Throw The Perfect Cocktail Party

"You should always have a cocktail shaker. When it's not a shaker, turn it into a vase!" Now here's an expert who knows his stuff when it comes to skillful party planning. As the owner of Shawn Rabideau Events & Design, Rabideau has worked with celebrities like Bethenny Frankel, Star Jones, and Jennifer Lopez to produce spectacular events of all kinds. Leave it to him to know just what it takes to throw a cocktail party at home that will wow your friends — without breaking the bank.


Informal, versatile, and positively fun, cocktail parties are the best way to delight and indulge with friends and family at home. Whether you're celebrating a special occasion, like your best friend's engagement, or you're gathering a group for a casual night of wine and cheese at the end of the work week, everyone loves a high-spirited cocktail party. But planning a successful get-together doesn't have to take hours or hundreds of bucks.

For starters, don't get caught up on buying something new for every party you host. Shawn says, "Shop at home first and see what you have." This goes for all menu items, and even things like napkins and soft drinks. Don't have an ice bucket? Don't worry — Shawn thinks it's silly to go out and buy one just for the occasion. Instead, look to what you have around the house. Here, a decorative ceramic or glass bowl will both look great and get the job done.

For many, sparkling drinks and finger foods are enough to hit the spot. So why bother organizing a formal dinner party that might require a re-stocking of serving pieces, place settings, or other items that could set you back a pretty penny (and have you anywhere but focused on your guests). Simply think about the number of people you expect, and ensure you have enough quantity to last the length of the party. Shawn will sometimes throw in a last minute sushi delivery order if he's worried he hasn't prepared enough. Nonetheless, Rabideau emphasizes, "The best cocktail party is when the host is relaxed and can visit with their guests."

Follow Rabideau's lead and use these easy steps to discover how preparing for your next cocktail party can be as satisfying as a Bay Breeze on the back porch. 


1. Prepare With Post-Its

Take the time to prepare for the party a day or two in advance. Rabideau likes to place Post-It labels on tables and service pieces to designate where items will be served, and what function they will play, ahead of time.


2. Make a Checklist

To ensure you're cool as a cucumber once guests arrive, make a list of what needs to be done. Check off each task as you go to stay on track, and don't forget to relax.


3. Opt for Multi-Functioning Serving Pieces

Before going out shopping at Target or Pottery Barn, consider what you have at home, and then consider what alternative functions each may serve.

• Use decorative juice glasses to serve breadsticks, or hold votive candles or flowers.

• Instead of shopping for more bowls for snacks, pour mixed nuts or jelly beans into martini glasses.

• Traditional, tall glasses can be "all-purpose." Use them for serving beer, wine, even a Bloody Mary. Don't go out to buy something special just for your event.



4. Determine Your Drink Strategy

To control what is being served, and how much, Rabideau suggests pre-mixing your drinks in a pitcher. This also keeps you out of the kitchen and far from playing the role of bartender during the party.

Also, ask each of your guests to bring a different ingredient for your mixed cocktail. They are going to bring something anyway, why not make sure it's something useful that doesn't get duplicated — and that everyone will surely enjoy.


5. Pick a Theme

This doesn't mean all your friends have to come in costume. Perhaps, get inspired by a signature cocktail, like sangria, or a specialty appetizer, like risotto cakes, that you can build the party around. Or, choose a location, like the islands, to help focus your menu. Whatever you choose, having a theme will aid in the planning process, and it may even give your friends an idea of what to wear.


6. Create the Perfect Playlist

Music is a key component of a good party. Start with something to get you, the host, in the mood, and then round out the selection, all while considerating the ages and possible music tastes of your guests. Rabideau often starts the party out with some Adelle, Norah Jones, or Michael Bublé, or opts for an app like Pandora, which he will stream through the TV soundsystem. Feel free to start with one genre and then encourage guests to get involved and make changes as the party continues. There is no right or wrong song, Rabideau adds. "Cocktail music is whatever you and your guests want it to be."

Click here to see our cocktail party playlist.


Photography courtesy of David Nicholas.