Here are a few simple steps to ensure a get together to remember.
Step 1: Serve one special cocktail
Okay, so it's referred to as a "cocktail" party. That absolutely does not mean that you need to stock an entire bar and employ a professional bartender. Be sure to offer a small assortment of beer for the husbands and boyfriends of the group; I recommend one light beer, one regular beer, and one specialty-craft beer. A few bottles of wine to choose from is always important; maybe two whites, two reds, and a sparkling if you think any of your guests might appreciate it. I like to have a few types of liquor on hand. For example, a vodka, light rum, and whiskey would be sufficient for most crowds. Just be sure to stock up on different mixers.
The best way to set your party apart is to choose one "foo-foo" cocktail recipe to serve. Stand behind whatever surface is serving as your "bar", mix, shake, and serve the cocktails to your guests. Obviously you don't want to spend your entire evening making drinks, so after your guests have enjoyed watching you prepare a few, have a large batch prepared that guests may use for self service. Everyone will love the extra effort to make them feel like VIP guests!
Step 2: Flatter with Platters
The concept of serving platters for a party may seem obvious, but here are a few tips to take your platter to the next level.
Color block! Choose a theme, such as the antipasti platter below. When shopping for items to display, try to get as many contrasting colors as possible. You want the colors to compliment one another, with no single item being lost in the mix. The pop of brightness will draw your guests' eye in immediately.
Contrasting textures is so important! As with the color blocking step, using different shapes, textures, and mouth feel gives interest to a platter. Each display should offer something soft, crunchy, crispy, and creamy. Visually speaking, a cubed cheese next to long strands of peppers and round olives keeps the plate from looking boring.
The final tip for awesome party platters is to create height in at least one place. In the example above, I've created height by piling grapes on top of one another and by standing a beautiful artichoke straight up.
Step 3: Two-biters
One of the characteristics of a cocktail party is that generally, your guests will be standing for much of the evening. Whether you choose to pass your hors d'ouvres or serve them buffet style, make them no more than two bites each. The worst case scenario at a cocktail party is to have a cocktail in one hand, a plate, fork, and napkin in the other, all the while trying to hold a conversation with someone.
These puff pastry pinwheels with sweet onion marmalade, lemon-rosemary goat cheese, and crispy prosciutto are perfect little snacks that won't interrupt the evening.
Step 4: A little somethin' sweet
I'll be the first to admit that I have a small sweets problem. And by problem, I mean I can't get enough of them! Even if you, the host, don't have a particularly strong sweet tooth, expect that a number of your guests will be like me. I think offering even one small dessert is more than sufficient. Remember--keep them petite (see tip #3). Two bites at the most. Mini cupcakes, personal fruit tartlets, or these precious little cake pops are perfect!
That's it- 4 simple steps to take your next get together from fair to fab.