The pre-dinner cocktail hour is essentially a relaxed mini-cocktail party. Like a cocktail party, you work in the background to keep things running smoothly and let your guests "drive".
Passing hors d'oeuvres adds a sophisticated touch, but it is not required for the dinner party cocktail hour. Dinner party hors d'oeuvres should be bite-sized and elegant. Do not serve anything that requires a plate until seated at the table.
All or most of the preparation and assembly should be done before the first guest arrives. Serve hors d'oeuvres about 30 minutes prior to serving dinner.
Ideally, use a silver tray with a paper doily when passing hors d'oeuvres. Alternatively, you may use a flat, round tray of glass with a doily, but never use plates or chargers, which will push the snacks to the center.
A theme-related tray centerpiece, adds intrigue to the display and can be used as decoration elsewhere after all of the hors d'oeuvres have been served.
If you are setting out an appetizer for guests to serve themselves, choose a location that is easily accessible. Some alternatives to passing hors d'oeuvres would be a cheese ball with crackers or a bowl filled with peeled and deveined boiled shrimp.
Sitting is strongly discouraged for two reasons: 1) to encourage mingling, 2) for comfort, in preparation of sitting for an extended period during dinner.
Mingling and cocktails will give all of your guests a chance to meet and become more comfortable before sitting down to dinner. It also gives you the opportunity to put all of the last-minute dinner preparations together while your guests arrive.
In selecting an area for pre-dinner cocktails, choose a location out-of-sight and away from the decorated dining area. If it is a small group (6 or less), you can set-up an area on a bar adjacent to the kitchen, which will allow you to keep the party lively while you cook.
A group of 8 or more will create enough energy without your constant attention, if you discourage sitting in the cocktail area. If necessary arrange, remove, cover, and/or decorate chairs and couches to dissuade sitting.
Be sure to rearrange facing chairs and couches, so guests are not tempted to sit and chat. Remove low furniture, such as coffee tables and foot stools.
The bar at the pre-dinner cocktail party will naturally be the center of activity, so it is a good idea to serve drinks deep into the designated cocktail area. Like the cocktail party, a crowded space is best for the pre-dinner cocktail hour.
If you do not have a bar, a work table ranging between counter and bar height (36” to 42”) will do just fine. Otherwise, a table of standard height (28") is adequate.
If you would like to take the extra time to create a quick and easy bar see Setting Up A Bar in the Cocktail Party Planning section.
During a dinner party plan to serve, at least, 2 drinks per person during the cocktail hour, 2 drinks or glasses of wine during dinner, and 1 after dinner drink.
The sound of ice
tinkling is lovely, and nothing cheapens a party quicker than plastic
glasses or paper plates, so serve cocktails in glasses, except when poolside.
The cocktail hour for a dinner party is an ideal setting for serving martinis. You should have as many martini glasses as guests, plus a couple extra.
It is also easy to create a “special” martini for the party theme or guest of honor by mixing vodka and one or more liqueurs, such as raspberry or sour apple. Learn more about making cocktails and martinis in Mixology 101 in Cocktail Party Planning.
Be sure to use premium brand vodka and gin when serving martinis. Because of the relatively small crowd, you may want to serve premium brands for all cocktails. Bourbon, rum, and scotch are good to have on hand as alternates to vodka and gin.
If necessary ask someone to assist you with cocktails while you greet guests, serve hors d'oeuvres, and prepare dinner. You may also lighten the load by preparing a pitcher of martinis or a “specialty” drink before the guests arrive.
Remember: never put ice in your pre-made drinks; pour over ice when serving. For martinis, pour over ice in a second pitcher, stir, then strain into a martini glass.