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How to handle cocktails


SOMETIME ago I attended a cocktail reception for professional women. All the women seemed polished until it was time to eat.

Nonto Masuku

Generally, at a cocktail, the waiters/waitresses move around with trays of canapés and hors d’oeuvres.

Guests make selections from these trays. Most of the times there is a range of canapés to pick from and each guest should pick at least one of each item.

At this particular cocktail however, all the guests had been catered for, but the canapés were disappearing before everyone had been served. Upon closer inspection, it was noted that a particular group of women was hoarding their favourite canapés leaving nothing for everyone else.

Cocktail party panache is easily mastered. In this article I highlight a few simple rules that can help you make impressive first impressions.

  •  Know the purpose of the event: Panache starts well before you arrive at any function. You need to understand why you are attending an event. Reading the invitation thoroughly and knowing the purpose of the event will also give you a topic from which to start conversations.
  • Keep conversation clean: Avoid any sexual innuendoes. Excessive flirting is not appropriate, especially at a business-related affair. Also, steer clear of taboo topics like malicious gossip, religion, politics and anything too personal.
  • Guidelines for eating and drinking: At a business cocktail party, the idea is not to binge and appease your appetite but rather to network and meet potential clients.


– Do not eat or drink on an empty stomach. Eating before the event will help you focus more on the people there and not your stomach.

– Avoid excessive drinking to avoid the risk of losing control or being indiscreet.

– At the bar or food station, select what you want and move away.

– The right hand should always be kept free to shake hands with guests. Food, drink and napkin go into the left hand.

– Do not fill your plate to overflowing.

– Avoid foods that are messy, dippy or drippy and generally difficult to eat gracefully.

– Chilled drinks served in wine glasses should be held by the stem, never the bowl of the glass, so as to avoid heating the drink.

  • Do not take everybody’s photo:  With iPhones, smartphones and all manner of mobile devices nowadays, it is so easy to take pictures and videos of everything you see.

Be aware that not everybody likes to have their photo taken and further, not everybody wants to end up on your Facebook page. Respect the privacy concerns of others at cocktail parties by only taking photos of those you know well and be sure to ask them first.

Nonto Masuku is an executive director of an image management consultancy firm

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