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 Get This Party Started
 Choosing A Theme
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 The Party Layout
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 Planning Cocktails
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Home>Cocktail Event Planning>The Party Layout
Cocktail Party Planning
The Party Layout
Planning Cocktails
Planning A Birthday Party
Get This Party Started
Lighting & Aroma
Mixology 101
Disaster Planning TIps
Choosing A Theme
Decorating Ideas
Serving Food
Cocktail Party Checklist
Inviting Guests
Setting Up A Bar
Making Music
Party Shopping Lists

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.  Specifically:
  • Mingle Zone
  • Cocktail Service
  • Arrivals & Departures
  • Signage
  • Smoking
Great parties take on a life of their own, 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.
  • 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
No sitting

Cocktail parties thrive on mobile, mingling guests, 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.

Cocktail Service

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 side of the bar.

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 Drink

Designate a place for gifts and umbrellas near the entrance.  For a party with a guest of honor, separate the honorees gifts 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 upon arrival.

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.


If your location or preferred entrance is not obvious, consider signage to 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.

For driving and parking directional signs, make sure the words and graphics are large enough to be read.  Purchase very inexpensive grading stakes from a home improvement store and staple the signs to the stakes.

If the general public can see the signs, you may wish to use cryptic graphics 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.

If 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.

Use signage to mark:
  • 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.