Easy Cocktail Party Ideas and Themes for Every Occasion

Last Updated: Jan 30, 2018

You can never go wrong with hosting a cocktail party. Whether you’ve graduated from throwing dinner parties or you’re simply looking to try your hand at making cocktails, this is a party idea for the aspiring entertainer. Conversation, good food, and even better drinks are your key objectives here. Follow the complete guide below to planning a cocktail party that’s one-of-a-kind.

chalkboard cocktail party invitation

Cocktail Party Themes

Throwing a cocktail party isn’t just about serving a variety of cocktails. You have food and decorations to consider, along with your bar set-up. Cocktail parties are a blast and you can make them even better by choosing a theme to influence all of your food, drink, and décor ideas. Whether you’re looking to set a themed dress code or re-create your favorite destination, a cohesive and fun theme paired with cocktail party invitations will make your party planning process much smoother.

  • Around the World: Take your guests “around the world” with this all-inclusive cultural theme. The goal of this party theme is to showcase a variety of foods and drinks from different cultures. Your guests will attend the party under the assumption that they’ll be trying new things which creates for an unforgettable cocktail party. You can choose a worldly party invitation and decorations to match that symbolize your appreciation for different cultures.
  • Color-Based Theme: You can craft a theme for your cocktail party ideas based off of one color or a color palette. If you want guests to dress in a certain color or follow a dress code, this is the perfect theme for you. Parties based on color schemes allow for you to mix and match decorations, foods, and drinks, as long as they follow your color palette. Plus, cocktails come in just about any color.
  • Alcohol Type: If you prefer one type of alcohol in your cocktail, turn your preference into an entire theme. For instance, you can throw a New Orleans-inspired ‘Mardi Gras’ party and serve only bourbon-based cocktail drinks. You can also host a ‘Fiesta’ with Mexican cuisine and serve Tequila-based cocktail drinks and margaritas. Alternately, head to the islands with a rum-inspired party characterized by Carribean-inspired food, drinks, and colors. You can base all of your party décor on the region that is most tied to the alcohol type you choose.
  • Retro Cocktail Party: Re-connect with the ‘60s by throwing a retro cocktail party! Cocktail affairs in the ‘60s were typically characterized by low ball glasses, garnishes, martini recipes, and champagne cocktail set-ups. Focus on mastering these kitschy ideas and then serve food to match. You can whip up simple appetizers that were popular during this era by pulling recipes from 1960s cookbooks. Lastly, send retro party invitations that encourage guests to wear clothes that were popular during this decade to take your party theme to the next level.

Planning Your Cocktail Party Menu

After you’ve chosen a cocktail party theme, you can begin to plan your menu. As the hostess, your goal should be to enjoy the cocktail party as much as your guests! Any good cocktail party includes plenty of conversation between the hostess and friends. Try serving a delicious array of hors d’oeuvres to spare yourself time in the kitchen. You can hire a few servers to offer guests hors d’oeuvres throughout the party to reduce your stress and keep the party going. Hors d’oeuvres and easy-to-grab eats are perfect for keeping guests satisfied while avoiding large messes and kitchen chaos. Additionally, serving smaller bites doesn’t mean you can’t be creative with food options. Here are a few tips for planning the perfect cocktail party menu:

  • Mix and Match Hors d’oeuvres. A cocktail party is your time to shine. Whether you’re cooking or hiring a chef, you should offer a variety of eats to make your cocktail party feel like an experience. All of your guests should leave your gathering having tried something new. Incorporate a diverse selection of petite dishes that each have different flavors and textures to craft a well-rounded party.
  • Load Up on Snacks. Although you’ll be offering savory and sweet hors d’oeuvres, do your best to place snacks at each table area that will last beyond the popular bites. Popular snacks include cheese and cracker trays, gourmet pretzel sticks, hummus, seasonal fruit, bread, popcorn, tortilla chips and salsa, spinach dip, and more. Guests will appreciate snack alternatives as the party comes to an end.
  • Offer Vegetarian Options. Vegetarians want to have a good time too! While you’re planning out your menu, take a moment to set aside Vegetarian-friendly options that are also savory. If you have spare budget, you can also plan out a few gluten-free and vegan bites so your party caters to all guests.
  • Prepare the Day Before. When you’re hosting a party, day-of problems and last-minute details are bound to happen. You can reduce stress by completing as much food prep as possible the day before! Purposely choose menu items that can be re-heated or served cold to make use of designated food prep time.

custom wine glasses for cocktail party

Cocktail Party Drink Ideas

When it comes to your cocktail bar, there are a few rules to follow and ways to perfect your menu. Offering the right garnishes, deciding on variety in alcohol options, and providing water are checkpoints in your party planning process. Follow these tips below to make sure your cocktail party ideas go as planned:

  • Planning Your Drink Menu: Serving drinks may seem easy but when it comes to a cocktail party, you should approach your bar with an organized plan. Begin planning your bar set-up by considering if you’ve chosen a cocktail party theme. If you have a party theme in mind, you can choose 2-3 cocktails based off of your theme. However, if you forego choosing a cocktail party theme, you should serve a full bar with 5-6 cocktails that have different alcohols and flavors. A full bar will also allow the bartender to make a few custom drinks for guests who may not follow the drink menu. If you’re honoring a guest at your cocktail party, you can opt to serve 2-3 cocktails that are signature to the honoree and what they prefer. You can name the drinks after the honoree for an entertaining effect.
  • Wine Bar: Don’t forget about the wine! Although cocktails are the highlight of this party idea, offering a small wine bar can be beneficial for guests who don’t enjoy strong cocktails. You can set up an array of white and red wines near your bar area to cover all bases. If many of your friends love wine generally, combine wine party ideas with cocktail party ideas for an unexpected theme.
  • Garnishes: Go all out with garnishes for your cocktail party. Start your grocery list by including necessary garnishes such as cherries, olives, mint, lemon wedges, lime wedges, and sugar cubes. You can then add extra garnish ideas such as herbed ice cubes, berry-infused ice cubes, edible stir sticks, or alcohol-infused fruit to excite guests.
  • Hydration Station: Although every cocktail party should be 21+, you should offer alternatives to alcoholic drinks. Set up a hydration station, also known as a water bar, so guests can drink water throughout the party. These parties are classic and fun but water is always needed. You can give your water bar a lavish feel by offering inexpensive fruit mix-ins so guests can make their own flavored water, along with cut-up lemons and limes.
  • Glassware: Add a personal touch to your party by creating customized wine glasses or custom mason jars to serve your cocktails. If you’re hosting a cocktail party for a special occasion such as an engagement party, birthday party, or bridal shower, custom glasses can add a detailed and charming touch to your bar set-up. You can personalize glasses with witty sayings, initials, or a line about the honoree.

Although cocktail parties have been around for decades, they’ve become a modern way to showcase different foods and drinks. Consider hosting a cocktail party for milestone birthdays such as a 30th birthday party, a New Year’s Eve affair, housewarming celebrations, or a holiday party. You can use any of the above cocktail party ideas and tips to plan a stress-free night full of unforgettable moments.