How to Throw a Cocktail Party on a Budget

Hey Skint folks, 

It’s London Cocktail Week! And it’s put me in the mood to throw a little party of my own. What with baby Skint and the break-in and so on, these last few months have been full-on and I feel it’s time now for a bit of fun to welcome in the dark nights. And a cocktail party’s always my favourite way! One of the great things about cocktail parties is that although they sound expensive, they’re actually way cheaper – and more fun – than having people for dinner. In fact, throwing a cocktail party is one of the most impressive and fun ways to entertain and pretty easy too, because guests don’t expect to be fed, other than a few nibbles, making both cheaper, at the same time, more memorable than a dinner party. Bonus! how to throw a cocktail party on a budget

So, how to throw a cocktail party on a budget? Here’s what I’m thinking: 

Theme: Deciding on a theme for the event makes it much more fun. Will it be thirties Great Gatsby glamour? A sixties Austin Power vibe? Or just a little bit Mad Men? Asking people to dress for the occasion will really add to the event. It needn’t be full-on fancy dress, even just feather boas and ties make a big difference to the mood. 

Decide on drinks: Cocktail parties could be hideously expensive if you had to provide all the drinks yourself. Instead, decide in advance what drinks you’ll serve and ask friends to bring certain items when you invite them, so you know you’ll have enough for three or four great choices. Alternatively, just choose one cocktail and theme the night round that. I once had a great night hosting a champagne cocktail party. It actually wasn’t very costly because of course we weren’t drinking real champagne in the cocktails – you don’t need to because you’re going to add other ingredients anyway – but it gave the party an air of decadence.

Send out invitations: You can create and send your own personalised invitations online using evite. They’re free to send and people can quickly RSVP the same way. Or get the buzz going via Facebook by creating your own events page. If these sound a bit too modern for the retro vibe you’re after though, just get busy with a pen and fancy paper and post the invites off, the old-fashioned way. 

Stock up: Trawl charity shops for cheap glasses – it really doesn’t matter if they don’t match. Beg, borrow and steal cocktail shakers. Remember to stock up on all the things that guests probably won’t bring but which make a cocktail party such fun: paper umbrellas, cocktail cherries, olives, lemons and limes, sugar cubes and cream. Bulk buy napkins, paper plates etc from Costco rather than going to the supermarket. You’ll need lots of ice too, which you can buy in big bags from the freezer section of most supermarkets, though I’ve always just asked the bar along the road to fill a couple of bags for me – they’ve never refused.  

Create the Mood: All you need to create a party mood really is candles. Everywhere. Up the garden path if it’s not raining, on the front step and on the tread of every stair in the hall. Buy tealights in bulk at Ikea and you’re good to go.

Create a playlist: The right music is key. You’re probably aiming for a slightly retro vibe, which will be ruined in an instant if you just leave your iPod on shuffle and out pops Dizee Rascal. It pays to make playlists in advance. Because you’re going retro you probably won’t need to buy much new music – just rifle through what you’ve already got, as well as checking out secondhand shops. Easy listening is a good rule of thumb for cocktail party music – parents can come in handy here! Or consider signing up to a digital music service like Spotify for the event. Take their premium membership so your party doesn’t get interrupted by ad breaks – it’s still cheaper than buying CDs or downloading a bunch of tracks from iTunes. 

 Set out your stall: Before your guests arrive, turn your kitchen worktop into a bar, laying out glasses and ingredients, together with a few recipes. When guests arrive, show them where everything is and offer to mix their first drink. After that it’s down to them. You’ll find that people start out very serious, diligently following the recipe for the perfect Mojito, then gradually become more free-spirited as the booze kicks in. At my last cocktail party I discovered three people in the kitchen at midnight, none of whom had known each other before, all giggling and trying to come up with the most outlandish drinks made only of red ingredients. Cocktails are a terrific icebreaker.

 It’s showtime: Being the host/hostess with the mostess at a cocktail party is terrific fun. You get to wear the most glamorous costume and generally be a bit over-the-top. You also get lots of credit for organising a great party without really doing much work at all. Now that’s what I call a result! 

how to throw a cocktail party on a budget

I want this on my wall at home!


Easy, impressive cocktails to try at home

 Champagne cocktail

You’ll need:

A champagne flute of fizz – can be cava, prosecco or champagne depending on your budget

A sugar cube

Angostura bitters

Here’s how: Put the sugar cube in the bottom of the glass, then drip over two or three drops of angostura bitters and top up with fizz.



A measure of light rum

A glug of sugar syrup (this is just two parts sugar and one part water brought to the boil and allowed to cool. It keeps in the fridge for months.)

Three slugs of lime juice

Here’s how: Pour the three ingredients into a shaker together with ice-cubes, shake well and pour into a chilled cocktail glass. Add whatever fruits you wish, strawberry being a favourite of the SATC girls.


Black Russian

One measure of Kahlua or another coffee liquer

Two measures of vodka

Here’s how: Pour both ingredients over ice into a lowball glass. That’s it. Simple and delicious – and pretty cheap too.


White Russian

Make a Black Russian and top up the glass with cream for a gorgeous drink that’s as high on taste as it is on calories. What the hell, you’re having a party!

 What’s your favourite cocktail recipes folks? Do share.

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About Skint in the City

Skint in the City provides stylish, practical tips and advice on how to live the high life on a shoestring budget.

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