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Cocktail Courtesy

How to attend a cocktail party and leave with your dignity intact.
by Patti Davis

Here in the South, gathering together for adult beverages before dinner is a time-honored tradition. There are mint juleps, Pimm’s Cups, hurricanes and sazeracs being sipped in every corner of our sultry slice of heaven. As with all occasions, these parties have their own set of rules. By following the rules, you can rest assured you will always feel at ease – and not be the talk of the town the next day.

Greet your host/hostess when you arrive. Always make your first priority a stop to greet the person giving the party. You will stand out for your impeccable manners.

How many cocktails are appropriate? I would suggest no more than two. Especially if you are having dinner with wine immediately following the cocktail hour. More than two, and you are bound to loosen your inhibitions. Stay in control. You never know who is watching. At least that’s what my mama always said. And she was always right. Final answer: two.

How to  juggle a plate, glass and shake someone’s hand, all at the same time? It’s not impossible. I love this little parlor trick for cocktail parties. First, place your cocktail napkin in your hand. Second, set your plate over the napkin but keep it exposed so you are able to use it easily. Third, take your wine glass and balance it on the side of the plate, clamping it in place with your thumb and forefinger. Now, you may take a few small tidbits and put them on your plate. You are able to nibble your hors d’oeuvres, and when someone comes up to greet you, you may wipe your fingers with the napkin under the plate and have a free hand to shake with. This takes a bit of practice, but can be easily mastered.

Exchanging business cards is a great way to make a work or personal connection. This is easier for the gentlemen, but if you can, choose an outfit with pockets. While this is not always feasible for the ladies, you might want to carry a small purse with a strap, making it more convenient to collect and offer cards. When you receive someone’s card, always take a moment to read it. Everyone likes to be acknowledged. If you have two pockets, you may use one for your cards and one for the cards you are receiving. This way, you will never reach in and grab a card that is not your own.

Breeze through every cocktail party with these tips, and you’ll continue to see your mailbox filled with invitations!

Illustration courtesy of Paul Malon on Flickr

Patti Davis lives in Atlanta and teaches etiquette at Dazzling MannersShe’ll be here every other month discussing general etiquette and other ways to make life a little nicer in upcoming columns. Do you have an etiquette question? Comment and post it here or e-mail her at [email protected] and she would be delighted to help. You can also follow her on Twitter @DazzlingManners or like her on Facebook

Past columns: 

Mind Your Holiday Manners
Phone Etiquette for Toddlers
Thanks for Everything
Call Me Maybe

Biking New Orleans&#
Southern Food With a
  • Carrie B / October 2, 2012

    Always awesome tips Patti! So looking forward to sharing with my Fraternity brothers next week!

  • Joann Kandrac / October 2, 2012

    What great tips! You’re so smart 🙂

  • Lawrence / October 2, 2012

    BRILLIANT! Simply brilliant! I just went into the kitchen and practiced. Works GREAT with wine glasses but what about a glass without a stem! HELP!

  • Tammie Barfield / October 3, 2012

    Always spot on, Patti! Thanks for the tips!

  • Patti Davis / October 3, 2012

    Thanks for all the lovely comments!

    @Lawrence – That is a great question. When using a high ball glass, simply put the glass on a cocktail napkin first. The condensation from the glass will make the napkin adhere to it. Then place your napkin-wrapped glass on your plate, securing it in place with your thumb and index finger.

    Enjoy your event!

  • Deborah Bailey / October 6, 2012

    Great column Patti. I didn’t know about the tip for balancing the high ball glass. I feel I am prepared tonight for cocktails and food at my high school reunion.

  • John / October 8, 2012


    Your advise for juggling a plate, drink and having an extra hand to greet friends is spot on. I had never thought of that. Thank you for the tip. I look forward to future posts and more great advise.