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How to host a cocktail party

Karen Leland is the bestselling author of Time Management in an Instant: 60 Ways to Make the Most of Your Day. She is featured columnist for The Huffington Post Living section. Read her blog and contact her at karenleland.com.

Cocktails, anyone?

The modern cocktail party is much more than a collection of designer drinks and finger food served before the main event. In many cases, it's the star of the show. Tamiko Zablith, director of Minding Manners, says that today's savvy hostess looks upon this happy hour as an important social affair, sans the sit-down dinner. Our experts serve up these tidbits on how to host a cocktail party with style and substance.

Cocktails, anyone?

Timing matters

If your cocktail party takes place in the city, hold it between the end of the business day and dinner time -- after 6 p.m. and before 8 p.m. If held during the week, the ideal duration is two hours.

Drinks are the heart of the matter

For the American cocktail party, Zablith says it's important to have martinis and gin tonics on hand, as well as vodka, rum and beer. Keep a selection of nonalcoholic beverages around for nondrinkers.

Dress the part

If you're a working girl and don't have time to get completely dolled up before the big event, no need to worry. A few glamorous accessories can jazz up your business attire. "Put on a dazzling necklace or change into a shimmering tank, smooth on some bright lip gloss, and you'll be all set," says Zablith.

Keep the nibbles coming

Serve your most special delicacies first. By round three, make sure some heavier hors d'oeuvres are in the mix, since they help absorb alcohol faster. All canapés should be small, allowing guests to eat them in one or two bites.

Planning is everything

Karen Auster, president of Auster Events, offers this sample timeline for a successful cocktail party:

Six weeks before:
• Choose a date, time and venue
• Compile a guest list

Five weeks before:

• Choose theme
• Decide on cocktail choices and menu Four weeks before:
• Send out invitations
• Create shopping list Three weeks before:
• Order rental equipment
• Hire any servers Two weeks before:
• Plan party layout
• Purchase decorations
• Order flowers One week before:
• Send out reminder e-mail
• Purchase nonperishable food items Two days before:
• Purchase perishable food items
• Decide what you are going to wear
• Clean house One day before:
• Pick up flowers
• Arrange furniture and decorate
• Set up drink station
• Prepare as many food items as possible

Day of the event:

• Buy ice
• Do any last-minute errands
• Finish preparing the food
• Get dressed, turn on music, light candles and enjoy!

Mojito

Serves 1

A classic around the world, the mojito says it's time to kick back and party. Place two sprigs of mint into a tall glass and, using a spoon, lightly crush them against the side of the glass. Next add 2 teaspoons sugar, 3 tablespoons lime juice and 1-1/2 ounces light rum. Give a quick stir and fill the glass with ice. Top with a spritz of chilled club soda, and garnish with a sprig of mint.

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