Embarrassed By Your Summer Cocktail Party Skills? Here’s What To Do

Dear Laurel,

After being a guest at 726 cocktail parties, I figured I had better host one or risk social exile forever.

Actually, I am looking forward to having everyone over and I am trying to think of the best way to get people OUT OF THE KITCHEN and into the other spaces of my house. I think it’ll be from 50-60 people.

Just so you know. I believe in child labor. (I have three teen-aged daughters), so I will have the children passing food. I have a bar tender coming and I’ve ordered a nice spread.

I am thinking that I should have some food passed and some set out. Is it too odd to push the dining room table against a wall, and put the bartender near the food, or perhaps on opposite sides of the room? Then maybe a cooler of beer on the outside porch? The family room has lots of seating, but maybe too much for a cocktail party, perhaps move stuff out of the room?

What makes for good party flow? I just bought one of those blue tooth speakers, so I think if there is enough champagne and music it should all be okay, right, or not so much?

Please find attached some pics of my living, dining and covered porch areas. We are located in a southern coastal Massachusetts town if that info helps you. And I want this to be really nice. Many of my husband’s colleagues are coming and I want to make a good impression.

I contacted two catering companies and the fee was going to be about 7-10k with the food, booze and everything. It’s not that we can’t spend that much, it just seems a waste to give a party and not have anything to show for it. I figure that if I just have some guidance, I can have things that I can keep to use future parties!  I really do need to buy some new things because… well. I just do.

Thanks for any advice you can give me!



photo 1

photo 2


cocktail summer entertaining skills


Hi Eileen,

I’d be delighted to help! First of all, I have to say that you have gorgeous home and I love all of the furnishings in your living room. The colors are so lovely. Really well done!

Second, I also believe in child labor.

Third, you have a fabulous space for entertaining with plenty of space.

There is a tremendous amount you can do with 2k. And the best place I think to get most of the cheap crap things you need is at Pier One Imports. They have a fabulous selection of summer entertaining stuff and the prices are unbelievable. I am even going to be able to give you a few piece of furniture that you can use time and again. I know that after this party, especially with your girls coming of age, you are going to be throwing many a fabulous soiree!

Let’s Talk Flow and Basics for Throwing a Summer Cocktail Party

I would not put your dining table up against the wall. You want your guests to be able to circulate around the table and utilize the entire room.

I think a bar is a great idea. I would put him in the corner by the fireplace. However, I would have at least one other drink station and another one outside, assuming the weather is nice. Perhaps keep only the alcohol with the bartender.

Here is a great jumping off point for a casual elegant look that I think will suit your home very nicely.


All of this stuff came from Pier One Imports.

This wonderful photo is from Stephanie Lynn’s website . Fabulous, isn’t it?

How about a big beautiful Pagoda style umbrella for the covered porch table. I think this yellow-green would look wonderful in there. [$140.00]


I think it could also be pretty to string up or hang some pretty lit up paper lanterns.


Let’s do 4 sets of 3 for $9/each = $36.00


They also have tons of lanterns at Pier I. I’m assuming that the party is going to be in the evening, so we want the lighting to be fun, pretty and safe. Let’s do 4 of each, total price with candles = $300


You could use one or two of these console tables with a shelf for the bartender. They are only $180 each = $360

You might want to consider adding a runner or a navy table-cloth like the one in the second photo. However, here are two pretty runners.


Flocked Geometric Table Runner



Woven Champagne Runner


The first one, I’d do plain napkins, but for the navy or this natural one, I love these napkins.


Blue Print Napkin Set of Four

ten sets @$10 = $100

With these plates.


Since it’s a cocktail party, you will only need the small plates. However, some people won’t bother with a plate, so get 50 of them @5/each [rounding up = $250] You will also need to have someone on dish washing duty. ;]


This flatware from Walmart. It’s like ten bucks for 48 pieces!

So, get 20 place settings = $200

Oh wait. I think I can here you screaming in the background.


no. paper. no plastic. please.

Here is a great flatware caddy idea.

Birch-Lane-Mason-Flatware-CaddyBirch Lane

3 @28 =90


Square white plates 40 @$3/each = $120


and subtle chevron napkins are also stylish

30 napkins @3 each = $90


I also love this woven tray. You can put the napkins rolled up in here. If you like, going to a craft or party store and getting some raffia to wrap around and tie in a bow is a nice touch. The girls would probably like helping with that.

Two trays = $64.00

Then, you’re going to maybe need a couple more tables and probably some chairs. You are going to need them for your guests who like to sit. I would be one of them.  I am also the one who is going to spazz out and my glass of RED sangria is going to go flying all over your lovely white slip covers. So, please have plenty of places for people to sit.


These Casbah chairs are only 100 bucks at Pier One. And they are plastic. You can put them outside and reuse them over and over and they are stackable! Let’s splurge and do six of them. = $600


These are at Ballard Designs. Very cheap.@130/each. let’s get 3 = $400

I realize that these are putting the budget over, but considering that you will get great use out of them for many years, I think it’ll be worth it.



Love me some hydrangeas.



Or maybe the girls can pick some wild flowers?

Have lots of flowers around. But just make sure that if they are on tables that they can’t be knocked over easily.


These lovelies are actually mosquito repelling plants!

The one thing that can ruin your party is skeeters. Gotta keep them away. Citronella candles of course are also good.

Let’s Talk about the Drinks

After all, it’s a cocktail party. I love these beverage dispensers from Pottery Barn that are everywhere now.


They also sell them at Pier One.


Springfield Drink Dispenser in Turquoise

only $30! Let’s do 3 of them = $90


Acrylic Hammered glasses from the Martha Stewart Collection at Macy’s. Only $2/each. Let’s get 70 goblets and 3o margarita glasses = $200


Mason jar sippers from Anthropologie 12 for only $48 and great for the clumsies amongst us.

Let’s do 2 sets @ $100

Don’t forget you have slave help. ;]


Lauren Liess

Margaritas. Yummmm!!!


Country Living

This yummy  drink is Ted Allen’s recipe. He’s the guy from Chopped.

Elderflower Wine Cocktail
  • 1 bottle(s) (750-milliliter) Fumé Blanc (such as Robert Mondavi Private Selection), chilled
  • 4 ounce(s) elderflower liqueur
  • 4 ounce(s) vodka
  • Sprigs of fresh mint, plus more for garnish
  • Ice
  • Club soda


  1. In a large pitcher, combine first 3 ingredients and refrigerate until chilled, about 1 hour. To serve, muddle a few mint leaves in each glass. Add ice, fill two-thirds with wine mixture, and top with club soda. Garnish with mint sprigs.


Love this hammered beverage tub for $50 and the piece below, both from Pier One. Can you believe it?


Beverage Tub for $80. let’s do two $160

rustict.wordpress-summer-cocktail-partyvia Rustic Thyme


Little Miss Party Planner

Alright. I tallied it all up and we’re at about $3,400 and of course, there are other things like flowers and S/H and maybe some tax. You can use most of this for other parties as well. You can just switch out the dishes and table cloths and napkins for different seasons.

Please let me know how it goes.

cocktail summer entertaining skills



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