Hosting a Cocktail Party: Layout & Flow

Great cocktail parties take on a life of their own, and a great host works in the background to keep the party machine running smoothly. Planning the layout and movement of guests beforehand is the best way to let your party thrive with the least interference from you.

Hosting a Cocktail Party

Set the stage for your event to function seamlessly with a strategy for each of these five key areas:

  1. Mingle Zone
  2. Cocktail Service
  3. Arrivals & Departures
  4. Phone Zone/Smoking Area
  5. Signage

1. Mingle Zone

  • Cocktail parties are all about the mingle, so do everything you can to encourage it.
    • Designate a centralized space just large enough to hold your guests.
    • The closer your guests are to each other, the more they’ll mingle.
    • Arrange furniture, cocktail tables, and plants that can be pulled back if it gets too crowded.
    • More mingle = more fun; keep it tight, but comfortable.
  • The life of your party depends on mobile, mingling guests.
    • Arrange, remove, cover, and/or decorate chairs & couches to discourage sitting.
    • Include some bar-height stools & chairs as the seating option.
    • Remove coffee tables and foot stools.
  • Stay focused on the mingle, and minimize distractions.
    • Close doors to adjoining rooms.
    • Keep everyone out of the kitchen.
      • “Out of my kitchen” usually does the trick.
      • Minimize your time in the kitchen and guests will follow.
    • Disable (i.e. unplug) all TV, video, and computer devices throughout the house/venue.
  • Ban the bane of the mingle…electronic devices!
    • Let guests know on the invitation this is a “No Phone Event”.
    • Place “Phone-Free Zone” signs in mingle area.
    • Provide opaque Ziploc bags for phones upon arrival.
    • Setup a phone-zone, if they must use them.
    • Hire or arrange for an “official” photographer.
    • Graciously, show any guest using a phone the designated phone-zone.

2. Cocktail Service

  • The bar will be party central, so plan a location that will:
    • Draw guests deep into the vibe of the party.
    • Encourage guests to mingle and meet along the way.
  • Ideally, place the bar opposite the entrance to the mingle zone.
    • When multiple entrances, place the bar in the middle.
    • For larger parties, set up a smaller bar to open when needed.
    • Create a service access corridor to the bar outside the mingle zone, if possible.
    • Make sure there are plenty of places to set down cocktail glasses.

A Note About Food

  • For a cocktail party, we strongly recommend passing hors d’oeuvres butler-style to:
    • Enrich your guests’ experience with an unexpected twist.
    • Add a touch of elegance to make the occasion more special.
    • Maintain party momentum eliminating trips to food stations.
    • Encourage mingling and interaction.
    • Improve food safety.
  • If you do set out food, use multiple stations with a variety of options at each one.

3. Arrivals & Departures

  • Establish an area out of sight from the party for the arrival and departure of guests.
    • Reduces awkwardness for guests.
    • Elevates anticipation upon arrival.
    • Avoids disruptions to the party momentum.
    • Specific entry and exit points control traffic flow.
    • Allows for discreetly arranging & waiting for transportation.
  • Set the tone for the evening when guests arrive.
    • Greet each guest personally.
    • Make or order their first drink.
    • For larger parties, set up a signature drink station near the entrance.
  • Designate a place for coats, gifts, coats, umbrellas, and phones.
    • Separate guest-of-honor gifts and cards from the host’s.
    • Let guests know where they can find coats, purses, & phones.
    • For carrying phones (on vibrate)
      • Provide opaque Ziploc bags (available online).
      • Tell them, “We’re trying something new!”
  • Minimize the impact of departing guests.
    • Escort the guests out of the party area to say your goodbyes.
    • Otherwise, remaining guests may feel they should also leave.
    • Conversely, if you are ready for the party to end, bid your adieus for all to see and hear.
  • As a party guest...
    • It is fine to leave without saying goodbye, especially if the host is occupied.
    • Send a thank you text, call, or note the next day instead.

4. Phone Zone/Smoking Area

  • Even non-smokers sometimes light up with a cocktail, so it is best to be prepared.
    • Designate a smoking section outdoors with ashtrays.
    • Make sure walkways and steps are well lit.
  • Choose an area to minimize potential smoking damage.
    • Away from hot tub and grill covers.
    • Remove flammables.
  • Create a specific area for using cell phones.
    • Out of sight from the party.
    • Well lit, but not so comfortable that it becomes a hangout.

5. Signage

  • Create signage to direct guests to areas that may not be obvious.
    • Coordinate signs with your theme and colors.
    • Upon arrival, direct guests to parking and entrance.
    • For self-service entry, post "Welcome, Come In!" on the front door.
    • On bathroom doors, include signs to other facilities.
  • More directional signs that may be helpful:
    • Coat Room
    • Smoking Section
    • Phone Zone - Use Phones Here!
    • No phones please!

Create an atmosphere where guests feel relaxed to join and exit conversations, moving freely and meeting new people, and you will have successfully mastered the art of the cocktail party.

Have fun!

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