Monday, May 29

Planning A Cocktail Party

Throwing a party?

Big, small, it doesn't matter you need to know how many supplies to have on hand for your guest. It can be a difficult to judge what specific items you need and the amount of it.

So to start, there are a few different ways to quench the thirst of your party guests. Here are a few possible ingredients.
  • Wine and Beer
  • Liquor and Mixer
  • Bottled Cocktails
  • Cocktail Menu
  • Open/Cash Bar

I will write about each of the ingredients in more detail but know just like cocktail ingredients each can be mixed with each other in different ways. For example you can have party with Wine, Beer, and a Cocktail Menu; or a party with Liquor and Mixers with Bottled Cocktails; or just a party with an Open/Cash Bar. The above list is in the order of easy to tend.

Once you get to the point of having a cocktail menu or open bar you may need to employ the use of a bartender. Another reason to hire a tender is based on the number of guests and how much time you want to join your guest for the party. The more guests you have and the more difficult serving method used the less time you will have at the party. That is unless you hire a professional bartender.

All the quantities mentioned below are based on a 3 hour party with guests drinking 1 to 2 drinks per hour. You really need to judge for yourself based on the type of party you expect. For example if you are having a bunch a folks over for poker and to watch the game you may want to stock up on more beer. If it is wedding reception you are throwing expect to stock up on wine and champagne. If you are giving a pool side coat and tie affair the cocktail menu and open bar would be heavily hit.

Wine and Beer...
I'm not even pretending to know a whole lot about wine and beer. I do however know that other people like to drink them. I occasionally like a nice merlot. In the restaurants I look for the tween wines. That would be the wines between the highest and lowest prices on the menu.

So if you choose to serve wine and beer at your party you should have available about these amount of bottles:

10-25 Guests26-50 Guests51-75 Guests76-100 Guests
White Wine56710
Red Wine2345
Domestic Beer24364860
Imported Beer24364860

Liquor and Mixers...
In this type of party you simply provide the various spirits and mixers for your guests to help themselves. For the most part they will make things like rum and coke, vodka and cranberry, etc... You have to be careful with type of arrangement. People tend to pour too much liquor when they are serving themselves so you should cut the bar off a little earlier than normal or switch to just beer and wine at some point.

This type of drink is actually called a highball although the original was Bourbon and Ginger Ale the term covers all of the simple mixtures of a non-alcoholic beverage and some type of spirit. It is also more common to server these cocktails in a rocks glass, which makes it more appropriate to call them lowballs. So to serve lowballs at your next party where the guest will serve themselves you would layout a variety of the typical spirits and mixers on a table with your rocks glasses and ice with a scoop nearby. Although I don't really care for them otherwise the pourers with a self measuring spigot is a good option in this setup. You can find these at most online bar supply websites.

The following are the approximate amount of 750 ml bottles you should have on hand:

10-25 Guests26-50 Guests51-75 Guests76-100 Guests
American Whiskey1122
Canadian Whisky1122
Irish Whiskey1112

In addition you will need to have mixers on hand. As for the soda my preference is to use the small 4 oz cans on a daily basis, but in a party situation you may want to go with 2 litters or if available a soda gun. The chart below is for 2 litters unless otherwise specified.

10-25 Guests26-50 Guests51-75 Guests76-100 Guests
Club Soda1234
Cranberry Juice (Quart)2233
Diet Cola3456
Ginger Ale1223
Lemon-lime Soda2334
Red Bull (8 oz)481216
Tonic Water2234

Bottled Cocktails...
In my Bottled Cocktails article I explain how to prepare a ready to drink homemade cocktail. By using this method of serving at your party your guests can serve themselves. This frees you up to join in the fun. Prepare your bottled cocktails a few hours before the party and then when it comes time for your guest to arrive arrange your beverages in a tub of ice with chilling cocktail glasses near by. Voila!

If you choose to with bottled cocktails make sure you have enough. Multiply the expected number of guests by the number of hours the party is expected to last. Then multiply the total by the number of ounces per serving. This will give you a ballpark of how much to make in ounces.

Another option that fits in this category is to make punch.

Cocktail Menu...
The cocktail menu is a very good way to get people to try something new or just go beyond their usual liquor and mixer or wine and beer. It is also easier to control your inventory. However, this method can be very time consuming and if you have a lot of guests you may want to hire a bartender or else you will be mixing drinks all night.

