Whether it's a cocktail party to benefit your local charity, an opening, a soft launch, or a cocktail party for the sake of cocktails, a personal favorite, cocktail soirees are a time to have fun, have engaging conversations with new friends and old ones, and for some fancy themselves as British aristocrats – I'll delve into this more later.
As a nightlife and society columnist for ChicagoPride.com, the Midwest's largest LGBT entertainment and news website, I have experienced and covered my share of cocktail parties and the like. Post undergrad. I have taken the next natural social step from my college days where parties with red cups and kegs were standard and any perceived classy affair involving cheese and crackers and a dusted chandelier were deemed cocktail parties. Throughout my career, I have admired, observed, cringed, OMGed, caught the Holy Ghost, have had embarrassment for, have had "she don't love herself" moments for, and a plethora of other pearl clutching moments and emotions for and about guests at the many different cocktail parties and events I have covered for my job.
From certain politicians who will remain nameless trying to sneak on stage at a charity gala to be closer to an Al Jarreau performance to guests having to be escorted out, I've had the laughable privilege of witnessing cocktail parties done all types of wrong. However, I've also seen cocktail parties done right. I've attended events in New York City for fashion week, Zac Posen's holiday party in New York City and I've covered galas, media dinners, and more across the city from Gold Coast to Wicker Park, the Loop and every hood in between and beyond. Therefore, I think I've mastered a modest grasp on the very flagrant, thick line between Grace Kelly and just an absolute disgrace.
So, in support of future cocktail parties, I've put together a top ten list of dos and mostly don'ts for your next cocktail party. For some it's mere social, common sense while sadly for others it's actual, hard-hitting news.
This is Not a Keg.
Upon your arrival to your cocktail party, was there a certain bro-looking type of dude wearing a baseball cap with his alma mater plastered across it offering you a red cup in exchange for five dollars – no? Didn't think so. This isn't a keg or your college's frat house party; so don't treat it as such. I'm positive the host or the event planner budgeted for enough libations to last for everybody for the duration of the party. Piling up on drinks at the bar like it's half time at a football game or worst an hour long hosted bar at a dive bar is a sure way to raise eyebrows and gaining a reputation as that drunken guest. Clean it up and keep it at one cocktail at a time and leave the double fisting for the porn stars.
Stop Trying to Keep up With The Kardashians.
I completely understand wanting to capture your fun moments with your friends and other guests while at a cocktail party and sharing it with the world via social media. Nothing is wrong with that. However, having an entire paparazzi of iPhone cams, Android cams, and digital cameras snapping photos of you walking into the cocktail party, standing by the bar, conversing with other guests, constantly posing with your hand on your hip and head slightly nodded, and doing other nondescript, uninteresting things is a bit much not to mention ridiculous. E News is not here for you sweetie; so let Kim do her thing. Also, stalking any professional photographer at the party and hassling him to snap pictures of you and your friends secretly hoping that it ends up in a glossy magazine or someone's fashion blog is equally as nauseating. If he's interested, he'll come to you, which brings me to my third rule.
Stalking is Illegal, Ya Know?
We've all seen them. They're always approximately 5ft diagonal from the host, a notable guest, or any guest perceived or helmed as important and "in" at the time. They position themselves perfectly, so they can have enough time to sweep in before anyone else can approach the person they've been stalking. I like to refer to these people as shadow stalkers for obvious reasons. They're also known as social climbers. There's a fine line between networking and social climbing. There's no harm in introducing yourself to certain guests for networking purposes, but there's a certain way to handle oneself as not to alert the authorities that they might have a stalker on their hands. The best way is to wait for an introduction through mutual friends or colleagues. However, if that option isn't available, please do not follow that person around as if you were a toddler in need of a diaper change. Use common sense and wait for the appropriate time for your introduction, which is not the bathroom by the way, I've seen it I swear. When the time comes, introduce yourself, make light conversation, and be sure to exchange cards.
You Are Not Karl Lagerfeld.
It's not cool. It's not chic. It's not mysteriously stylish. It's certainly not different. However, I imagine it does make it quite difficult to socialize when you can't see a damn thing because you're wearing sunglasses indoors at a cocktail party. Just stop it please and help your life... and eyesight while you're at it too.
Talk and Socialize With Everyone.
It's a cocktail party! So, have fun, move around, and talk to everyone – not just the host and their circle of friends as well as yours. Converse with other guests, the bartenders, and servers, make friends with other people's friends. I mean you never know where your next invite will come from, right? Also, this let's people know that you're approachable, friendly, and inviting. These types of people always have more fun at cocktail parties because everyone loves them. Not to mention, if you make new friends now, you'll have more people to party with at the after party and even more friends at the next cocktail party. But break this next rule, and you're imaginary crown will be your only friend, which brings me to my next rule.
Kate Middleton Wants Her Crown Back.
I've encountered far too many then I care to in one lifetime that break this rule. You know who you are and you know who they are. It's the person who is far too above to say hello or even condescend to speak to mere commoners at a cocktail party. This is not to be confused with having a confident air of ease and sophistication, which are definite pluses. No one likes a snob, especially when they don't have anything to be snobby about. Even Kate Middleton shops at Zara, so ditch the snobby Hollywood-infused attitude and get over yourself because everyone else certainly will be at the cocktail party.
Know Why You're There.
Please, please, please, please read the invite before you attend the cocktail party as to know why you're there before you're there. Seems like a simple task but apparently a very arduous one for many based on the many confused and flat-out wrong answers guests have given me when asked about a cocktail party I was covering for my column. One guest thought he was there to honor a new up-and-coming professional while another guest thought it was a soft opening for a new club, mind you the event did not take place in a club. And I swear one guest merely thought it was happy hour after work... as in that was the event and that's it. The cocktail party was actually a reception to raise awareness for a local charity that helps people afflicted with cancer – epic fail. This easily avoidable misunderstanding could have been avoided if they each just read the entire invite instead of just the complimentary cocktails and passed Hor Dourves part.
Monopoly Should Remain as a Game.
Simply put, do not monopolize a guest's time in conversation. Don't forget that these cocktail parties are also functioning as networking events for all guests as well. People need to make their rounds around the party. And they can't do that if you're dragging them into what you think is a sophisticated conversation about modern art versus impressionism... yarn. A good cue for you to stop your game of conversation monopoly is if the guest is constantly looking for some sort of hope – either a drink or another guest who will save them from you. Make the intro, shake hands, engage in light conversation about your job and exciting new projects, add in a joke for good measure, and exchange cards, then off to the next guest!
If You Can't Say Anything Nice...
Then don't say anything at all – such a classic, cardinal rule that so many people choose to blatantly ignore. It always pains me to attend an event and overhear other guests either gossiping or just downright putting down the event, the host, and/or the organization. In my mind, I always ask, then why are you here? I mean there's no mandate that requires your presence is mandatory. Constructive criticism is welcomed but merely talking crap and overall ragging on an event makes for a much less than stellar cocktail party guest. Secondly, if the event is that "bad" then throw a better cocktail party yourself or go home, which brings me to my last rule.
Always leave before the very last drink is poured. Do not be the very last guest at the party going back and forth with the bartender of how the hosted bar is for another thirty minutes at least – plus you could potentially be breaking Rule #1. Staying after the music has stopped playing and while the cleaners are on duty looks thirsty and desperate. Note; if the after set for the cocktail party is occurring and you're still at the cocktail party, you need to just go. You may not turn into anyone's pumpkin after midnight but you certainly won't be treated as anyone's Cinderella if you're constantly lurking around. Ew, and it's creepy... just go home.