Alec Waugh insists in a 1970 Esquire essay that he invented the concept of drinks before dinner in the 1920s. Fast forward just a couple of decades and the art of cocktails has a culture all its own. From specialty mixologists that prepare cocktails with the flair of stage performers, to cocktails with ingredients as gourmet as the main course, to fabulously chic cocktail attire…cocktail parties bring as much style as they do function. They are a great way to entertain small to large groups in a way that encourages mingling and socializing. From iconic cocktails like New Orleans’ own Sazerac, the Ramos Ginn Fizz, and even the Manhattan, to specialty cocktails; each has a place at the poshest of cocktail parties.
What constitutes a cocktail party?
Simply put, a cocktail party is a type of bar-centric event where no formal meal is served. Instead, guests enjoy a variety of beverages and heavy hors d’oeuvres usually served either passed or via “grazing” stations. This format encourages guests to mix and mingle throughout the event. A cocktail party can be planned around a theme, a milestone event, or as a laid-back gathering. The flavor of the cocktail party determines the dress code, catering menu items offered, and décor.
What are the essential components of a cocktail party?
- Venue and décor. Venue and décor are important components of any cocktail party. Open-air venues are a popular and safe choice, and can showcase breathtaking views of a city skyline, a beach, or a park-like setting. Even though you want to encourage guests to rove around the party with ease, you also want to provide seating choices for older guests. Younger guests enjoy cocktails and conversation over a high-top or tufted banquette and like to stand while they chat. No matter where you hold your cocktail party, be sure to keep the lighting dim. Dim lighting elevates the mood and is flattering to guests.
- Dress code. Cocktail attire is usually a foolproof term to include on the invite to let men know it’s okay to wear a suit without a tie or for a woman to don her favorite little black dress. If it’s a cocktail party wedding reception, you can take liberties with tradition. For instance, brides can select a theme color and encourage their bride’s maids to choose their own different styles within that color scheme. This not only looks great in photos, but allows their personalities to shine. And don’t forget, the cocktails can match the color scheme!
- Food and drink. Food and drink are, after all, the stars of every cocktail party. Be mindful of dietary restrictions when planning your catering menu and also offer some plant-based options for the vegetarians and vegans on your guest list. You should plan to have eight to 12 different heavy appetizers being served in rotation and can count on guests consuming six apps per hour. Food stations can allow guests to grab bites on their own and can stretch your budget, too. Pair your food choices with drinks offered. For instance, if the theme is a vintage 1920’s cocktail party, consider throwing it in a historic venue and serve mini steak tartars with drinks such as brandy alexanders, bee’s knees, and martinis.
- Music. Music elevates the mood of any party. If your cocktail party is a sophisticated affair, hiring a jazz trio or a string trio would be good options to set the mood. If it’s a fun, flirty affair celebrating a Gen Z birthday, hire a DJ to get guests up and on the dance floor. Both Pandora and Spotify offer a wide variety of stations that can be played ad free (with a subscription) through a house sound system for a budget-friendly way to set the mood. Remember, conversation is a cornerstone of any cocktail party, so plan your music to complement, not compete, with engagement.
Cocktail parties have come of age
This moment in history was made for the cocktail party-style event. COVID safety challenges see catering menus paring down from large buffets and sit-down dinners to passed hors d’oeuvres, single-serve plating, and miniature, one-bite takes on culinary favorites. Everything from wedding receptions to corporate retreats are getting in on the return of cocktail parties, which are now a mix of nostalgia, modern-day trends in food and drink, and a chance to connect with people in a world where social distancing and isolation have been the norm.
No matter cocktail party theme you choose, leave the menu planning to an experienced New Orleans caterer like Messina’s
A full-service caterer like Messina’s can help you plan the perfect cocktail party menu that is beautifully presented and satisfying to consume, just like they’ve been doing since 1961. Learn more by visiting MessinasCatering.com. They’ll help you craft the perfect combination of food and drink to make your cocktail party event unforgettable.