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How to choose cocktails for your party bar menu

You've nailed down the date, sent out the invites, built up your guest list, and bagged yourself an awesome bartender team for the evening. Aside from choosing the music, your next job is to decide on the drinks.

We've been writing drinks menus for years, and know a thing or two about what works, and what doesn't. There is a few simple rules to follow, in order to nail the perfect menu.

Drinks beside a drinks menu labelled diodydd

1. You can't have it all

Like a kid in a sweet shop, you're bound to want to try everything. We have a signature cocktail menu of just twelve drinks, and there are 1000s more classic and contemporary cocktails out there that often get added on by thirsty guests, all making it difficult to narrow them down to just a short menu.

In practice, the most successful cocktail menus have no more than four drinks on them. Yes, just four. Too many drinks on your menu will put people off looking through them all, and they'll just opt for a beer.

When we calculate the stock needed for your party, we'll take the total number of drinks, and divide it by the number of choices on your menu. For example:

Party of 50 guests, 4 hours = 4 drinks each

Total drinks = 200

Drinks on menu = 4

200 divided by 4 = 50 of each cocktail available

Alternatively, if you have 10 drinks on your menu:

Party of 50 guests, 4 hours = 4 drinks each

Total drinks = 200

Drinks on menu = 10

200 divided by 10 = 20 of each cocktail available

With the second example, each choice will run out very quickly. Shorter, simpler menus make things easier.

Three cocktails in front of a drinks menu

2. Your favourite drink may not be everyone else's

I know you absolutely love a Piña Colada, swiftly followed by a White Russian. Creamy drinks are your speciality and you don't care who knows it. You feel physically sick at the thought of a Tequila based-drink, or *shudder* anything with grapefruit. However, you're not the only one enjoying drinks at this party, and who knows, you might discover your new favourite tipple.

Mojito on a table

A lot of drinks can be a bit Marmite; some love it, some hate it. If in doubt, give us a call and we can advise on some complimentary flavours. Who knows, you might find your next favourite cocktail.

One option is to choose one or two absolute must-haves, then ask us to suggest one or two complimentary cocktails to pair.

3. Don't try and colour match the drinks to the theme

Recently, I was asked to put together a menu for a black and white themed party. I suggested just doing White and Black Russians, but apparently the birthday girl loves a P*rn Star Martini and would like it either black or white. Without consulting the chemistry lab at Bristol University, I hadn't a clue. We came up with a solution (trade secrets) but it did mean compromising a little on the flavour (the drink was also clear).

If you are writing a menu for a theme, think more about the glassware, or garnishes, than the actual drink. There's no point sacrificing flavour for look.

We have an edible printer system in our offices and can print out anything you want to put on the drinks, from company logos, to peoples' faces.

4. Renaming your drinks

If you've got a theme running through the event, it can be tempting to theme the drinks to fit in with this. However, said themes' drinks aren't always to everyone's tastes. An easy way around this is to rename the drinks, but keeping them in context with the original drink. You could take something like a Long Island Iced Tea, and link it with your city - Turbo Island Iced Tea anyone?

5. Mocktail variations

Non and light drinkers are contributing to a massive £8.8bn in sales of low and non-alcoholic drinks, with this figure set to rise in 2026. It's rare that we work a party these days without a large handful of people asking for a sober option when looking at the menu.

One option is to have a couple of highlighted separate options on the menu for people to choose, or we can suggest cocktails that taste great both with and without alcohol (Pina Coladas or Garden of Eden for example).

We prefer to have a couple of mocktail options available that aren't on the menu, but for the guests to ask the bartender for - this gives the bartender freedom to mix up something fun, and the guest feels like they're being personally looked after.

If you're still stuck, remember, you can always give us a call and we'll advise on what we recommend - 20 years of experience goes a long way when writing drinks menus!

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