Cocktail Party Advice?

NancynbOctober 16, 2002

Each year the workers at my office get together and have a bar-b-que but this year we just couldn't seem to agree on a date. We are a small group of 9 plus husbands and wives to make a gathering of 17 total.

I've been thinking I would like to invite them all to my home some evening between Christmas and New Years for cocktails. It has been some time since I've hosted a cocktail party, normally I do sit-down dinners for approx. 12 people. We know one another well as we live and work in the same small community but we don't normally socialize with each other. My idea was to set up a bar and to provide a few hot and cold finger foods and just spend the evening talking and relaxing outside of the work invironment. Do you think this will be enough refreshment or should I provide something more substantial? Also should I prepare some sort of entertainment? And what would the entertainment be? I know my husband and I are not big fans of board games and I don't have enough room for dancing. I really just wanted to spend a relaxing evening with co-workers who are also friends but I want it to be an enjoyable experience for them.

I am open to any ideas you may have to make this a fun experience. I've thought of having each person bring a baby photo and having everyone guess who is who and I also thought I would like to provide party favors to guests as they depart. Advice on this appreciated!

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Are you talking a 6 PM start?...Or an 8 pm start?
If you have an early start....and expect to have them spend the evening, you will need to provide substantial food, or you will ahve a bunch of drunks....or everyone will leave to go find a pizza!
A cocktail party is a 2 hour long ( or so..) affair, beginning around 6 ( or a 1/2 ah hour earlier or later) and serving drinks and hors d'ourvres. When I am invited to a party like that, I usually make reservations for dinner somewhere.
Maybe you want to have a cocktail buffet and serve some little sandwiches or sliced meat?
At any rate....I haven't been to a party where any kind of game is played in more than 30 years.......
If your group likes each other, they should have no trouble with convrsation for an evening.
Linda C

    Bookmark   October 16, 2002 at 11:25AM
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I guess I was thinking of having guests arrive around 8 p.m. and spending a couple of hours just socializing with one another. So maybe the timing is way off for the function to be called a cocktail party. But if I do it this way then I would be safe just having finger foods and some refreshment as I would assume that everyone would have eaten dinner by that time.

    Bookmark   October 16, 2002 at 1:23PM
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In my crowd, most people don't do much drinking after dinner.
Maybe make it a dessert party and serve some dessert wines, coffee ( de caf of course) and have a tray of liquors, whipped cream, shaved chocolate, orange peel twists and maybe a propped up card with recipes for various coffee drinks.
Linda C

    Bookmark   October 16, 2002 at 1:55PM
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With an 8PM start you can safely assume that everyone has eaten. By all means have a few finger foods but keep it light. End the evening with coffee and dessert.

As for games, I'm with Linda its been a long time since I've seen real games played at a party but given it's an office get together you may be able to do a couple of fun...not to focused games.

The baby pictures is always a good one. Another idea is to pin the name of a famous character, real or fictional, on to the back of each person, make sure they can't see it. Throughout the night each person is to try and figure out who they are by asking questions of the other guests...lying is fair! Small gifts , or not, for each person who figures themselves out.

If you are really brave Charades has made a huge may sound corny but it's a great way to mix people up and get them laughing!

Given the time of year you are planning your party, Christmas tree decorations are a good take away. Or you could go with a coffee mug with a small packet of gourmet coffee or tea.

Hope you evening is a great success.

    Bookmark   October 16, 2002 at 8:00PM
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I would not assume everyone will have eaten dinner. Every holiday 'cocktail' party I've been to (or hosted) had hors d'oevres and some fairly substantial buffet food, regardless of the time.

I may have a small snack beforehand, but only to tide me over until the party. Dinner would not leave me enough room to want nor enjoy finger food.

Perhaps your area of the country is different, but here a 'Cocktail' party is substantial enough to be dinner with hot and cold hors d'oevres, cheese and fruit platters, and one or two hot items on a buffet.

Decide what you want to do and then convey that in your invitation so that folks aren't guessing whether to eat or not. If it's just for drinks and small nibbles I wouldn't call it a Cocktail party (at least not on Long Island).

