Photo: Greg DuPree

Friends, food, and drinks are all you need for the ultimate after-work gathering.

Arielle Weg
July 12, 2018

I’m just going to say it—I’m intimidated when it comes to hosting parties. I don’t have a ton of space, let alone a glorious, long dining room table to seat guests at, and my dishware consists of my parents’ rejected items from their kitchen remodel. Needless to say, It’s not exactly an ideal hosting situation.

However, I recently stumbled upon the idea of hosting a Pinterest-worthy happy hour, instead of a full-fledge, formal dinner. It hits all the marks you look for in a get together—good friends and good food (because happy hour done right definitely includes snacks), but is way more approachable. Happy hour keeps the event low-pressure and low-commitment for both the guests and the host.

So, I thought, Yeah... I can do that. And so can you. To make your initial run even easier, we went ahead and planned the set-up, menu, and the most important happy hour addition—the cocktail. Here’s our guide to planning the ultimate at-home happy hour, so you can focus on putting a cocktail into your friends' hands, instead of stressing the details.

The Invite

Being a good host starts well before your guests even arrive. Plan the party for a two-hour block sometime between lunch and dinner, and extend the offer for your friends to drop in at any time. Invite guests with the clear expectation that there will be food, friends, and boozy beverages, but this is not a dinner party. If they want a four-course feast, they’ll have to wait a few years for you to achieve that stunning dining room tablescape from your dreams.

The Set-Up

The focal point of the party will be the nibbles table. Choose a setting with a large enough table and a space for sitting. This could mean using your kitchen table for food and living room as the sitting area or an outdoor folding table on the patio and picnic blankets on the grass. Whatever floats your boat. The menu (which we will get to in a moment) should consist of finger food and light fork food to avoid the need for spoons or knives. This also helps making eating in your lap while sitting on patio chairs or on a sofa a reasonable expectation.

You’ll need appetizer plates, forks, napkins, and cups, and you can add some extra color and personality with a floral tablecloth. You can snag these items for a budget-friendly happy hour at the dollar store if you’re not willing to use reusable dishware (or simply want an easy clean-up later). Keep a few pretty serving platters on reserve, and dazzle your guests with a mason jars full of fresh flours. If you’re feeling extra fancy, feel free to string up some tea lights too.

Photography: Greg Dupree; Food Styling: Emily Nabors Hall; Prop Styling: Claire Spollen.

The Menu

Now comes to most important question—what are you going to serve? The key to a stress-free happy hour is crafting a menu that’s low- to no-cook, refreshing, and light. You want guests to walk away feeling like they ate well, but aren’t sluggishly stuffed after basically eating dinner on your couch.

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We’re big fans of building a basic cheese board featuring a soft cheese (like goat cheese), a funky cheese (like blue cheese), and a semi-firm cheese (like cheddar) for an easy, but timelessly elegant happy hour snack. Add some bite-size fruits like grapes, sliced apples, and strawberries, and consider supplementing with some dried fruits as well. Then, layer on a few slices of cured meat (like prosciutto) and a dollop of fruity jelly and savory jam. Finally, include a few crackers or sliced baguette, a small bowl of nuts, and maybe some marinated olives.

Photo: Greg DuPree; Styling: Mindi Shapiro

Now comes the prepared appetizer platters. Bite-sized crostini topped with something seasonal makes for a versatile, delicious dish. We love these tomato and black-eyed pea relish crostinis which look stunning on a platter. Next, you really can’t go wrong with a dip, and this pesto yogurt dip with assorted veggies is a guaranteed crowd-pleaser. Finally, finish off your spread with a fresh salad, like this stunning tomato salad with herbed ricotta and balsamic vinaigrette.

The Drinks

A big pitcher of a single signature cocktail is, hands-down, the easiest way to go. We have quite a few big batch cocktails we love, but this summer melon rosé sangria is an exceptional pick for the season. Right before serving, stir in the remaining mint and frozen melon, then have guests top off their drinks with club soda. Of course, Grapefruit Beergaritas go over well any time of year. If you’re worried a few friends may have a picky palate when it comes to drinks, you can always supplement with an ice bucket filled with a bottle of white or rosé and a few beers.

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