Cocktail parties are one of the most flexible and easy ways to bring a large gathering of people together. You don’t need to worry about table plans, guests can circulate freely and more or less come and go as they please. A cocktail party is a great way of returning hospitality as without the complications of of organising formalised seating.

Also, another huge advantage of holding a cocktail party is that many different social or business sectors can mix far more easily, feeling comfortable that they can move on round the room if they are bored or start to feel out their depth.

When planning your party work out a realistic budget and then choose the type of drinks and cocktails you wish to serve. If finance is limited you may wish to make an initial grand gesture with good champagne and then follow on with simply wine or beer.

Make sure you have plenty of soft drinks and mineral water available and above all get the canapés circulating as soon as the first drop of alcohol splashes into a glass. Many people arrive at a party stressed out after a hard day’s work, eager for that first, or even second, relaxing drink. The combination of a tired body and alcohol, coupled with a low input of food, can send blood sugar levels way out of control which may lead to fairly instant, if unintentional, embarrassing behaviour – so do encourage your guests to tuck in.

As the host or hostess of your cocktail party you should be there well in time to greet your first guests. Make each new arrival feel very welcome and the most important person there for at least a minute; this immediately sets the tone for a relaxed and friendly atmosphere and helps people to settle.

Too many people standing around looking nervous or excluded will put a dampener on your event, we all at some time in our lives have known only too well that feeling of wanting to go home within minutes of arriving! If there are going to be more guests than you can successfully manage alone then rope in help from friends or staff or even employ professional “meeters and greeters” to greet your guests.

It is usually best to offer a good selection of drinks from attractive serving trays as soon as guests arrive. You might consider having a drinks table or bar available later on but watch out for greedy people who don’t know when to call a halt if someone else is footing the bill. It is often quite a good idea to appoint a barman-minder who can exercise some sort of tactful control over any heavy drinkers.

Canapés should be no more than a single mouthful and are normally served from attractive trays, which are handed round by willing helpers. Check you have plenty of serving dishes and keep the canapés coming. They are best arranged simply in lines, to make a colourful and tempting impression. Avoid too much vegetation garnish. Make sure there are plenty of small napkins to wipe sticky fingers and be aware that some canapés may require a spoon or fork to help them down. Normally cold canapés are served before hot ones and you need to allow between 8 and 12 canapés per guest depending on the length of your party.

If you are on a tight budget you could start with a few canapés and then let your guests fill up any empty spaces with a selection of “nibbles” laid buffet-style on decorated tables.

Those lucky few with absolutely no financial restraints could hire in the ultimate cocktail party accessory – an ice bar, with glasses made from solid ice, serving tropical cocktails. This can create a wonderful talking point, especially if a colourful lighting effect is used to shine through the ice. In fact one might say that it is the perfect ice-breaker!