Perhaps an invitation that says: 'Join us for a holiday drink' better conveys 'drinks and nibbles'.

If I'm understanding your question correctly, it sounds like you want to feed your guests and just don't know how much to make. If you want to serve more substantion 'cocktail' food, for 17 people I would make at least 3 different types of hot hors d'oevres, a few room temp nibbles (fruit and cheese platter, spiced pecans, olive assortments, etc...), a hot dip, and perhaps a chafing dish of hot Sweedish meatballs. This way you and your guests can relax and help yourselves while enjoying the evening.

Hope this helps,

    Bookmark   October 16, 2002 at 10:13PM
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Nancy, I read your request for advice, all the replies, and then read your original request again. I was a caterer for many years, and will say this:

I would have the party at 7pm. You are already planning on having some hot and cold hors d'oeuvres - add a few more, and call it a "Cocktail Buffet". This denotes heavy hors d'oeuvres, and your guests will/should know it certainly doesn't mean a full meal, but substantial enough that they shouldn't have dinner before coming to your house.

My suggestions:


Meat & Cheese platter - roast beef, ham, turkey, sliced cheeses (opt.) - with a basket of small, sliced rolls and condiments on the side

Cheese ball assortment (3) - with a variety of crackers -
perhaps some fresh fruit around the edges of the cheese platter.

Artichoke or Spinach dip - served in Hawaiian bread round, using cubes of the bread to dip with


Seafood Dip - crabmeat or shrimp - with melbas for dipping

Little Smokies in sauce made of Chili Sauce & Grape Jelly (folks love 'em, even after all these years)


I would have one platter of brownies, lemon squares, and small sugar cookies rolled in cinnamon-sugar. You could have coffee set up by the dessert tray.


None of the above is too difficult to prepare, and would provide your guests with plenty of choices.

As for the games/entertainment - I think nowadays people like to chit-chat rather than anything else. Have some nice music playing in the background, low enough to be able to have conversations.

Good luck!

    Bookmark   October 24, 2002 at 8:18AM
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Thanks for all the great suggestions!!

To MsMagnolia, what are "Little Smokies" and do you have the receipe for the sauce of chili sauce & grape jelly? I've never tried it before to my knowledge. Sounds good. I think I can handle the rest. Thanks!

    Bookmark   October 24, 2002 at 10:59AM
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Not MsMagnolia here - but Little Smokies are like little sausages or cocktail weenies. They should be available near where the regular hot dogs and sausages are in the meat case.

The sauce is just what she said - equal parts of grape jelly and chili sauce. Sounds horrific if you ask me, but it is quite tasty and people really do love it. My mom still makes it every year for her holiday open house and it is always one of the first things to go.

I don't think I would try for games either. A nice evening of enjoyable small talk is all that is needed.


    Bookmark   October 24, 2002 at 12:19PM
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Thanks for the clarification Alexa, thought it might be little weinies but wasn't sure. Yes the sauce does sound terrible but I've never tried it before so will have to do a test run before the party. Sounds like its very popular. Thanks again for the help.

    Bookmark   October 24, 2002 at 1:53PM
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Me again. Caliloo answered for me very well.

About the sauce, it's the only sauce I ever used when I was catering. I also used this with meatballs, and sometimes would mix meatballs and smokies. I use a 20-oz. jar of grape jelly and the 14-oz. bottle of chili sauce. Melt the jelly in a saucepan and use wire whisk to make smooth - and then add the chili sauce.

I catered parties for over 20 years, and this is the sauce everybody wanted!

    Bookmark   October 24, 2002 at 2:35PM
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I live on Long Island, and never expect a cocktail party to be my dinner. We serve plenty of appetizers, but to replace their dinner you would have to have a tremendous amount of food, and I don't think that's what you were thinking. A cocktail party is meant to be a 2 hour thing,usually starting around 5 PM, and it is not supposed to replace dinner. Or, call it a buffet supper and plan to feed them! During the holidays many people have cocktail parties and people stop in for a while, then on to the next. I guess you have to know the customs of your crowd.

    Bookmark   November 3, 2002 at 7:10PM
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