Cocktail Party Etiquette Tips for Food and Drinks

‘Tis the season for holiday parties and festive gatherings! Whether your attending you’re attending fancy New Year’s Eve soiree, or a fun and lively office holiday party, follow these cocktail party etiquette tips to look sophisticated at all your shindigs this holiday season!

Cocktail Party Etiquette Tip #1: Don’t call your event a “cocktail party” if you don’t plan to serve cocktails!

Without alcohol, it shouldn’t be called a cocktail party. The drinks are the centerfold of the event. A reminder if you’re the planner or host: If you don’t plan to serve cocktails specifically, don’t call your event a cocktail party. Instead, the gathering could be called a party, reception, celebration, bash, etc. but leave out the term cocktail, otherwise you risk an “over promise, under deliver” situation. And even if you’re serving beer and wine, but not liquor, omit the word “cocktail” from the event title.

Cocktail Party Etiquette Tip #2: Hold your drink in your left hand.

Holding your drink in your left hand keeps your right hand free for shaking other’s hands or for giving a one-armed hug. This also keeps your right hand dry and warm in the event the beverage is served cold – no one likes to shake a cold and damp hand.

Cocktail Party Etiquette Tip #3: Wrap a napkin around cold glasses.

If your cocktail is served in a stemless glass, or if you’re enjoying a cold bottle of beer or other type of chilled bottled beverage, keeping the napkin wrapped around the glass or bottle will minimize condensation and dripping. If your hand becomes damp, avoid wiping your hand dry on your pant leg or other article of clothing at all costs! Instead, grab another napkin or allow your hand to discretely air dry.

Cocktail Party Etiquette Tip #4: Know the basics of cocktail party food.

If you’re hosting an event with alcohol, always have some type of food available. Cocktail parties will usually have either a buffet or passed hors d’oeuvres in lieu of a sit-down meal. The buffet can have anything from finger foods or crudites to larger main-type dishes. The passed hors d’oeuvres (often referred to a “butler passed” because of the staff who circle throughout the room with trays) should always consist of finger foods or canapes that can be eaten without full-sized forks or knives. Sometimes, each individual portion of the passed hors d’oeuvres will be served with a mini utensil or toothpick, which should be discarded after you’ve finished consuming the the serving.

Cocktail Party Etiquette Tip #5: If you’d like to indulge in the passed hors d’ouevres, wait until they make their way into your area – don’t chase them down.

Once the tray of hors d’oeuvres is within your vicinity, it’s appropriate to take one individual portion at a time. First, take the napkin that is offered to you by the staff member, then take one serving. Keep the napkin underneath the your food while you are eating to catch crumbs. The plate or napkin also serves as a place to discard toothpicks or other utensils that may come with the passed hors d’oeuvres. When you’re finished, keep the napkin folded in your hand until you can discard of it either in a trash receptacle or on a tray that’s been set out as a collection place for used glassware. It is also appropriate to set your used napkin on a high boy table, as long as it is next to you. It is rude to walk over to a high boy table occupied by other guests to discard your trash.

Cocktail Party Etiquette Tip #6: Learn the trick for holding your glass and plate in one hand!

Don’t be that guy or gal who struggles to hold his or her plate, napkin, and glass at the same time by constantly shifting hands, setting down the glass, or holding the beer bottle between the arm and torso. Instead, hold the napkin under your plate and place the glass on top of your plate (a glass with a stem makes this easier). To do this, first secure your napkin between your middle finger and ring finger. Next, hold the plate between your thumb and index finger.  Finally, place the glass on top of your plate and, assuming it is a glass with a stem, secure the base of the glass by holding it down onto the plate with your thumb. The key is to avoid loading your plate so full of food that there is no room for the glass.

Follow these six cocktail party etiquette tips and become the most sophisticated guest at the party!

For more etiquette tips, check out more of my blog articles here! Happy Holidays!

By | 2016-12-20T15:44:08+00:00 December 20th, 2016|Business Etiquette, Social Etiquette|2 Comments


  1. Georgina Winter November 20, 2017 at 10:28 pm - Reply

    Thanks for sharing your article about the cocktail party etiquette. I absolutely like that you talked about how you can keep the napkin wrapped around the glass or bottle to minimize dripping. My sister is interested to open a resto-bar. She’ll be holding a party for its launch, and I’m invited to the event. It’s important for me to know the proper ways of how I can best hold wine glasses. I will make sure to remember all your tips.

    • maggieoldham November 21, 2017 at 4:25 am - Reply

      Hi Georgina! I’m so happy to hear you liked the tips! Congratulations to your sister on the launch of her new business! Enjoy the launch party! Cheers!

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