Successful Entertaining: Cocktail Parties ~ The Solution to More Fun than Funds

This post is part of a series on being a hostess with the mostess using Successful Entertaining at Home: A Complete Guide for Informal Entertaining written by Carolyn Coggins and published in 1952 by Prentiss-Hall.

The tone of the cocktail hour is one of gaiety and high spirits, conversation and laughter, composing a delightful bridge between the day and the night…The lilt and elixir of a successful cocktail party is in the mood and not–as some think–in the glass…Whether you live in one room or in a mansion, if you have access to ice you can give cocktail parties…Cocktail parties are much easier to give than a dinner, and despite this, may provide a more festive occasion. ~Carolyn Coggins

Vintage Cocktail Party: Image courtesy of

The 2011 holiday season has arrived but, for many people, it forgot to bring its checkbook.  How do we entertain while grappling with reduced circumstances?  The solution is that mid-century bastion of entertaining: The Cocktail Party.

Here are six benefits of hosting a cocktail party (or, for non-drinkers, open house):

  • We only need to provide beverages and a few appetizers such as nuts, stuffed olives, cheese and crackers, and meatballs eaten using toothpicks instead of cutlery.
  • It increases the likelihood that guests will attend our party because they can come to ours before going to The Event They Must Attend
  • We can entertain before we go to The Event That We Must Attend
  • The party only lasts about 2 hours and then we are done.  Like a child’s birthday party with a set beginning and end, the invitation is to come for drinks from 5:00 to 7:00 (or whatever time you designate)
  • Size of our entertaining space doesn’t matter.  In fact, if we have a tiny space, we can invite more people to a cocktail party than for a dinner because there isn’t an expectation of sitting down for hours at a time.  Because of the short time frame, most people will end up standing for the duration of the party.
  • They are a perfect party for beginning entertainers to host because they are easier to plan and prepare

Since cocktail parties are a mid-century iconic event, we can have a lot of fun with the invitations.  For example, if I’m hosting a Christmas-time cocktail party, I could find great kitschy holiday images and use those on the mailed invitations and follow-up emails.

One word of caution: As Mrs. Coggins notes, the primary fun is in the socializing, not the alcohol.  We don’t want our guests leaving our party “with a buzz.”  Buzzed driving is still drunk driving and we need to be responsible hostesses in that regard.  Mrs. Coggins tells us,

Don’t mix strong drinks, “stiff” ones, after the first round.  The first one should be strongest–it relaxes everyone–but moderate sized to follow means your guests can be sociable without becoming sodden.  This is not to save liquor but to save face, yours as well as theirs.

When I was growing up, my parents hosted an open house that lasted for a few hours every holiday season. Some friends stayed for the entire party while others stopped by for a little bit on their way home from shopping or before heading off to other holiday events (often The Living Christmas Tree extravaganza at our church).  It was not a fancy event.  My parents simply didn’t have the money for anything fancy.  But it was always a hit and their circle of friends looked forward to it every year.

Have you ever hosted a cocktail party/open house?

Next time, we will explore cocktail parties a bit more and then we will skip ahead in the book to learn about hosting more traditional holiday parties.


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Dr. Julie-Ann

I'm Dr. Julie-Ann, living life in its Technicolor finest by channeling my Grandma, Donna Reed, and June Cleaver with a bit of Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly glamour thrown in for good measure, too. I work outside of the home full-time as a university administrator but I nourish my soul and find my greatest happiness by trying to be the "perfect" 1950s homemaker.

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  1. 2

    Dr. Julie-Ann says

    You see, I never thought of it that way. Although we do drink on occasion, I don’t plan parties with the assumption that people are going to expect alcohol. If they are coming to my house for dinner or a party for the booze, then they are going to be sorely disappointed (and that’s their problem, not mine). My emphasis is on the meal, not the alcohol.

    I DO like trying out different punch recipes so maybe that appeases the “I need a drink” people.