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Welcome to the Cocktail Party Planner Guide

Here we look at the basics of cocktail party planning. Discover how to organize the perfect cocktail party.

The aim of the Cocktail Party Planner Guide is to give you a list of items you need to decide on when planning the perfect cocktail party.

If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Corny as it sounds, it’s very true for cocktail party planning or any social event for that matter. Think back of functions you have attended and the things that impressed and disappointed you – this is a good starting point for your cocktail party planning.

The following are the important things you need to think about and decide on when planning a cocktail party. Note that these are guidelines only and may need to be modified depending on the specific circumstances:


Is it a celebration of some sort, like a birthday or anniversary, or is it an event to just get social with friends and family. The reason for the party needs to feature. For example, if it is a birthday, you might want to organize a birthday cake.


It is important to give yourself enough time to organize the party and invite your guests. So, set the date at least a month into the future if you can help it at all. Try to send out the invitations at least 2 weeks, but preferable 3 weeks before the party.

The date of course depends on the occasion as well. If you want the party on or close to the date of the occasion, you need to work backwards from the date of the occasion. For example, if the occasion (a birthday for example) is on the 1st of July, start organizing on 1 June. This should also give you enough room to move in case of unforeseen delays (for example, the venue becoming unavailable).

Cocktail parties are traditionally held from just before sunset. Depending on where in the world you live and what time of the year it is, this can be anything from 17:00 to 19:00. You can also put an “end time” in the invitation. Often, a cocktail party will run from “18:00 to 21:00”. But there is of course no need to limit the fun.

Weekend parties are of course more convenient for most people. An exception to this is work-related functions.


If you are planning a party at your home, booking a venue is not necessary. If you require a venue (if your house is too small, for example), make sure you do proper research into what is available in your area.

The venue should not be excessively far or difficult to reach, otherwise your guests may decline the invitation. Be sure the venue has all the right facilities you need – a decent kitchen for catering, bar facilities, facilities for music and entertainment, proper functioning rest rooms and the rest.

Have your budget in mind when researching venues. Make sure you can afford the venue and have enough budget left for food, drinks and all the rest. Get a least 3 quotes and make sure to ask them exactly what these include. For example, does it include catering, and if not, how much extra catering would be and if you can arrange for your own catering.

On the point of catering - this is highly important! Ask each venue for references so that you can enquire about their food’s quality. You don’t want your party spoiled by poor food. See our Cocktail Party Food Guide from more information on this.

Make sure to book the venue well in advance of the party, especially at busy times of the year like Christmas. Also, visit the venues before deciding – pictures on the Internet or a description over the phone by the owner is not sufficient as this might just give you an exaggerated image of the place. Make sure to get a written confirmation (fax or e-mail) of the booking.

Keep your guest list in mind – your venue should be able to accommodate all your guests. A venue will usually require you to confirm the final numbers in well in advance of the party.

If at all possible, have a back-up venue available in case the original venue becomes unavailable at the last minute. You will be surprised how often this happens.

Think carefully before you go for an open-air venue, particularly if you are in an area with unpredictable weather. Rather have a “weather-safe” alternative in case the weather turns out bad.

Popular cocktail party venue choices include:

Ø Art galleries
Ø Sports clubs
Ø Restaurants
Ø Cocktail lounges and bars
Ø Marquee tents
Ø Boat bars and restaurants

IMPORTANT TIP: Reconfirm the booking a week or so before the party. You don’t want to pitch up there the day of the party to find a double booked venue.


This is a vital part of cocktail party planning. There are a number of things determining your guest list, including:

Ø The occasion. You should invite people close to and liked by the person at the centre of the occasion, for example a birthday.

Ø Compatibility of different people. Think about how the different people might or might not interact, particularly if they do not know one another well. Usually at a cocktail party, there are no formal allocated seating at tables. If you do however have formal seating allocations at tables, make sure the people sitting at a table will get along well. This is particularly important if your guests do not know one another. For example, seat people of the same age group or from the same city or town at the same table.

Ø Your budget. Your budget determines many things and also how many people you can invite once you have determined how much the catering and other expenses will be per person.

Ø The venue. Many venues can accommodate only a certain amount of people – make sure the guest list and venue “match”.

Hosting a cocktail party is challenging enough that you don’t have to worry about your guests too much. Organize the party with their pleasure and enjoyment in mind.


You will of course serve COCKTAILS, but also other alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. See our Cocktail Party Drinks Guide for more information.

The drinks are arguably more important in the case of a cocktail party, but the party food is a close second. Cocktail party food usually consist of finger food. See our Cocktail Party Food Guide for more on this.


The saying goes: “Talk is cheap, but the money buys the whiskey.” In this case, it buys the food and drinks and everything else you want to spend on, like the venue, invitations, decorations, etc.

As you have seen above, the budget does play a big role in planning your party. Determine upfront what your budget is and stick to it. Try to allow for a 10% buffer to afford unforeseen expenses.


Cocktail party entertainment can involve a live band or DJ or even a magician performing close-up party tricks. Although not essential, the right entertainment can add a lot of “wow” to your party.

USEFUL TIP: Use a notebook or computer spread sheet as part of your cocktail party planning. Make lists of the things you need to do and get. Keep note of other important things to remember like a venue’s phone number. This will ensure you do not forget anything important. Allow a page or three for each of the following things:

Ø VENUE – quotes, viewing, booking, reconfirming the booking, etc.

Ø GUEST LIST – mark off who have accepted and who not to end with a final number of guests

Ø FOOD – phone numbers of caterers, the menu, shopping lists, etc.

Ø DRINKS – what to buy, details of the bar, etc.

Ø BUDGET – for keeping tracks of it


Think carefully what you want to achieve. Follow the guidelines above and cocktail party planning should be a breeze.

Looking for some more ideas on Party Planning? CLICK HERE.

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