How to host a great summer cocktail party
A good summer cocktail party is easy. Buy some booze, hope it doesn't rain, maybe serve some chips and you're golden. A great summer cocktail party, on the other hand, takes time, effort and planning. Still, it's worth it since there's just something magical about drinking outdoors with friends, listening to a little music and maybe eating some snacks off the grill. If that sounds like your kind of party, we can help!
Tip #1: Have a theme
If you just want to have a few friends over for drinks, you don't need a theme. However, if you want to throw a great outdoor cocktail party, you should definitely choose one. The theme doesn't need to be highbrow and, in fact, a silly theme is usually a lot more fun.
Why have a theme?
The theme is there for your own sanity. Once you have a theme, it makes it easier to choose your plates, napkins, and, sometimes, even your playlist. With that said, if you find your theme is too restrictive for you to feel creative, pick something else. Also, once you have a theme, watch as your guests get into it. Seriously, pick a pig theme and see how many guests don't show up with pig noses.
Should you find matching plates, napkins, etc.? Yes. Absolutely. If the goal is a great cocktail party, these little touches signal to your guests that you care about this party and are willing to go the extra mile for it. That will get them into the mood. Plus, it can be kind of fun.
If you can't think of a theme, check and see what food day it is. Every day of the year is National Some Food Day. If you can throw your party on National Chocolate Wafer Day (July 3), National Peach Ice Cream Day (July 17) or National Rum and National Bratwurst Day (August 16), then you already have a great party theme.
Tip #2: Less is more
Some people who throw cocktail parties will set out a ton of liquor and let guests make their own drinks. You can do that if you want, but that's expensive and not all your friends are master mixologists (no matter what they think). If you want everyone to enjoy the absolute best cocktails, you only really need four choices, two of which you make yourself.
Two of your drink selections should be beer. Unless you are absolutely sure that none of your friends are beer drinkers and won't be bringing any guests who are, keep a few cans of cheap beer on ice. There's always that one friend who will stand around a million craft beers and opt for something domestic. Let that friend have their way and get them domestic beer. For the friends who won't drink liquor, but don't want cheap beer, have a few six packs of good imported beer.
For everyone else, you'll want two different types of cocktails: a make-ahead version and a made-to-order version. The make-ahead drink could include pitchers of sangria, bowls of punch or large batches of margaritas. Just find something that fits your theme and make a lot of it so that your guests can drink it as they please.
Also, find a signature cocktail for the party that's fun and delicious. This cocktail should fit the theme and be something that you feel like you can make with some flair. Consider something like a chocolate martini, basil-strawberry highball or something else that takes a little effort. You can still make several batches ahead of time, but your guests will love the personal touch when you make them their own cocktail. You can also train a few friends you trust to make the cocktail so that you're not playing bartender the entire time.
Tip #3: Keep the food simple, grill if you can
This is a cocktail party, not a food party. Therefore, don't worry about having a huge gourmet spread. Instead, set out a cheese board and two or three other light finger foods that can sit out in the heat (in other words, avoid cream and mayonnaise). Also, if you can, fire up the grill to cook at least one of your foods. You can always precook a large amount of kebabs, brats, sliders, etc. and keep them warm over a low fire.
Why use the grill? The grill is a good central place for everyone to congregate around and chat, which is good for less social partygoers. Perhaps more importantly, grilled foods are delicious.
OK party thrower, now that you're armed with these tips, good luck and have a great party.