Tips for Hosting a Holiday Cocktail Party

Entertain, Holidays, Holidays, Learn, Menu Ideas, Tips & Techniques

This post comes to us courtesy of home entertaining and lifestyle blogger Jenny Steffens Hobick


Holiday cocktail parties, or “open houses” as some say, are the most popular way to entertain. A great holiday cocktail party has a festive buzz — not just from the cocktails! Sparkling candles, seasonal music, and a bountiful display of bites and treats add to the ambiance of a fabulous party. Here are my tips for hosting a festive holiday cocktail party.




Select Items that Make a Meal


When I’m working with a client to plan a cocktail party menu, I like to break out the items as I would if I were planning a dinner party. I recommend selecting one to two from each category: seafood, meat, vegetable, cheese and dessert. Especially for the holidays, I like to recommend one special splurge — maybe a beautiful carved beef tenderloin or extra large jumbo shrimp. It will make the party feel more like a special occasion.



Hot vs. Cold… Better Yet, Room Temperature


Unless you plan to hire staff or a catering company, I would recommend that everything on the menu be able to be served at room temperature. It will keep you from having to use obtrusive and unattractive chafing dishes on your food display table. If you insist on having something hot, have just one item that you can pull directly out of the oven to serve on a passed tray.


Get Ahead


Be sure that everything you select for the menu can be made ahead of time.  Have the platters assembled and ready to be pulled out of the refrigerator 15 minutes before guests arrive. Some items, like cheese and berry platters, can be set out even before that to allow the cheese to come to room temperature. Here’s a suggested cocktail party menu:


Crab Stuffed Mushrooms
Baked Brie with Caramelized Pecans in Puff Pastry with Apples
Salt & Pepper Roasted Shrimp with Lemon, Caper Cream Sauce

Beef Tenderloin Canapes with Horseradish Cream
Goat Cheese & Caramelized Onion Tarts
Blue Cheese & Bacon Potato Canapes
Fudge Topped Cream Puffs
Festive Vanilla Pineapple Flirtini Cocktail




Wine, Beer & a Cocktail


Avoid offering a full bar, unless you plan on hiring staff (see my note below about when to hire help). Instead, offer wine, beer and a festive cocktail. Make a large batch of the cocktail ahead of time and serve it from a pitcher.


Help Yourself


I like to set up a “help yourself bar” for small events. I set out all of the tools ahead of time and guests can choose what they’d like. This works well for parties with no more than 14 guests; beyond that it is best to assign someone as the bartender to help guests, and keep the area clean and well stocked.


Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Glasses: I like to use the same style of glasses for all of the drinks served. It keeps it simple!
  • Pretty bowl: Use a large bowl to ice down beer and chilled wine.
  • Wine: Red, white and bubbly… especially for the holidays.
  • Festive cocktail: Premixed in a pitcher, ready for serving.
  • Tools: Have a wine and bottle opener easily accessible.
  • Snack: I recommend having a bowl of candied or spiced nuts at the bar.
  • Something fresh: Don’t forget to decorate your bar area — after all, it is one of the centerpieces of the party.


For parties under 20 guests, you can likely handle everything yourself. If your guests list exceeds that, I would hire one helper for every 25 guests to assist you in keeping the food display full and fresh.


In my catering days, my husband served as my bartender at cocktail events. Usually the two of us could easily handle a party of 30 to 50 guests. I was in charge of the food and he manned the bar. He enjoyed talking “wine” and what-not with the guests… most of the time! My clients appreciated that I had such a well-mannered and professional person “on staff” to bring into their homes and help entertain their guests.




Lights, Music and Decking the Halls


Make sure your house has its party shoes on, too! Before guests arrive, dim the lights, turn up the holiday music (or hire a live musician!), light some candles and pour yourself a cocktail. Try to welcome all of your guests at the door so you can give them a great first impression of a fun, festive holiday party!


About the authorJenny Steffens Hobick, a home entertaining and lifestyle blogger, makes entertaining accessible and enjoyable… for the hosts and guests.  As a former caterer and party planner, Jenny shares her secrets to hosting casual and elegant parties. From table settings to recipes, her creative tips and resourceful methods inspire her readers to make Everyday Occasions special – whether it be a family style feast, elegant cocktail party or intimate dinner for two.  Jenny believes that entertaining at its best is done often, with an effortless and easy style.

5 comments about “Tips for Hosting a Holiday Cocktail Party

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  2. Linda

    Question: I plan on having an open house cocktail party in early May to celebrate my birthday-retirement. My invite list includes 45 guests I have a one-story open-concept ranch – about 1800 sq. ft. with a nice back yard. Should I consider having this in my home or should I go outside to a private restaurant? Should I hire a bartender and/or a waiter to serve food and refresh it? Which is the most economical way to do this? thanks Linda

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