Planning the Perfect Cocktail Party

By HOPP Team
Feature Image: Mixolog Brothers

Modern and chic or classically elegant, cocktail parties have always been the highlights of our social calendars but assuming the role of host or hostess, and contending with the demands of party planning, can be an overwhelming task for even the most experienced party-giver. 

Ensure that you choose the best in party suppliers, decor and entertainers that the industry has to offer, and make party planning that little bit more manageable, with our guide to organising the perfect cocktail party. 

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What Time Should a Cocktail Party Start?

This is the first step in party planning. In general, cocktail parties are hosted on either side of an evening meal. If you are hosting earlier in the evening, suggest guests arrive at five or six o’clock; if you are hosting an event that will run long into the night, then invite guests for eight or nine o’clock in the evening when you issue your party invitations.

Cocktail Party Themes

From the venue itself to the delicate garnishes on your cocktails, nothing can be decided before you have settled on a theme for the evening. Even the simplest of themes will provide a useful guideline to follow as you reach out to your party suppliers and put plans in motion. 

  • The Art Deco Speakeasy
    Evoke the opulence and sophistication of the Roaring Twenties with white roses, crystal cut glassware, a black and gold dress code and a modern twist on the mint julep. Hire a traditional jazz or swing band to start toes tapping, and a professional 1920s inspired dance act for entertainment. End the evening with a musical
    firework display to reach the pinnacle of grandeur.  
  • A Vision of Colour
    Achieve minimalist glamour by following a colour scheme in your lighting, decor, and the cocktails themselves. Pantone’s colour for 2020 is blue, which is perfectly suited to the rich, velvet colours of an after-hours affair. Use projection mapping to transform your venue’s facade, and excite guests before they even enter the foyer. 
  • Minimalist Chic
    Host your cocktail party in a highrise and watch the stunning, panoramic views of London transform themselves as the sun goes down. Modern, vibrant lighting and a DJ/ drum duo will fill the room with energy as your guests talk, drink and linger long into the evening.

What Do You Serve at a Cocktail Party?

Cocktail hour has long been an excuse for treating your friends, family and colleagues to some much needed decadence, but that needn’t mean that the food and drink menus have to be complicated. 


Cocktail party food typically features a variety of canapés that harmonise with the strong sweet or bitter notes in their refreshments. Talk with your caterers about creating a selection of elegant and light cocktail party canapés full of complex and delectable flavours that complement the drinks menu. 

Hire several waitstaff to circulate with trays and keep your guests satisfied. If you are hosting a cocktail party at home, or within a venue that does not have a space for your catering team, arrange with your caterer to hire the necessary equipment. Remember that the eye is in the detail: use beautiful boards or fun baskets as canapé trays, and decorate with moss and edible flowers.

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Here is the main attraction. Whether you are renting a pop-up bar, bespoke bar or hire bar or your venue already features the right equipment you should talk with your mixologist about devising a drinks menu simple enough to keep the drinks pouring and queues at a minimum, but sufficiently exciting and varied to satisfy all pallets.

A signature bar is a popular choice for parties; here, your drinks menu will offer a selection of cocktails for your guests to sample throughout the evening. Find a balance between sweet, sour, and bitter flavours, put a new spin on a classic, and infuse your party drinks with seasonal botanicals and garnishes. 

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How Do You Decorate for a Cocktail Party?

Ensure that you and your party suppliers are always working with a clear vision in mind. However simple, having a theme will mean that all elements, from the decor to the production, are designed to work alongside one another and create a stunning and cohesive aesthetic. 

Decor and Furnishings

While the bar will most certainly be the main attraction, don’t overlook the rest of the space. Fresh centrepieces from your florist will bring a touch of luxury, while extravagant lights and burning candles will give the evening an exciting, diaphanous quality. Hire soft furnishings and create a seated area away from the dancefloor. If you have a theme, discuss this with your party suppliers and collaborate on ideas that will make your cocktail event one of a kind. 

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Plunge your guests into vivid colour, a warm, photogenic ambience, or a bespoke digital projection. Hire a professional lighting technician who will understand the requirements of your space, and how to make your vision a vibrant reality. 

How Do You Entertain Guests at a Cocktail Party?

Interactive Bartenders 

Since the focus of your event is placed firmly on the drinks, consider making it a part of your entertainment by inviting your guests into the complex and artisanal world of mixology. An interactive experience can follow the theme of your event, or simply provide entertainment and intrigue as guests sample a variety of refreshments. 

A Photo Booth

Guests love interactive experiences, and a photobooth or set  has its own gravity at any party. Play to your theme with metallic, floral, glitter, graffiti, or retro backdrops, or design something unique that truly evokes the theme and style of your event. 


Cocktail parties typically last between two to three hours, and giving your guests a brief interlude to the conversation will give them a chance to relax over their drinks and take in the charm of the evening.

It is a good idea to hire a stage and work with your lighting technician and party suppliers on properly dressing it with professional production elements and props. You may wish to hire a dance troupe, comedy act, or DJ to transform your venue into an exclusive, one-night-only club.

For something that breaks the fourth wall, hire your party entertainment as a roaming act — or, even better, have them serve the drinks to your guests. Hire aerial artists to drop down from the ceiling and refill your guests’ glasses with champagne, or have stilt walkers move through the crowds in stunning costumes that complement your theme.

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Written by our Team of HOPP Experts.