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How to Host a Holiday Cocktail Party

This post contains all of the secrets to throwing a low-key, fun, and festive party this holiday season! Read on for appetizer recipes, decorating tips, drinks to try, playlist ideas, and more.

COVID DISCLAIMER: Although many of us are fortunate to be vaccinated/boosted, our global pandemic is very much in effect. I highly encourage thoughtful planning with this in mind, in order to keep yourself and your guests as safe as possible. This post details some general guidelines around hosting a crowd during COVID times, along with how to determine what is best for you. All of these recipes can be scaled down to serve 1-2 people.

Table of Contents (click each title to skip to that section):

  1. Appetizer Recipes
  2. Drink Recipes
  3. Decorating Tips
  4. Playlist Ideas
  5. Making your Guests Feel Welcome

Crowd-Pleasing Appetizer Recipes to Make

Rosemary Potato Focaccia Bread

overhead shot of rosemary potato focaccia on a sheet tray

3-Ingredient Vegan Queso

hand holding a tortilla chip dipping into a bowl of creamy 3 ingredient vegan queso

Crispy Baked Ravioli Bites

one crispy ravioil bite next to a white dish on a wood board with sauce in the background

Mediterranean Nachos

For a unique appetizer, try Mediterranean Nachos, made with pita chips and Tribe Mediterranean Hummus! They're a delicious snack for any time of day and packed with flavor. Ready in just 5 minutes and totally customizable! 

5 Steps to a Perfect Cheese Board (Vegan Options)

overhead shot of wooden cheese board with a variety of fruits, cheeses, and nuts in a purple green color scheme

Vegan Spanakoita Dip

close up shot of greek spinach dip

Rosemary White Bean Dip

overhead shot of vegan white bean dip on a wooden board next to toasted bread

Spicy Peanut Dip

side view of a vegan peanut sauce with fresh veggies

Seedy Gourmet Crackers

line of three gourmet crackers on a marble cheese plate

Authentic Hummus Platter

platter of creamy ottolenghi hummus surrounded by carrots, pickles, onions, pita, and cherry tomatoes with fresh herbs

Garlic Knots with Pre-Made Pizza Dough

red sauce covering garlic knot

Rosemary Spiced Nuts

antique spoon with scoop of mixed nuts

French Onion Dip in a Bread Bowl

wooden cutting board with sourdough bread bowl filled with dip

Festive Drink Recipes:

Easy Autumn Sangria with Red Wine

glass of autumn sangria with a burnt sprig of rosemary

Pumpkin Spice White Russian

close up of hand pouring coconut cream into a vegan pumpkin spice white russian in front of a roaring fire

Concord Grape Gin Fizz

sparkling water pouring into a concord grape gin fizz cocktail

Sparkling Gin Cranberry

glass of cranberry gin fizz on a marble board in front of Hendricks gin

Apple Cider Sangria

side view of autumn cocktail on butcher block

Dairy-Free Hot Chocolate Mix

mason jar filled with vegan hot cocoa mix, topped with chocolate chips and marshmallows

Gingerbread White Russian

side view of vegan white Russian cocktail with gingerbread spices on dark tray

Extra-Ginger Moscow Mule

hand pouring ginger beer into copper moscow mule mug

Santa Clausmopolitan

red clausmopolitan pouring into martini glass out of a silver shaker

Classic Hot Toddy

side view of two glasses of hot toddy cocktails next to a candle
Hot Toddy

If you’re looking for something really easy (who isn’t this time of year), be sure to sign up for my email list to download my Guide to 3-Ingredient Cocktails!

Holiday Party Playlist Ideas

Check out these Spotify party-ready mixes! Whatever you’re in the mood for, this list has something for everyone.

Holiday Party Decorating Tips

  • Use fresh evergreens as centerpieces on longer tables.
  • Twinkle lights can be very festive when placed correctly. Instead of hanging them off of the wall, consider placing in a vase on a table for a more elegant look.
  • Pay attention to lighting. Try to avoid ceiling lights as much as possible, relying instead on (safely placed) candles and table lamps.
  • Set up the drink station in an easily accessible portion of the room, away from appetizers.
  • Be sure to have plenty of utensils, plates, and napkins available right next to the food. Bonus points for eco-friendly reusable materials! In COVID and regular times, it never hurts to have a discreet bottle of hand sanitizer available nearby (or a sign directing guests to the restroom if they’d like to wash their hands).
sparkling water pouring into a glass of red autumn sangria

Making Your Guests Feel Welcome

When guests walk in, direct them to an area for outerwear/coats. Feel free to have a helper stash larger jackets in another room if you do not have much closet space. When I attend a party, I always find it helpful to know if I’m visiting a “shoes on” or “shoes off” household. As a host, feel free to set your preference from the get-go. If you are a strict “no shoes” household, offering new slippers to attendees is a nice way to make people feel comfortable. I know most people prefer shoes-on (I get it, it makes the outfit), but this just a suggestion!

Everyone likes to feel useful. Feel free to delegate certain prep items to anyone who asks. Also, you can never have too much ice. If someone offers to volunteer to bring something and you feel food is covered, ice is always a good idea.

Depending on how many people you have in attendance, be sure to circulate and introduce any smaller groups that may not know one another. Everyone knows you but they likely want to get acquainted with other attendees. Finding a common interest between parties is a great place to start. For example:

“Hey Tina, have you met George? You both love watching Succession, can you believe what happened on the Season 3 finale?”

Finally, do not be surprised if party attendees do not all “mingle.” Humans flock to groups of 4 people or less. It’s fascinating and very true! This article from QZ explains this concept in detail. So, there is no need to force more than 4 people to engage in a similar conversation (unless you’re playing a party game, of course).

Have more party tips? Leave them in the comments below, I’d love to hear!

Portrait of Emily Meyers, founder of Garlic Head

About the Author

Emily (Frigon) Meyers is the founder of Garlic Head, a plant-based recipe website for all eaters who want to easily, affordably, and sustainably incorporate more vegetables into their diets while saving time and money. She is a lifelong vegetarian and 10+ year vegan. Garlic Head does not focus on labels - it focuses on creating food that everyone can enjoy.

Emily earned a certificate in Plant-Based Nutrition from Cornell University along with degrees in Economics, Spanish, and Global Sustainability from the University of Pittsburgh. She has been featured on numerous podcasts and websites including The Food Institute, VegNews, Buzzfeed, and the Boston Globe.

Meet Emily here.

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