Okay, this is in response to a request from a hostess who does not drink alcohol but would like to know how to serve it for guests who do.
First: Unless you have someone who likes to tend bar (a husband, perhaps) or you can hire a bartender, don’t try to have a full, or even a semi-full, bar. We usually serve wine, beer, soft drinks and/or punch and water and sometimes one–count ’em–one mixed drink, which can be made by the pitcherful so people can just help themselves. That leaves you free to see to the food and actually chat with your guests.
Designate an area for your drinks. If you’re putting it on a nice table, shield the table with plastic sheeting or a plastic tablecloth (available at Party City or any other party supply place), and then put a nice (but sturdy and washable) tablecloth over it. Bear in mind that somebody will certainly spill red wine on it.
Set out on the bar: glasses suitable for whatever drinks you are serving, small napkins, some means for your guests to identify their glasses, ice in a bucket with tongs, and the beverages. I have a shallow copper-colored tub that I like to fill with bottles of white and/or sparkling wine and beer, plus ice. Red wine stands on the bar next to the tub, not in it.
I prefer using real wine glasses rather than plastic cups when I pour wine at a party. Yeah, I know that leaves you with a zillion glasses to wash at the end of the night, but they’re so much nicer to drink out of.I’m not suggesting that you buy Reidel for 50, of course, but you can usually get some serviceable party wine glasses without taking out a second mortgage–I found a great set of 20 glasses at the Great Indoors a couple of years ago, and I keep them in the box between parties. Costco often has similar sets at this time of year.
We like charms for the wine glasses, so people can identify theirs after they’ve set them down and wandered off to chat with a friend or sample a new appetizer. Identifiers help cut down on the washing at the end of the night–people don’t pour themselves another drink in a new glass when they can reclaim the same one. It’s always fun to choose new charms by theme–there are tons of them on the market. Keep an eye out for sales. Marshalls, Ross, Tuesday Morning…the usual suspects can produce some fun ones. (I have to confess, however, that having a favorite charm–at my house, I always use the one with the tiny spoon and fork–never helps me find my wine glass. I leave it all over the house. And I’m always picking up Hazel’s champagne by mistake.)
Set up the glasses with the charms handy so guests can choose their own. Make sure the corkscrew is next to the wine bucket. If you’re pouring champagne, leave a cloth napkin or hand towel next to the wine bucket also, to cover the cork once you’ve removed the wire cage (I once broke a kitchen window–Hazel’s kitchen window–when a cork went ballistic).
At my holiday party this year, I’ll be serving margaritas by the pitcher. Also sangria by the pitcher. Guess what? I’m going to put out plastic cups for the margaritas. Sure, people can use the wine glasses for them, but maybe I won’t have to wash lime pulp out of the wine glasses? I can dream.
Always have a nonalcoholic option available. My favorite holiday punch is super easy and delicious:
2 2-liter bottles of ginger ale
2 cans of frozen cranberry cocktail
Dump the stuff in a punch bowl and stir. Add ice, and garnish with slices of oranges and a handful of fresh cranberries.
One more thing: Make sure you have water for your guests. That’s all some of them will drink. Really! I know the individual bottles of water are ecologically anathema, but they’re sure convenient for a party. I kkep a tub of them net to the bar for the thirsty. And if you put a Sharpie on the bar, people can write their names on their bottles.