making cocktails with cut cucumbers and neon lights

How to throw a cocktail party for under £500. Parties on a budget don't have to be expensive!

With the festive season approaching fast, now is the time to start planning your party. Food and drink costs can get out of hand and the best way to keep a lid on costs is to plan ahead. A party need not be expensive and there are most definitely areas where you can keep costs low, whilst still throwing a fantastic party!

Send a digital invite
First things first; you need to tell all your friends what you're planning - early November is the time to send out invites for Christmas as everyone is starting to book in work, family and friends.Sending a digital invite is quick and free if you use apps like Canva - this website & app provides a huge number of templated designs; so all you have to do is add your party details, download and send via WhatsApp. That's the invites done.

design tamplates with christmas themes
Download Canva for FREE

Welcome drinks
It's always a good idea to start with a welcome drink to break the ice and get the party started, but be sure to add in a 0% option for the designated drivers. Prosecco is a firm favourite and with offers constantly available either online or in store, this is economical (with 6 servings per bottle) and can be served as a stand alone drink or levelled up with a liqueur such as St Germain Elderflower. An easy 0% cocktail alternative would be an elderflower syrup, with lemonade/tonic water and the same garnish. Don't forget the beer drinkers... European bottled beers are crowd pleasers and you'll nearly always find very competitive prices at stores such as Tesco. The great thing about these bottled beers is that you just flip the lid off and drink - so no glassware required at all.

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How much alcohol to buy

Buying the right amount of alcohol is really tricky to plan. If you can work out how much you will serve throughout the party, then you might be able to take advantage of some bulk discounts at wholesalers or supermarkets. Also consider going to wine merchants who can offer sale or return on unopened items.

The general rule of thumb, regardless of the type of drink, is to allow 1 drink per person, per hour. Obviously you'll know your crowd really well and you may choose to go over this allowance - but in our experience this is the winning formula. Some guests will drink more and some less (especially if they are driving), so it usually balances out as an average of 1 drink per person, per hour.

black plastic box glassware crates

Glassware hire

Avoid your clumsy mate smashing one of your best wine glasses & save washing up the next day with this hassle-free option. It's worth hiring glasses as it can be free with a deposit and you can return dirty to some suppliers such as cater hire companies.

birds eye view of food selection vegetables fruit cheese crackers


A simple and economic way to feed your guests is a small range of canapes.  These can be prepared earlier in the day and finished off, heated up, or simply served straight from fridge to plate. If you make it clear on the invite that you will be serving canapes then guests won't be expecting a full meal - canapés just line your stomach as you drink. An allowance of 5 canapes per person is reasonable, which is about the volume of 1 regular dinner plate.

Simple suggestions are: Smoked Salmon Blinis, Mini sausages in honey and sesame, Brie & Cranberry in filo pastry, Mini prawn cocktail in shot glass, Mini Lemon chicken kebab, Oven chips in paper cones, Mini Beef Wellington in filo pockets with horseradish.

Whilst it will need you to spend some time away from your guests, preparing these bites - once served and eaten - you can join in with the fun again. Try to recruit some help as well. Whilst you prep and plate, family or friends can walk around offering the canapés to guests.

tumbler glass cocktail orange peach with knife and cut cucumber

The main event
Knowing your guests and their drinking preferences is pretty key to getting this part of the evening right and it is very much season dependent.  Whatever you choose to drink, your choices will be very different for spring/summer compared with autumn/winter. Whatever you choose to serve, don't base it on what you like. You have to consider the whole group and in doing so, hopefully everyone will be happy with your selection and remember the 1 drink per hour per person rule when assessing quantities.

The obvious drink choices which keep costs down are red and white wine as they come in at £5-£10 a bottle and are high in alcohol at 10-14% ABV.  Again with Prosecco, you'll be looking at high ABV and around 6 servings per bottle.  

Spirit mixers are another economical choice to offer guests, with 28 measures from a regular bottle of spirits. Pair this with a crate of 24 soft drinks & you've got a near-perfect volume of spirits to mixers. This could cost you only £1.50 a drink! Supermarket own brand sodas are much cheaper than brands such as FeverTree - although they don't offer the wide and tasty range of flavours which the latter do. That's your call.

A final option (if your budget allows) could be you offer a couple of cocktails. Remember to keep them simple! Find cocktails which only require pouring over ice rather than shaking, because it saves on equipment costs, sticky surfaces & washing up. If you choose different base spirits in your cocktails then there is something for everyone to enjoy.

black cab taxi driving through london road large terraced homes and parked cars

Book the carriages

Don't rely on taxis last-minute & especially don't let any drunk guests drive home. Guaranteed your guests will leave with full bellies, a tad giddy, but definitely with smiles on their faces. You have been the hostess with the mostess and hopefully this party format has not only been kind to your bank balance, but also allowed you plenty of time to have loads of fun and catch up with everyone.