Fall Cocktail Party Ideas You'll Love

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You don't really need an excuse for throwing a cocktail party; the fun of having friends over, socializing and nibbling on tasty hors d'oeuvres is enough. But with holidays rapidly approaching, fall is an even better time to start the party circuit with a cocktail party your friends will remember all season.

If the thought of planning, preparing and throwing a cocktail party makes you break out in a nervous sweat, never fear. There are general rules to follow that make throwing a cocktail party easy and enjoyable. So read the following guidelines, and prepare to host a cocktail party that will be the talk of the town.


  • The first decision you will need to make is date and time for your party. A Saturday night is best, as your guests will not be coming home from work, or needing to get up early the next day. Cocktail parties generally last 2 to 3 hours during the early evening.
  • Make a guest list. Invite a mix of old friends, new friends, and acquaintances you would like to know better. Expect that 60 to 70% of those invited will accept the invitation, and more women than men will accept, so plan accordingly.
  • Choose a theme, if you desire. It isn't necessary, but can add to the fun. Your theme can be as simple as "Come dressed in the color green", or as complicated as "Come dressed as your favorite animal." Popular themes are general costume, a specific decade, holiday or seasonal, or movie/TV show.
  • Send invitations out three weeks before your party. You can mail invitations the old-fashioned way, send them through email, or use an online invitation service such as Evite.



Drinks are the stars of a cocktail party, so make your presentation shine. If you are willing to spend more, you might want to offer a full bar and hire a bartender for the evening. To simplify things, you can go with a limited or signature drink menu. By sticking with just a few signature drinks, you can mix pitchers ahead of time, and have them ready for your guests to pour.

  • Cocktail party drink ideas:
  • Martinis - apple, chocolate, lemon drop, cosmopolitan
  • Champagne - champagne fizz, vampire kiss, mimosa
  • Tropicals - mojito, zombie, daiquiri
  • Hot drinks - Irish coffee, hot toddy, hot buttered rum
  • Vodka - campari, mudslide, black magic
  • Classics - Bloody Mary, highball, sidecar

You will also need to have wine on hand for those who don't drink cocktails, as well as water and a non-alcoholic beverage or soda. Have coffee ready to offer guests before they leave.

Some simple guidelines to purchasing alcohol:

  • Each guest will drink an average of three drinks in a 3-hour party.
  • A 1-liter bottle of alcohol yields approximately 22 mixed drinks.
  • One 750-ml bottle of champagne fills six regular champagne glasses.
  • One bottle of wine per every eight guests.
  • 1.5 pounds of ice per guest.
  • Err on the side of caution; it is better to have extra alcohol than to run out.

You will also need appropriate garnishes for the drinks you plan on serving. A lemon or lime will serve two guests. Two cherries or olives will serve one guest.

  • You can serve most cocktails in a double old-fashioned glass. Stock two of these per guest if you are serving on-the-rocks cocktails.
  • For a martini party, one martini glass per person should be sufficient.
  • Have one wine glass per four people.
  • Have a supply of clear, plastic disposable cups as backup.

You will also need:

  • Ice bucket & tongs
  • Jigger
  • Shaker
  • Corkscrew
  • Knife and cutting board
  • Long spoon
  • Trash basket
  • Beverage napkins

Set your bar up on a long counter or very sturdy table, if you do not have a built-in bar in your home. Use a long tablecloth to cover the bar, and drape to the floor in front.


Half the fun of a cocktail party is passing attractively assembled trays filled with hors d'oeuvres. Have a centrally located table to hold trays if you don't want guests to pass them. You will also need to collect empty trays to return to the kitchen.

  • If your party takes place during dinner hours, count on eight hors d'oeuvres per person. Alternate hot and cold foods, and offer at least two or three vegetarian choices.
  • Assemble the food beforehand, and have the trays ready to go before the party starts. Once your guests start arriving, start passing trays and bring out another tray with a different food at least every 30 minutes. Be sure to have napkins to hand out with each finger food.
  • Each hors d'oeuvres should take 2 or 3 bites to eat, and be easy to eat without utensils. Avoid very messy or drippy foods, which will be difficult to eat while standing, and likely to make a mess on your floor.

Your guests will enjoy:

  • Skewers of chicken or beef
  • French bread with mozzarella and sun-dried tomato
  • Tiny quesadillas
  • Fruit and cheese kebabs
  • Meatballs
  • Cheese bread
  • Cucumber slices with smoked salmon, cream cheese and dill
  • Cantaloupe with mint
  • Asparagus and prosciutto wrapped in crescent roll dough
  • Cheese balls

You will also want some sweets to finish things off, such as:

  • Cookies
  • Small candies
  • Donut holes
  • Bites of cheesecake
  • Small pastries


If your party has a theme, your decorations will naturally tie in with that idea. If not, keep your decorations simple but fun.

  • Cover tables with tablecloths, and scatter confetti along the tops.
  • Set out vases of flowers in the bathroom and near the bar.
  • Light groups of candles, and keep the overhead lighting dim.
  • String small novelty lights along the ceiling and around doorways.

You can throw a cocktail party that is fun and memorable for your guests, and easy and enjoyable for you. The key is to plan, prepare and keep your eye on the details. As long as the drinks are flowing and the food keeps circulating, everyone is likely to have a great time, and leave your party looking forward to inviting you to their own events.

Last Updated: August 20, 2012
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About Michelle Ullman Michelle Ullman has lived and gardened in Southern California since childhood. A freelance writer, she covers topics ranging from gardening to home improvement to health issues. She also has experience as a catalog copywriter and poet. Michelle has trained and worked as a respiratory therapist and surgical technologist, but prefers to spend her time gardening, and walking with her dog. Michelle holds a Bachelor's Degree from Redlands University in Business Management. 

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