A cocktail party is a largely informal social gathering generally featuring mixed drinks, light refreshments, and an intimate guest list. Guests are encouraged to mingle while enjoying a variety of drinks served by the host or a professional bartender. An informal party may be an alternative to a formal reception or full dinner party, especially if the guests have already made other dinner plans or are planning to meet later in the evening.
A cocktail party is a party at which cocktails are served. It is sometimes called a cocktail reception. A cocktail party organized for purposes of social or business networking is called a mixer. A cocktail hour is sometimes used by managers of hotels and restaurants as a means of attracting patrons.
Some events, such as wedding reception, are preceded by a cocktail hour. During the cocktail hour, guests socialize while drinking and eating appetizers. Organizers of these events use the cocktail hour to occupy guests between related events and to reduce the number of guests who arrive late.
Cocktail parties bring to mind old-school, Hollywood, so play up the retro glam factor by turning off the overheads, lighting silver candlesticks and scattering a few vases of roses around the room. When planning for a cocktail party, many experts on entertaining suggest hosts should assume at least three beverages per guest, unlike a dinner or reception where heavier foods are expected to be served and fewer mixed drinks are served. The party may include a variety of finger foods, light snacks or even heavy hors d'ouvres, but the primary focus is generally on cocktails, good conversation, and music, not on the food. An invitation should mention any special food arrangements, especially if the party is scheduled during regular dinner hours.