Holiday Cocktail Party Ideas That Don't Include An Ugly Sweater

There comes a time in every young adult's life when the opportunity arises to host a cocktail party, at which point you can either disappoint with the tired tricks you relied on in college, or define yourself as the hostess with the mostest who's mastered the art of adulting. If you wish to be a poster child (*cough* adult) of the latter, here's a roundup of holiday cocktail party ideas, tips, and hacks to make you feel like the grownup that you are.

For a truly grown-up, Pinterest-worthy fête, it's all about paying attention to key details that can make or break the evening. Little touches ground the night in either dorm room debauchery, or post-grad grandeur. Upholding good taste doesn't mean breaking the bank, it simply means putting in the extra effort that will go a long way in transforming a sipping sesh in your small studio apartment into a successful cocktail party.

Before getting ahead of ourselves, let's break it down to the basics. For starters, there are certain areas where you shouldn't compromise. Simply eliminating some collegiate go-tos instantly amps up the appeal of your soirée. For example, have the self-respect to say no to plastic cups and paper plates. Nothing gets everyone's minds returning to memories of flip cup and beer pong like gripping onto a booze-filled disposable drink, indoors in tight quarters. Elevate your event by bringing out the good stuff, meaning anything made of glass instead of plastic. In the same vein, nothing says you couldn't care less than outfitting your holiday cocktail party with theme-printed paper napkins, especially ones that say "Congrats!" beneath mortarboards or "Happy Birthday!" between balloons. No one will be admiring your frugality when they're wiping their mouths with napkins they know are four-plus years old.

Putting The Cocktail In Cocktail Party

There's no getting around the fact that a cocktail party isn't a cocktail party without the drinks. Read on for stress-relieving ways to streamline your stocking up and simple hacks to elevate the presentation.

Stocking The Bar Cart

  • First things first, ask yourself how much alcohol does your party actually need. Use the Booze-O-Matic Drinks Calculator to take out the guesswork. Pro tip: when in doubt, get a little extra, or ask friends to bring something, because it's not like booze goes bad, and someone will drink it at some point if not that night.
  • Once you know your numbers, stock up on spirits with home delivery service apps like Thirstie and Drizly, who deliver booze right to your door so you can skip stepping out to the liquor store. Alcohol is a heavy haul, and this will save you the exhaustion of lugging loaded black plastic bags all the way home.
  • Trade in plasticware for glassware. No need to be matchy matchy! Serve in unique glasses — as long as they're glass, it's a huge upgrade from cups with names scribbled on their sides.

Self-Serve Cocktail Bar

  • Unless you're planning on adulting so hard you're hiring a bartender, set up your bar situation self-service style. Guests will enjoy making their own drinks just as much as you'll enjoy being free from the task of serving everyone.
  • Beyond liquor, you'll need to make sure your self-serve "bar" is stocked with all other needs like the correct serving tools, ice, and garnishes. That's right. Instant adulting: add garnishes.

Pick A Theme

  • Upgrade the delivery and make for a cohesive cocktail experience by picking a theme for your drink options. It should be standard that you'll have a red wine option, a white wine option, and some hard alcohol and appropriate mixers, but if you showcase two or three themed cocktails it will feel like a skillfully planned soirée.
  • The easiest way to do this is by setting up DIY drink stations. Simple, straightforward, but thoughtful. Just organize the appropriate liquor, mixers, and garnishes along with cute recipe cards that advise proportions. Really tie it all together by giving the cocktails holiday-themed names.
  • Get some inspiration from a cocktail book to hone in your creations to a particular theme. Tim Ferdele's Gone With The Gin, released this month, serves up gin concoctions with a cinematic theme like "Taxi Screw-Driver" and "Fight Club Soda."
  • Go international with exotic holiday cocktail inspiration from around the world.

