Planning a Cocktail Party
Updated: Feb 15
Throwing a party?
Big, small, it doesn't matter you need to know how many supplies to have on hand for your guest. It can be difficult to judge what specific items you need and the amount of them.
So to start, there are a few different ways to quench the thirst of your party guests. Here are a few possible ingredients.
Wine and Beer
Liquor and Mixer
We will write about each of the ingredients in more detail but know just like cocktail ingredients each can be mixed with the other in different ways. For example, you can have a party with Wine, Beer, and a Cocktail Menu; a party with Liquor and Mixers with Bottled Cocktails; or just a party with an Open/Cash Bar. The above list is in the order of ease to tend.
Once you get to the point of having a cocktail menu or open bar you may need to employ the use of a hired bartender. Another reason to hire a tender is based on the number of guests and how much time you want to join your guest for the party. The more guests you have and the more difficult the serving method used the less time you will have at the party. That is unless you hire a professional bartender.
All the quantities mentioned below are based on a 3-hour party with guests drinking 1 to 2 drinks per hour. You really need to judge yourself based on the type of party you expect.
For example, if you are having a bunch of folks over for poker and to watch the game you may want to stock up on more beer. If it is a wedding reception you are throwing expect to stock up on wine and champagne. If you are giving a poolside coat and tie affair the cocktail menu and open bar would be heavily hit.
Wine and Beer... We are not even pretending to know a whole lot about wine and beer. This is a site about Craft Cocktails after all, but we do however know that people like to drink them. We occasionally like a nice merlot.
So if you choose to serve wine and beer at your party you should have available about these amount of bottles:
Liquor and Mixers...
In this type of party, you simply provide various spirits and mixers for your guests to help themselves. For the most part, they will make things like rum and coke, vodka and cranberry, etc... You have to be careful with this type of arrangement. People tend to pour too much liquor when they are serving themselves so you should cut the bar off a little earlier than normal or switch to just beer and wine at some point.
This type of drink is actually called a highball although the original was bourbon and ginger ale the term covers all of the simple mixtures of a soda beverage and some type of spirit. It is also more common to serve these cocktails in a rocks glass, which makes it more appropriate to call them lowballs. So to serve lowballs at your next party where the guest will serve themselves you would lay out a variety of the typical spirits and mixers on a table with your rocks glasses and ice with a scoop nearby.
You might also consider the auto-stop pour spouts. Although these aren't great for your personal everyday use, because they tend to get clogged and aren't very accurate, they are great in this application.
The following are the approximate amount of 750 ml bottles you should have on hand for the Liquor and Mixers party:
In addition, you will need to have mixers on hand. As for the soda our preference is to use the small 4 oz cans on a daily basis, but in a party situation you may want to go with 2 litters or if available a soda gun. The chart below is for 2 litters unless otherwise specified.
Bottled Cocktails... In our Bottled Cocktails article, we explain how to prepare a ready-to-drink homemade Craft Cocktail. By using this method of serving at your party your guests can serve themselves.
This frees you up to join in the fun. Prepare your bottled cocktails a few hours before the party and then when it comes time for your guest to arrive, arrange your beverages in a tub of ice with chilling cocktail glasses nearby. Voila!
If you choose to go with bottled cocktails make sure you have enough. Multiply the expected number of guests by the number of hours the party is expected to last. Then multiply the total by the number of ounces per serving. This will give you a ballpark of how much to make in ounces.
Another great option that fits in this category is to make a punch.
Cocktail Menu... The cocktail menu is a very good way to get people to try something new or just go beyond their usual liquor and mixer or wine and beer. It is also easier to control your inventory. However, this method can be very time consuming and if you have a lot of guests you may want to hire a bartender, or else you will be mixing drinks all night.
The pre-planning for this method is paramount. The idea is to come up with a list of 12 to 20 cocktails that you would like to serve at your party, print out menus with them listed with a short description, and then when it comes time to party the guests pick drinks from the menu. This will focus on what people order and allow you to get specific spirits. No doubt you will still have people wanting lowballs so we would still get the list of mixers mentioned in the liquor and mixer section.
You will want to tweak your shopping lists based on the cocktails on your menu. Obviously, if all the drinks on your menu call for triple sec, buy more triple sec.
Open/Cash Bar... In Stocking Your Home Craft Cocktail Bar, we discuss what one should stock in their home bar. For a typical open/cash bar cocktail party one should have the liquors, liqueurs, mixers, garnishes, and condiments laid out in at least Phase 2 of that article.
Obviously, this is the most complicated tending situation especially if you also have to make a change. Even a party of 10 guests will cause significant time behind the bar if you go this route.
The following are the remaining bar items you will need for an open/cash bar:
Party Time... The right mix of these party ingredients can lead to a great time for all. Typically what we do when we're just having friends over is to always make the first drink, usually from a cocktail menu. The second drink is open bar time and we show the guest how to make it properly. Third, fourth, etc... it is do-it-yourself time.
If you are the hired bartender at the party, offer the hosts of the party all the different options, and be sure to charge more per hour for the more difficult engagements.
Be a good host... At some point, depending on the level of drinking that has taken place it is time to start putting away the spirits. This can be done about an hour to an hour and a half prior to the party ending. Offer your guests water, soda, and coffee, and whatever you do, don't let anyone leave drunk. The last thing you need is for someone to rearrange the mailboxes in your neighborhood.