV, video and computer distractions
unless it is part of the event, such as the Super Bowl or Kentucky Derby. This includes TVs and computers throughout the house.
The bar area
will be the nerve center of your party
, so consider the setup and location of cocktail service carefully. First, you want to draw guests deeper into the party
area and secondly, you want guests to move, mingle, and meet
every time they need a drink.
Setup the bar opposite from where guests enter the room or
, if there are entry/exits on each end of the party area, set the bar up along the wall in the center of the room
. Allow access
behind the bar from one side only
to eliminate traffic on the service
Also, make sure there are places throughout the room where guests can set down their cocktail glasses
. You may wish to cover or set coasters
out to protect your furniture.
See setting up the bar
for more.Arrivals & Departures
A defined area separate from the cocktail party
works best for the arrival and departure
of your guests. Ideally, this area is out of site
from your party guests. Gifts, Coats And the First DrinkDesignate a place for gifts
and umbrellas near the entrance. For a party with a guest of honor, separate the honorees gift
s and cards from the hosts
. Also, designate a place for coats
, which may be in a separate room.
As the host, try to get or facilitate each arriving guest’s first drink
. Offer your guests a cocktail, including your signature drink of the evening
If someone is handling bartending duties, order the guests’ cocktails
for them, otherwise, make it yourself
. At this point, it is perfectly okay to tell them (with a smile) that you’ll get their first one, but after that they are on their own and help themselves.
- Designate a place for gifts and cards
- Select an area to put guests’ coats
- Get or arrange each guest’s first drink
As a cocktail party guest, it is acceptable to leave the party without saying goodbye
, especially if the host is occupied. Furthermore, departing guests are a party downer
, and, if you do not announce that you’re leaving, no one really knows exactly when you left.
But, as a host, if guests let you know
that they are leaving before the end of the party, minimize the impact
on the rest of the party.
Excuse yourself, and escort the guests out of the party area
to say your goodbyes. Other guests may become self-conscious if they hear others leaving
and may feel they should exit too.
Conversely, if you are ready for the party to end, bid your adieu in sight and earshot of everyone else.Signage
your location or preferred entrance is not obvious, consider signage
direct your guests’ arrival while driving, parking, and/or walking
Simply print out your signs on 8.5”x11” printer paper. If there is a
possibility they could get wet, laminate your signs.
directional signs, make sure the words and graphics are large enough to be read
. Purchase very inexpensive grading stakes
home improvement store and staple the signs to the stakes.
the general public can see the signs, you may wish to use cryptic
so you don’t get uninvited guests
. For example, use a large
cactus and an arrow for a South of the Border party, don’t use a picture
of a margarita glass or say “Party!” ("Liquor" and "Smoke" are also not advised)
For large parties,
or if you may not hear guests
at the door, put a sign that lets them
know they are at the right place
, such as “Welcome”, “Come out back” or
“Please, no shoes” (if applicable) should do the trick.
you have more than one bathroom, include a sign on the main bathroom
door directing guests to your other facilities
. This way the sign will
be visible when the door is closed and guests can help themselves and
get back to the party quicker.
- Turns for drivers
- Parking areas
- Party entrance
- Additional bathroom facilities
Even non-smokers sometimes light up with a cocktail, so it is best to be prepared
with a designated smoking area
with ashtrays. Avoid overhead lighting
, even in the smoking section, but make sure walkways and steps are well lit
Choose an area to minimize potential smoking damage
, for example, away from hot tub and grill covers
and, obviously, remove flammables
. Tiki torches
create a pleasant atmosphere or place votives
in case your guests need a “light”.
Now that you know how your party will flow, the next step
is to determine the party lighting