Throw a Laid-Back Cocktail Party with This Easy-to-Make Menu

updated May 29, 2019
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(Image credit: Susanna Hopler)

Text all your friends immediately and tell them you’re throwing a cocktail party. With this easy menu, it’s possible to host a festive one just a few days from now without breaking a sweat. The key is to lean on simple sips and bites whose components can be made ahead or even bought straight from the store. That makes the last-minute scramble not much of a scramble at all.

This laid-back menu starts with a refreshing rhubarb cocktail that’s sure to be a crowd-pleaser (especially because it can also be made as a mocktail). Snacks like cheesy polenta bites, spicy carrot hummus, and hearty beef tenderloin sliders are sure to keep your friends satiated, and there are a few sweet treats to round out the occasion. There’s no better excuse to host a gathering than this one.

The Menu + A Few Tips

This cocktail party menu is light, bright, and seasonal, yet filling enough that your guests won’t be rushing out the door to find a more serious dinner after the festivities. It’s also meant to be stress-free. By leaning on a few store-bought items and assembling what you can up to a couple days ahead of time, the work before guests arrive at the door is minimal. That means you can get to pouring yourself a cocktail with friends ASAP.

  • Rhubarb Basil Cocktails and Mocktails
  • Herbed Goat Cheese Polenta Bites
  • Prosciutto-Wrapped Arugula
  • Fresh Veggies with 3-Ingredient Cumin-Lime Yogurt Dip
  • Moroccan-Spiced Carrot Hummus
  • Beef Tenderloin Sliders with Horseradish Sauce

What to Drink

Something bright and fresh that can be sipped all throughout the party is always the best answer — and something that can be enjoyed by both those who are imbibing and those who are not is even better.

  • Rhubarb Basil Cocktail: This rhubarb-basil number is light and sweet, with just a touch of tartness from the rhubarb and a bit of herbal notes from the basil. Prepare the rhubarb purée up to a week ahead of time so assembling is a breeze, and make it even easier on yourself by multiplying the recipe and mixing it in a pitcher, so guests can pour what they like when they like it.
  • Rhubarb Basil Mocktail: If you have guests who don’t drink, create an equally festive mocktail by simply skipping the vodka. Just remember to clearly label both pitchers so your guests know which is which!

What to Eat

For the most festive spread that comes together with ease, lean on things you can make ahead of time or pick up from the store. That will make last-minute prep light and simple.

  • Herbed Goat Cheese Polenta Bites: The polenta for these two-bite snacks can be made the day before and chilled overnight. Then all you need to do is pan-fry the cubes right before guests arrive.
  • Prosciutto-Wrapped Arugula: Grab a handful of peppery arugula, wrap it in a thin slice of prosciutto, and you’re done — seriously, these couldn’t be faster to assemble.
  • Fresh Veggies with 3-Ingredient Cumin-Lime Yogurt Dip: Buy a crudité tray or pre-cut raw veggies to save you the hassle of cutting up a variety of them yourself. The dip can also be made a few days ahead of time.
  • Moroccan-Spiced Carrot Hummus: Like the yogurt dip, this hummus can be made a few days ahead of time. Then just buy pita chips or any of your favorite crackers to accompany it.
  • Beef Tenderloin Sliders with Horseradish Sauce: Cook the beef tenderloin the day before and chill it overnight. Then, soon before your guests arrive, all you have to do it slice it and assemble each sandwich.
  • Marinated Olives and Roasted, Salted Marcona Almonds: Round out the spread by grabbing a few simple, tasty items from the grocery store, like marinated olives and marcona almonds (we love the rosemary ones from Trader Joe’s). Place them in small bowls around your entertaining space so they can be nibbled on throughout the party.


A cocktail party requires minimum cutlery to make it as easy and breezy as possible. While hand-held bites are best, it is fun for guests to have something all their own, like individual trifles.

  • Quick Strawberry Trifles: These pretty trifles can be made a few hours before you plan to serve them. Assemble them in stemless wine glasses or other small glasses and deliver the glasses to the party on a serving tray, with a spoon in each.
  • Classic French Palmiers: While one dessert is all well and good, another one makes it really feel like a party. Bake a tray of these super-simple French palmiers, using store-bought puff pastry.
  • Dark Chocolate Bars: Buy a few good-quality bars, break them up, and serve on a platter alongside the palmiers for everyone to much on with their last cocktail sips.

Your Cocktail Party Timeline

Your timeline can start up to two days before your party if you’d like to get ahead on prep. That leaves the rush before guests arrive on the evening of to a minimum.

Two Days Before

  • Make both the yogurt dip and the carrot hummus. Transfer them to an airtight container and tuck them in the fridge.
  • Also make the rhubarb purée and keep it stored in an airtight container in the fridge.

One Day Before

  • Cook the polenta, pour it into a baking dish, spread into an even layer, and then cover the dish and stick it in the fridge overnight.
  • Roast the beef tenderloin, then allow it to cool to room temperature, wrap it in foil, and tuck it away in the fridge.
  • Bake the palmiers and, once cool, store them in an airtight container on the counter.

The Evening Of

  • Before everyone arrives: Lay the two dips with their crudité and chips, and the palmiers and dark chocolate on pretty platters and put the marinated olives and marcona almonds in bowls. Assemble the cocktail and mocktail in two separate pitchers, the prosciutto-wrapped arugula, beef sliders, as well as the trifles; tuck the trifles in the fridge.
  • When guests arrive: Quickly pan-fry the polenta bites while your friends help themselves to a drink. Plate them, then sit down and join the party!