I always like to consider different ways to have parties. Everyone has the Saturday night dinner party or the Sunday afternoon brunch. But I find that few people have parties for TGIF – the happy hour party! Instead, most people meet up with friends at a bar or restaurant. Why is that?

Friday night parties, as all parties hosted during the workweek, are more difficult because the majority of people are working. But, trust me on this, Friday night parties are FUN! Everyone is ready to relax and have a good time at the end of the workweek. It just takes a little extra planning.

happy hour tortilla espanola

How to host a happy hour party

I just hosted a Friday night happy hour party called ‘Sips and Nibbles’ and it was so much fun! The guests felt that it was different, too. They felt it was special to be in my home rather than the local pub. It was a really nice way to end the week, doing something that you don’t usually do that feels good! It takes good organization and advance planning, but it’s not hard to pull off. Here are the considerations:

  1. Menu planning. This will allow you to think through the complexity of the dishes you are creating; how much of each can be done in advance; and how well they go together. Remember my advice: don’t make something for the first time for a party. If you like a recipe, make it once or even twice beforehand. Your party is not the time to be nervous about cooking something that you are not comfortable with. The menu should be created a minimum of 2 weeks before your event and ideally, 3-4 weeks is best.
  2. Shopping. Create your shopping list so that you are organized. Review each recipe and write down what you need to purchase in the format of how you walk through the grocery store (this will save oodles of time!). Also, plan when you will shop and put it on your calendar. I usually shop at multiple grocery stores, so stopping at Whole Foods one night after work and Trader Joe’s on another night will lighten the load.
  3. Wines. You can buy wines far in advance, so don’t leave this to the last minute. And, just like the recipe, don’t serve a wine that you haven’t had before unless you buy an extra bottle and try it beforehand.
  4. Advance prep and cooking. There are so many components of recipes that can be made ahead of time. Many times, recipes list this which is a big help. But you can also cook and freeze. Make sure that you are taking advantage of anything that can be done ahead and do it.
  5. Serving set up. You can lay out your serving platters, plates, glasses and ironed napkins the night before. No need to stress about that on Friday when you get home. 
    happy hour mini ceasar salad cups

Hopefully, you are getting the technique of hosting a party during the weeknight. It all comes down to advance planning and organization. Think of it like a project at work – you wouldn’t do that all at once, so why would you have a party that way at home?

I’d also like to offer a recommendation on the menu. Please, don’t serve another antipasto platter! They are delicious – don’t get me wrong – but I am SO tired of them. Everyone serves them and they are getting boring. I also think that they look pretty when you serve it, but ugly after about 5 minutes when people have started ripping into it. Stretch to offer a menu that is seasonal and different.

pizzettes happy hour

At my happy hour party, I wanted the menu to reflect me. So, I made two dishes that are my own creation and two dishes that are not. I also thought about the time of day – you need heavy appetizers at that time. Some people who have dinner plans later might just nibble, while others will make this their meal. Carrot sticks won’t cut it at my party!

Here was my menu:

Garlicky langostines with romesco sauce
Mini ceasar salad cups
Wine-braised sausage sugo pizzettes
Tortilla espanola

The beauty of my menu was how much I was able to do in advance: 1) the romesco sauce can be done 5 days ahead; 2) the sugo can be done 1 week ahead; 3) the pizza dough can be made 1 week ahead and refrigerated; 4) the potatoes and onions for the tortilla have to be cooled, so can be done earlier in the day; 5) ceasar salad dressing can be done 1 day ahead; 6) pizza dough can be rolled and cut into circles the night before and 7) ceasar salad cups can be made earlier in the day.

spoons for happy hour nibbles

I’m not suggesting that you use my menu. You need to create your own based on the time of year and what’s fresh in your part of the world. You should also strive to combine something that is unique to you or your family on the menu. What I want you to take away from this is the technique to plan in advance and construct a menu based around that requirement.

So, the only thing I did right before the party was saute the langostines (5 minutes); dress the salad and put into the cups; dress the pizzettes and bake; and make the tortilla. It was so easy that I had time to have a glass of rose before the guests arrived!

happy hour advance cooking

I started everyone with a glass of rose because it was in the 90’s that day. Then, I offered an excellent pinot noir and we ended up needing more wine, so I got some local Napa cabernet sauvignon from my wine cellar. From the looks of the empty wine bottles, we enjoyed ourselves! 

happy hour wines