When you have friends and family over, sure you want to have a good time. “Celebrating excellence,” we call it. But this is key: What lets your guests have a good time and demonstrates you care about them even more than making great drinks is being a good host. Show hospitality by making sure they’re comfortable, entertained, and safe. All of these points below will let your guests know that you’re glad to spend time with them and will put them at ease.
- Keep things manageable – don’t invite more guests than you can attend to.
- Create a fixed menu of two or three cocktails in a range of flavor intensities or octanes. An “open bar” is an invitation to chaos and overindulgence.
- Take time to prepare. Make sure you’re good on ice, citrus, kit components, and all ingredients.
- Have a plan for rounding up and cleaning glassware as the party goes along. Enlist help if you need it.
- Don’t make your guests feel bad about their drink choices – snobbery isn’t cool. If they just want a simple Vodka & Soda, make it awesome!
- Provide beer, wine, or sipping spirits for those who may not dig the whole cocktail thing.
- Offer plenty of food, water, and soft drinks, making it easy for people to enjoy the party responsibly.
- Serve your guests with care. Pay attention to how many they’ve had and how they’re doing – a general rule is one drink per hour, with food and water. Don’t set someone up for a hangover or a dangerous ride home.
- Set out snacks in a few different spots to encourage mixing and mingling.
- Introduce people who don’t know each other if they haven’t already done it.
- Set the mood: Be pleasant but not stiff. You can always complain about your day with your friends another time.
Say you’ve been Shanghaied into mixing at a friend’s soiree. You may be excited to share a bunch of different drinks with your friends, a different one for each person. Or you’re put on the spot to make drinks for people with a less-than-ample stock to mix with. It can get out of hand pretty quickly. Some tips to keep everyone happy:
MIXING INSTEAD OF MINGLING
- Decide beforehand on just one or two cocktails.
- Consider themed drinks based on the season or to pair with the food being served.
- Only set out the components you’ll need for those drinks you’re making – to let people know it’s a limited bar.
- Write or print out a small menu describing the drinks to help start the conversation.
- Set up a dedicated serving area and a nearby prep area (hopefully close to the sink and ice).
MINGLING INSTEAD OF MIXING
- Set out self-serve drinks like a bowl of punch, or a homemade sangrita with a great sipping tequila.
- Monitor the serving area occasionally to clean up abandoned drinks and other messes.
DEAL WITH THE CHAOS
- If things get hectic, recruit a friend to act as your barback, helping out with things like collecting and cleaning empty glasses, rounding up more ice or clean dishtowels, squeezing extra juice, or cleaning shakers and bar tools.
- Keep your workspace organized – arrange everything logically and ergonomically. Return items to where they came from.
- You can measure out built-in-the-glass, rocks-style drinks and let them sit while you mix something else, then return to that glass for ice and stirring. Lets you serve them all at once.
- If your friends surprise you with the task of bartending and the basic components aren’t there, don’t try to substitute or improvise. Stick with a basic highball or send someone sober out with a shopping list for simple drinks.
TAKE CARE OF PEOPLE
- Offer water or soda in between cocktails – serve all drinks from the same area.
- More than anyone else, you’ll be able to notice when someone’s had too much. Don’t feel bad about cutting them off. Appoint a friend to keep an eye on them (and take away their car keys if necessary).
- Have a great time, enjoy one or two yourself! (Red blazer and bow tie wholly optional).