Drink Hacks

  • Add cranberries to ice cubes to add a festive pop to drinks.
  • Make ice cubes out of tonic water.
  • Pre-mix cocktails.
  • Make your own simple syrups.
  • Rim glasses with fresh herbs.
  • Cool white wine quickly with salt and ice.

Feeding Your Guests

For a truly adult cocktail hour, you'll need to give your guests something great to nibble on that doesn't come out of a bag or cardboard box, and isn't simply served in an oversized bowl. Other pretty straightforward guidelines: nothing should involve an aerosol can. And avoid preparing anything where the main step occurs in the microwave.

Keep It Simple But Well-Rounded

  • Keep it simple, and make a lot of a few dishes. Commit to recipes you have no trouble executing with easy holiday appetizer ideas everyone will love. It's better to have a few really delicious options than an array of mediocre ones with only enough for a few guests to try.
  • Make a meal. Even if you're only making three or four dishes, make sure to hit a variety of flavors and tastes so guests will be satisfied.
  • Remember it doesn't have to be crazy and complicated to be delicious. Carefully curated three-ingredient appetizers please the palate while not driving you crazy in the kitchen

Make-Ahead

  • At your party you'll want to be mingling with guests, not slaving away in the kitchen. Choose recipes that you'll be able to prepare prior to the party.
  • With make-ahead, the trick is picking recipes that are best served at room temperature, eliminating the hassle of making sure each dish is cold enough or hot enough once guests arrive and throughout cocktail hour.

If All Else Fails, Cheese!

  • If something goes awry in the appetizer department, there's no excuse for not putting together a grown-up cheese plate.
  • Your platter should showcase an array of gourmet cheeses that have at least one of each key grouping — soft, firm, aged, blue. It should also feature a selection of breads and accompaniments like olives, artichoke hearts, dried fruits, sweet preserves, and honey. Try to hit a range of flavors. Crudité and cured meats are also classic additions.
  • Class it up. Never leave the cheese in wrappers. For harder-to-cut cheeses, slice some pieces ahead of time to make it easier on guests.
  • Each cheese should have its own knife and label.

Transforming The Space

If you're like most young adults, chances are you'll be hosting your cocktail hour in a relatively small apartment space or studio. Use the space to your advantage, as the close quarters create intimacy and decorations have a greater impact.

Lighting

  • Create ambiance by dimming the lights. It creates a cozier feel, even opening up the small space, and helps to hide the messier details of your apartment.
  • Light candles. Candlelight instantly creates an elevated environment. Clusters of candles bring attention to spaces, so place them near the bar or on tables where you want guests to gather round.

Music

  • Set the mood with the right playlist.
  • Make sure the volume is just enough to bring warmth to the space, but not so loud that guests find themselves raising their voices to converse.
  • If you want to maintain the holiday theme throughout, nix the classic holiday jingles — your guests will be hearing enough of this at their family gatherings and in every retail store from now through New Years. Instead, queue up some alternative Christmas songs (including my all-time favorite, "Happy Birthday, Guadalupe").

Decor Hacks

  • Add a festive scent to your home by simmering orange peels, cinnamon sticks, cranberries, or cloves in water on your stovetop at a low setting.
  • Use pine cones to decorate. They're aesthetically simple and appealing, and add that seasonal sapling scent.
  • Wrap the various candles and vases that make up your centerpieces with matching wrapping paper. It instantly elevates and unifies the look, and costs almost nothing.
  • Get crafty with these easy decor DIYs: upcycle a broken umbrella and add string lights to create a makeshift chandelier or Christmas tree stand-in, spray branches with glitter paint and plop them in a vase for an instant wintery centerpiece, repurpose tomato stands as Christmas trees with garlands and lights.

For more holiday entertaining ideas, check out Bustle on YouTube.

Bustle on YouTube

Images: A Beautiful Mess (2), Cookie & Kate, My Name Is Yeh, Jelly Toast Blog, I Am A Food Blog, The Merrythought, How Sweet It Is