Geoffrey Zakarian on How to Host the Ultimate Home Cocktail Party

Geoffrey Zakarian
Geoffrey Zakarian Courtesy of Geoffrey Zakarian
Celebrity chef Geoffrey Zakarian is as well known for his effortless style as he his for his culinary skills.

The restaurateur, author, and Chopped judge, who owns Point Royal at the Diplomat Beach Resort in Hollywood, knows a thing or two about throwing a party. His annual rosé soiree, a private party for friends held during the weekend of the South Beach Wine & Food Festival, is one of the hottest invites in town.

With Christmas on the horizon and the new year approaching, many of us opt to entertain at home rather than go to an overcrowded bar or expensive restaurant. A house party, however, has its own perils and pitfalls, including what to serve and how to make everyone happy — guests and hosts included. 

Luckily, Zakarian has some amazing and practical tips for ensuring your cocktail party is epic.

Hold your party on a weeknight.

Though most people think of hosting a soiree on a Saturday, Zakarian suggests throwing your bash Sunday through Thursday and limiting the duration to an hour or 90 minutes tops. "Your guests will love that your party is something they can schedule without any problem," Zakarian says. He suggests a start time of 5:30 p.m. for a cocktail party. Don't worry if you think that's too early for your co-workers. "They'll find a way to get to your home. It's not like you're asking them to come at 4 p.m." Setting an end time for the party also ensures there's structure to the evening. "No one likes a sloppy party that runs too long. You might as well just go out drinking."

Put thought into your invitations.

"Your invitation should be fun," Zakarian says. The celebrity chef also recommends sending a save-the-date note first and then sending a paperless post for the formal invitation. "A save-the-date would make this unusual, and they'll look out for the invitation." You should also stress that it's a cocktail party with light bites so that guests won't expect a full dinner.

Set the right mood.

Put thought into your decor and mood. Think about the glassware, light plenty of candles, and make a playlist of good music. "All these little bits and pieces add up to a great party," Zakarian says.

Keep your food simple.

Your appetizers should reflect your generosity and be focused. Zakarian suggests offering four options: one hot, two room-temperature, and one vegan. Each morsel should be slightly larger than one bite and should be easy to handle when guests have a drink in the other hand. Instead of placing the hors d'oeuvres on a table, pass them around for guests to grab while they're mingling.

Limit the drink choices.

The chef suggests offering wine — either rosé, sparkling, or white — as well as sparkling water, a nonalcoholic cocktail, and a signature cocktail. "That's a wonderful selection," he says. He also suggests you walk around with a magnum of wine and refill glasses. That technique works twofold: You get to mingle and interact with your guests, and they will reuse their glasses, making for easier cleanup when everyone is gone. Can't decide on a signature cocktail? See Zakarian's recipe for a Paloma Blanca below.

Don't do it alone.

If you want a successful party, enlist the help of friends or hire someone for a few hours to help pass the bites and clear empty glasses and plates.

Be a gracious host.

As soon as someone comes into your home, place a drink in their hands. "I want to make sure they aren't ten seconds without a drink," Zakarian says. Thoughtful gestures make your guests feel like you've taken care of them and sets them up for a fun, relaxing time.

Don't force the social media.

With more than a half-million Instagram followers, Zakarian is no stranger to social media, but he cautions against making up hashtags for the occasion and asking guests to tag one another. "If the party is good, people will want to share it," he says. "Let them do it organically."

Leave them with a parting gift.

As guests leave, hand them a small parting gift personalized with a name tag. It could be cookie dough, muesli for the next morning, or local honey in a little jar. Be creative, but make sure it's useful.

Enjoy the party.

Don't forget to mingle and converse with your guests. They accepted your kind invitation less for the wine and food than to spend time with you.

Paloma Blanca 2.0

• 1.5 oz. Patrón Blanco tequila
• 1 oz. Pamplemousse liqueur
• 1 oz. pink Florida grapefruit juice, sweetened with Monin Ruby Red Grapefruit syrup
• 1 oz. lime
• .75 oz. agave

Instructions. Shake with ice and strain into a tall collins glass over fresh ice. Garnish with a spicy rim and lime wheel Note: For every eight ounces of grapefruit juice you use, add two ounces of syrup for sweetness. 
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Laine Doss is the food and spirits editor for Miami New Times, covering the restaurant and bar scene in South Florida. She has been featured on Cooking Channel’s Eat Street and Food Network’s Great Food Truck Race. Doss won an Alternative Weekly award for her feature on what it’s like to wait tables. In a previous life, she appeared off-Broadway and shook many a cocktail as a bartender at venues in South Florida and New York City. When she’s not writing, you can find Doss running some marathon then celebrating at the nearest watering hole.
Contact: Laine Doss