The pre-planning for this method is paramount. The idea is to come up with a list of 12 to 20 cocktails that you would like to serve at your party, print out menus with them listed with a short description, and then when it comes time to party the guests pick drinks from the menu. This will focus what people order and allow you to get specific spirits. No doubt you will still have people wanting lowballs so I would still get the list of mixers mentioned in the liquor and mixer section.

You will want to tweak your shopping lists based on the cocktails on your menu. If all the drinks on your menu call for triple sec, buy more triple sec. Obvious, I know.

Click here for a sample menu and the shopping list that go with it. (MS Word and Excel docs)

Open/Cash Bar...
In Stocking Your Home Bar I talk about what one should stock in their home bar. For a typical open/cash bar cocktail party one should have the liquors, liqueurs, mixers, garnishes and condiments laid out in at least phase 2 of that article.

Obviously this is the most complicated tending situation especially if you also have to make change. Even a party of 10 guests will cause significant time behind the bar if you go this route.

The following are the remaining bar items you will need for an open/cash bar:

10-25 Guests26-50 Guests51-75 Guests76-100 Guests
Triple Sec2334
Coffee Liqueur1122
Italian Vermouth1112
French Vermouth1112
Angostura Bitters (10 oz)1112
Olives (jar)1112
Cocktail Onions (jar)1111
Grenadine (8 oz)1111
Cherries (jar)1112
Rose's Lime Juice1223
Water (8 oz)12244860
Milk (pint)2334
Orange Juice (8 oz)6121824
Tomato Juice (8 oz)2468
Pineapple Juice (4 oz)36912

Party Time...
The right mix of these party ingredients can lead to a great time by all. Typically what I do when I'm just having friends over is to always make the first drink, usually from a cocktail menu. The second drink is open bar time and I show the guest how to make it properly. Third, fourth, etc... is do-it-yourself time.

If you are a hired bartender at a party offer the hosts of the party all the different options and be sure to charge more per hour for the more difficult engagements.

Be a good host...
At some point depending on the level drinking that has taken place it is time to start putting away the spirits. This can be done about an hour to an hour and a half prior to the party ending. Offer your guests water, soda, and coffee and whatever you do don't let anyone leave drunk. The last thing you need is for someone to rearrange the mailboxes in your neighborhood.


Anonymous said...

I highly approve of the cocktail menu idea. At a recent cocktail party, I made up a short list of 8 or so interesting cocktails that most people attending had probably not tried.

In addition, the hostess made up a "girly drink" menu.

I was very pleased to see that midway through the night, everyone was ordering from the "better" list.

barmixmaster said...


The sample list provided here is my starter list... I usually have 1 to 3 specialty cocktails depending on the event.

Also if the event planner wants to go less expensive I can easily show them what drinks they can make as we remove spirits from the list.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for having this site, it has been so helpful in planning my event.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for putting this information up. This will be my first cocktail party and it gives me a good idea of how much liquor I will need to buy. Much appreciated.

Anonymous said...

Ditto, I hired a bartender two weeks ago for an upcoming wedding, he still has been unable to do for me what you have done for me for free. You are heaven sent!

Alchemist George said...

we also approve of the cocktail menu. Since we have amateur bartenders (ie mixological fanatics) we usually restrict the menu to two or three cocktails in addition to wine, beer, sparking water, etc.

Anonymous said...

You've done an elegant job here. Very nice. Thank you

Charlie said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Mo said...

So, I don't know if there is a general area to ask questions for things but you have promptly answered before so I'll use this for this last time then maybe you can tell me where to leave questions not relevant to the subject being discussed from now on. Either way, here goes. What is your favorite bloody mary recipe? I am sure you probably don't use a mix. I am guessing you start with some brand of tomato juice and add the necessary accoutrements to get the desired flavor....Thank you again. I hope the little bit of buying I have done through your amazon store helps.....My bar is getting quite I am on the lookout for green chartreuse and yellow chartreuse but at reasonable prices if that exists....Appreciate your time, hope all is well, Mo.

barmixmaster said...

You can always send me questions directly to my email address:

To answer your question I really don't have a Bloody Mary recipe of note. I do like this tomato juice when I can find it:

The list of ingredients I go with is:
Tomato Juice
Fresh Lemon Juice
Worcestershire Sauce
Tabasco Sauce
Tony Chachere

The mix of these ingredients I change up depending on how spicy or savory I want it.

Hope this helps. Thanks for reading and thanks for shopping through my site. It does help.

Mo said...

Hey, thx for the recipe.....gonna try it....never even heard of tony chachere but I am looking it up now! thanks again!