Preparing Your Home for a Cocktail Party

Anyone get overwhelmed when preparing for a party?  It’s easy for the to-do list to get really long, especially when you want the party to be perfect.  I recently had the opportunity to help a client prepare her home for a cocktail party.  She has a lovely, spacious (especially for Arlington) apartment, but needed a little help rearranging her home to accommodate all of her guests.  Here are a few of the tips and tricks I used to make her home welcoming and all set for a fantastic soiree. 
1.  Place the bar far away from the entrance.  The first thing people want when they get to a part is a drink.  By placing the bar on the other side of the room you make people walk through and spread out in your home.  This gets people visiting with others, and also prevents a bottleneck at your front door.  The weather was really nice the day of the party, so we moved the bar outside to make even more space!

Make sure you have options for non-drinkers, like sparkling water with fruit!
2.  Ensure you DON’T have enough seats for everyone.  This is key for a cocktail party.  You want people to walk around and mingle, not sitting in a deep 1 on 1 conversation with the same person for the entire party.

3.  Don’t be afraid of moving your furniture!  Your home currently is arranged for living, and likely not arranged for 20 people mixing and mingling.  Move your chairs if they are blocking a footpath.  Place a table in front of your fireplace (if you’re not using it, of course) or a door and set up a dessert table or bar area.
I moved a hefty console table in front of the fireplace to take advantage of some free space.  A sitting area was placed where the table normally is.

She bought cupcakes from Georgetown Cupcakes.  Delicious!  I may have had two of the small red velvet ones while I was decorating…

4.  Change your food table orientation to make it easier for people to help themselves to food.  This layout wouldn’t make sense for everyday, but it’s perfect for a party.  

This is how the table was originally set up. 
I positioned the table against the wall to maximize space.  The bright table cloth also adds a pop of color.

If you have so much food that there is no space for plates/utensils/napkins on the table, feel free to set up a small tray table with these essentials.
5.  Lay out all your serving platters and plates on the table before you actually have food on them.  This way you’ll be able to figure out what works where, before they are too heavy and awkward to rearrange with food on them.  Keep the empty serving platters on the table with food labels on them so that you’ll know what goes where when you’re frantically making your final preparations before guests arrive!  Additionally, add some height to the food in the back, to make it easier for people to grab.  Easiest way to do this is to add some books under a table cloth.  Such a simple trick!

Doesn’t look fancy, but a “label” will help you make sure that everything has a spot on your table.
Books under select platters make it easier to get food, and also adds more dimension to the table.

6.  Make sure surfaces are available so people can place drinks and plates down when they need to.  You can do this by clearing off some knickknacks on pieces of furniture, and also by adding little tray tables.

I placed and extra little sitting area in front of the tv for extra space.  Don’t forget to add a tray table, otherwise your guests will put drinks on the floor…just asking to be knocked over.
7.  During your party, observe your home to see if people moved any furniture.  People like to get comfortable and socialize, and will often subconsciously scoot over or reposition chairs, or use things in unexpected ways to make things more functional.  For your next party, go ahead and set your home up so that your furniture is already how people want to use it!  This makes it more party-friendly and it will flow better!     

8.  Add flowers!  You can’t go wrong with some bright bouquets from Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s.  I’m especially loving tulips and gerber daisies right now.  Can’t wait for the peonies to arrive though!

Happy hosting y’all!
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Katie Vail
Katie Vail

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Leave a comment

  1. March 26, 2014 / 11:29 pm

    oooh, the books under the tablecloth!!!! awesome tips, katie : ) i'm sure it was a huge success

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