The planning and preparation required to create the perfect, memorable Christmas is off the scale. And that’s just for Christmas Day! If you have invited family or friends for a drinks party over the festive period then it’s a whole new level of entertaining. The key to a perfect cocktail party is to be well prepared so that you can actually relax and enjoy it yourself.
Here are our top tips to make your drinks party a roaring success with minimum stress. You’ll find advice on which wines and fizz to drink over the festive period in our Perfect Christmas drinks feature. We’ve also included some of our favourite no-stress mini bite recipes (below) to help get you started.
Prep, prep & prep again
You can never do enough prep as far as we’re concerned! First, work on your invite list and give guests as much notice as possible. Check out Paperless Post for beautiful email invites for hundreds of designs (lots are free). It’s also handy for managing all your RSVPs electronically. If you need everyone gone by a certain time then be clear on the invite. That way your guests won’t be expecting nibbles followed by an evening meal!
The key to a successful party is to have 95% of things done by the time the doorbell rings. Have your nibbles laid out on the table, wine/ champagne glasses ready to go, napkins, candles lit, music on, plates etc within easy reach.
Slice lemons and limes in advance, pop in a cellophane bag and freeze. These can be added frozen to drinks or throw straight into to a jug of water. If you need to cook anything then write down the timings and temperature for reference and better still set your phone on timer to remind you.
This isn’t the time for elaborate party nibbles, unless they can be made way in advance and require little or no prep on the day. Keep it simple, and bite sized. Keep hot party food to a minimum as it means you are constantly at the oven (getting red faced) and preoccupied by what went in and when. Instead choose cold finger food such as smoked salmon blinis, mini bruschetta, crudites and dips, sushi, finger sandwiches etc. One of our crowd pleaser favourites is still Carrie’s Pistachio dip which is a must have at all of our parties (we promise it won’t disappoint!)
No drinks party is complete without a signature drink. Take a little time to create one – it could be a festive mulled wine or a refreshing gin cocktail. If it can be pre made and left in jugs in the fridge all the better. A tray of welcome drinks makes life easy for you as people arrive so you have more time to chat than run around sorting drinks orders. See our Winter Cranberry Cocktail, Elderflower Fizz and Marmalade Gin Martini for inspiration.
Set up a bar area
If you are having a large drinks party it may be physically impossible to keep everyone’s drinks topped up. Why not take the pressure off yourself and set up a stocked bar area so that your guests can help themselves. Make sure you have all the essentials to hand such as ice, bottle openers, straws, mixers, wines, glassware, cocktail shakers etc. Chill beers in a large ice bucket close by & tie a bottle opener to the bucket so it doesn’t go astray! With a bit of forward planning you can also infuse ice with berries, lemon or any fruit (see our ice cube sensations feature for details).
Glasses & champagne flutes
You can never over cater when it comes to glassware. Unless you are having a very small affair with a half dozen trusty friends, don’t break out the wedding Waterford glass (no pun intended). It’s not worth the breakage worry. Instead head to IKEA or Home Sense and pick up some cheap glass sets. It’s a small price investment that will be invaluable down the line for future parties. Alternatively if you don’t have the storage space just rent them – most large supermarkets or wine stores offer a glass rental service and you only pay for breakages.
Master the Cheese Board
A good cheese board is one of the simplest and quickest ways to impress your guests and great to pull out at the end of the evening. It’s also a great filler-upper option. Be sure to get a variety of crackers, chutneys or marmalade (try our red onion marmalade recipe) and fresh grapes. See our How to Create the Perfect Cheeseboard feature for more tips and suggestions.
Never (ever) knowingly under cater
We can’t stress this enough. We’ve all been there – we mis calculate how hungry men can get after 3 pints or how nibbles vanish after polishing off a few glasses of fizz! Whilst we rummage in the freezer or pantry for anything vaguely passable (will they notice if we refill the bowl with Pom Bears? yes!) we swear never to get caught short again. Don’t let this happen to you! Allow for soakage food and at the very least have a few pizzas in the freezer for emergencies.
Create an ambience
The right ambience can make or break a party. People always seem to congregate in the kitchen no matter what your intentions are so turn off your 1000 watt overhead kitchen lights and dot table lamps about. Get your playlist going to create the right party ambience. Scented candles, flowers, fairy lights all help to create a cosy, at home feeling to welcome your guests and get your party started.
Look relaxed, be relaxed
There’s nothing worse than a host rolling up her sleeves to do the dishes or clean the worktops – it sends the signal that it’s time for everyone to leave or they will feel obliged to help. Either way it’s not a good message to send. Unless you have an emergency glassware shortage leave the wash up for later. The more you have prepped in advance then the less work you have to do on the day which will equate to a happier more relaxed you.
Don’t forget, your guests would much rather spend time with you than watch you red faced slaving over food. So take the time to have a glass of bubbles, fire the dish cloth in the sink and go spend time with the people you love!
Here are some fast and easy mini bite recipes to wow your guests. Click the links below to take you directly to the recipes.