Planning Your Italian Cocktail Party

It is a treat when my friend Mary and I can get together and have lunch. We lived next to each other over 20 years ago and started a tradition of having Sunday dinners together. Her entertaining style has been one of my biggest influences and she’s been my biggest cheerleader over the years, so you probably have her to thank for this blog.

Now I live 40 miles from her, but you’d think it was 100 because life has taken us both in very different directions. Last month, we were sitting in her kitchen, savoring one of the rare occasions when we’re able to chat and she began to tell me her ideas for a cocktail party. She wanted to invite her coworkers over for a Friday Happy Hour of Italian antipasto and wines. As you know, I love parties. Any type of gathering and I’m right there!

The cocktail party is a great example of a casual entertaining style that allows for a greater number of guests and a more relaxed atmosphere. Here are my best tips for making your cocktail party a hit:

  • Limit the drink selections – this makes things easy and allows you to spend more time with your guests. Try to stick with three alcoholic beverages max—perhaps beer, wine and a specialty cocktail. Still and sparkling water are encouraged as well.
  • Keep the food simple and place it around the perimeter of the room, instead of near seating areas. That way, you’ll encourage guests to mingle, instead of staying in one place all evening.
  • Set up the appointed arrival and departure times, then start to pick up the food and end beverage service to signal the party’s end.

I shared my tips with Mary and together, we began to brainstorm. Before you know it, we had the menu planned, the wines picked and the perfect plan for staging and setting up the food. Mary asked me to help with set up and making sure the party would flow. I said yes, of course — these are the exactly the sorts of things that you rely on your friends for.

When I arrived at her house on Friday afternoon, we went right to work. She already had the bar set up and her husband, Michael decided to serve Aperol Spritzers as the specialty cocktail, in addition to our Prosecco, beer, and sparkling and regular water. He sliced an orange and set up his bar next to the wine station.

We kept the food simple. We assembled a cheese and salami platter in the entry, placed dishes of mixed nuts on the coffee tables, set up a few specialty cheese boards, vegetable trays, olive selections, then placed assorted cookies and candy around the perimeter of the room. During the event, we passed some bruschetta and other appetizers around on a silver tray, which is always a nice touch.

The party was a total success. The guests complimented the set up repeatedly, saying it was so nice to be able to visit with everyone in attendance. Clean up was super easy too, but the very best part was that it gave Mary and I a chance to collaborate once again. It’s such a gift when we can be together.

What are your best cocktail party tips? Let me know in the comments below.

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