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5 Worst Things to Serve at a Cocktail Party, Etiquette Experts Say

Help your party go off without a hitch by avoiding these foods and drinks.

Throwing a cocktail party is a great way to mix and mingle with friends, without all the added stress of planning a full sit-down dinner party. However, even though these events are usually kept casual, they still require some forethought. Etiquette experts say that what you serve at a cocktail party can shape how your guests interact and how comfortable they feel in your home. Serving certain foods and beverages can be especially cumbersome, making it difficult to move around the space or hold a drink while eating. These are the five things you should never serve at a cocktail party, they say.

RELATED: 5 Worst Things to Serve at a Dinner Party, Etiquette Experts Say.

Extremely strong drinks

diverse friend group enjoying mocktails together
iStock / ViewApart

Even at a cocktail party, the focus should be socializing—not drinking. That's why, if you plan on playing bartender at your own event, it's important not to serve overly strong beverages.

"It is recommended that you mix drinks correctly but moderately, as an inebriated guest is not the most welcome of guests—especially if he or she makes a fool of themselves," says Laura Windsor, founder of Laura Windsor Etiquette Academy. "Temper the cocktails, otherwise you may find your alcohol supply running out long before you'd hoped."

She adds that you should also make non-alcoholic beverages available to your guests. "Although at cocktail parties one serves cocktails, be mindful of non-drinkers and make sure you have a selection of juices, soft drinks, and bottled waters," she says. There are so many fun recipes for mocktails, too!

Smelly foods

avocado deviled eggs with bacon
iStock / Julie Deshaies

Smelly foods can also hit a sour note at a cocktail party, says Jules Hirst, founder of Etiquette Consulting. She recommends thinking twice before plating any pungent hors d'oeuvres.

"Foods such as fish, hard-boiled eggs, certain cheeses, and dishes containing garlic or onions can emit an odor which can sour the room and take away from the ambiance of your event," Hirst tells Best Life.

RELATED: 6 Items You Need on Your Bar Cart Before Guests Come Over, According to Mixologists.


Toothpicks on wooden table

Before your cocktail party begins, you'll want to stock up on a range of supplies in anticipation of your guests' needs. "It's essential to have lots of extra napkins easily accessible to guests, as well as places to place used plates, napkins, and glasses," says Jodi RR Smith, founder of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting.

However, there's one common cocktail party supply that Windsor says you should skip: toothpicks. "No one wants to see people poking about in their mouths trying to extract debris from their teeth!" she says.

Messy foods

Buffalo Chicken Wings with celery and blue cheese
iStock / bhofack2

The foods you serve should also be neat as a pin and easy to eat. Assume that your guest will only have one free hand—the other will most likely be holding their beverage.

"Foods that are saucy or overly greasy can cause your guests to constantly be wiping their hands and potentially cause spills or stains. The focus should be on mingling and talking with people and the food should not require this much work," says Hirst.

Windsor agrees that anything you serve should be easy to eat and hold. "Most people will be juggling a handshake with their drinks, napkins, and plates," she notes.

RELATED: The 6 Best Things to Ask Guests to Bring—If They Offer.

Oversized helpings

Close up of a platter of sandwiches

If you want to throw a dinner party, you'll need to prepare a thoughtful menu, seating, and supplies. Attempting to serve a full meal or oversized portions at a cocktail party will likely backfire without that preparation, the experts say.

"It's important to remember that the essential way a cocktail party differs from a dinner party is that cocktail parties are all about mixing and mingling: Guests are up and about, standing and chatting, moving and enjoying refreshments," explains Smith.

"The key here is advanced thought," she continues. "Deli sandwiches? No. Finger sandwiches? Yes. Carved roast? No. Small slices of carved roast on cocktail rye? Yes. Seven-layer dip with corn chips? No. Scoops with a bit of salsa, guacamole, and sour cream? Yes. Almost anything can work so long as there is advanced thought put into it. Buffalo chicken wings are a logistical nightmare, but boneless buffalo chicken bites might be perfect."

Lauren Gray
Lauren Gray is a New York-based writer, editor, and consultant. Read more
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