I’ve been to a lot of parties this summer for a variety of occasions: birthdays, holidays, and a lot for no reason other than to have a get-together with friends. Many are memorable for lots of reasons, but the ones that stick out in my mind are usually the ones where some good thought has been put into the decor of the party. I’m not talking about streamers and balloons that you get from the 99-cent store, here. I am talking about the planning of locations for items that will help ensure a great flow and good time for your guests.
The first thing I like to do is to have a small drink station right near the front door. A nice tray on a table will do, maybe with some champagne flutes or punch or something interesting that welcomes people into your home right from the get-go. Maybe a specialty drink that you’ll be featuring that night? A tray of margaritas or cosmos certainly sets a mood for what’s to come.
On the flip side, I always put the main bar in the farthest location from the door. Why? Because this placement allows guests to wander around the home and say hello to people on their way to get a drink! 9 times out of 10 they will stop and talk and probably walk to the bar together. You’re trying to get people to meet and talk here!
On the same token, let’s talk about seating. Unless it’s a sit-down dinner, I like to have seating for half the guests that will be there. I’m not trying to be rude here, quite the contrary. The goal is to have people up and mingling and walking around and having a good time. Chairs are usually placed in groups of 2 or 3 so that when a longer conversation is struck up, the guests can then sit down to chat.
Flowers are great. Think one display by the entrance, one by the bar and one by the food. Maybe a few little vases around the house as well. Keep to the same general colors in each display for continuity.
Glassware should be actual glass and not plastic. If you’re serving a lot of wine, those little wine charms are invaluable! Pretty much every party I’ve gone to has featured a game of “Where the hell did Joe put his drink?” If there’s a charm on the glass, your guests will know which one is theirs if and when they set it down for a while.
Food at a cocktail party should be appetizers and the like that can easily be consumed in 1-2 bites, and served on a small (approximately 6-inch) plate for easy mobility. Have lots and lots of plates because these get dirty fast. Lots of small napkins are a must! These can be a fun color that can match the rest of the decor.
Also, think about convenience for your guests: If it’s a New Year’s Eve party, place lots of hats and noisemakers around all areas where the guests will congregate. If it’s a Christmas party, have one or two extra gifts just in case you forgot someone on your list and they show up with something for you (a nice bottle of champagne or a nice scented candle make great last-minute gifts.) If you know a lot of smokers and you don’t smoke yourself, have several ashtrays outside so that your friends can easily light up on the porch and then re-join the festivities.
Remember that your home is an extension of yourself. Make sure to make people feel welcome and they will certainly remember the great time they had at your party!