A wonderful article, featured in the April 2012 Town & Country magazine, has been hitting the blog circuit, lately. Event planner, David Monn, was challenged to create an amazing cocktail party... on a budget. While he is well known for his lavish spreads, budgets are traditionally NOT his forté. But, giving him credit where credit is certainly due, lots of catering tricks were used. Though all of the food was purchased at Costco, the presentation was so beautiful that it could easily have come from Michelin 5 star restaurant. The stunning results were at a cost of approximately $10/person.
The accolades, kudos, and high-fives from the "Costco Challenge" acknowledge that a cocktail party CAN be on a budget and still be fabulous. However... and it's a big however, the $10/person price point did NOT include....drinks. So, if you abide by the rule that the bar tab should be at least equal to, if not double, the cost of the hors d'oeuvres, this would put the bill at $20-30/person. And, if your friends are like my friends, the liquor bill could certainly be much higher. Yes... we all like to drink.
The reason that I mention this cost oversight in the article is fairly simple. I love to have cocktail parties. Though I haven't had one in a couple of months, my last little mid week soiree was attended by 30 plus people. For a random Tuesday night cocktail party, a $600-900 tab seems a little steep! Budget, Town & Country and Mr. Monn, my ass!
So, that begs the question, how CAN you really thrown a great shindig without breaking the bank?
Let's go back to the Candice Olson quote which I stole as a title. What are the rules for a cocktail party?
1. Ask about food allergies, first! You don't want to kill one of your guests. Nuts, for instance, are such a common allergy these days that I usually just avoid them all together.
2. For most parties, five to eight different appetizers is usually sufficent. Guests generally consume three to five pieces or servings per person.
3. Opposites attract.... Savory and sweet, meat-lovers and vegetarian delight, cold and hot. Provide a diverse selection of snacks that will appeal to everyone. As a great example, several of my friends have gluten allergies; my menu always includes gluten-free items. Some love seafood and others hate it. (You get the idea.)
4. The Barefoot Contessa has a great rule... make a couple of items for your party and assemble the rest. The idea IS hospitality. Give up on channeling your inner Martha Stewart. Remember, Martha has a bevy of folks at her disposal to make her look good!
5. The menu should include.... fat, carbs, and protein.
6. The bar typically includes beer and wine with a selection of liquors like gin, bourbon, rum, and vodka. Tonic, club soda, fruit juices, water, and soda are bar staples, too.
Here are a few examples from my last cocktail party.
Hot carmelized onion and thyme dip with bacon
The second link is for a version of the recipe without bacon. As an aside, I eliminate the mayo and add 1/2 cup cream cheese while doubling the amt of thyme that the recipes recommend.
Smoked salmon with dill
There are several versions of this recipe which I frequently use. It is always a crowd pleaser.
Lettuce cups with tabbouleh (and chicken and brie)
Following the Ina idea of "assembling," bib lettuce, pre-prepared tabbouleh from the grocery store, rotissery chicken and a slice of brie...fantastic and fast. Can leave off the brie and chicken for your vegetarian friends.
Roasted shrimp with cocktail sauce
As far as 'breaking the rules,' have your guests help. If someone offers to bring an appetizer, my response is, "Yes, of course." My only suggestion is that they bring it on a white or clear glass serving dish to keep the color palate on the table simple.
When time becomes an issue, assemble everything. Who cares if you didn't cook it?
I always tell guests that the bar will be well stocked... with the BASICS. If they want anything unusual or exotic, then they better bring it with them.
Cocktail parties are a great way to see your friends. I prefer to host them mid-week because it is somewhat unexpected.
And, yes. They most certainly CAN be done on a budget!