What am I supposed to do at a “cocktail party”?

Cocktail parties are typical American gatherings, usually starting at 5:00 p.m. or so, to which large numbers of people are invited and for which no gift is really necessary. These parties may be accompanied by simple hors d’oeuvres (nachos, shrimp, cheese and crackers, pickles, dips for vegetables and chips) or a generous buffet (often with cold cuts, cheese, fruit and some hors d’oeuvres).

Guests are usually greeted at the front door by the host or hostess and arrangements are made for the guest to have a drink. If the host or hostess is not occupied, he or she may take you around and introduce you to the other guests, but at some point you will be on your own. Feel free to sit, wander around, take food and drinks and meet people.

It is expected that guests will walk up to others, introduce themselves and find something to talk about. If all of the guests are from the same workplace, they will at least recognize other faces. But even if they are meeting others for the first time, they should not stand by shyly. Everyone else is probably in the same situation.

As you stop by to pick up an hors d’oeuvre or refill your plate at the buffet, you can strike up a conversation with a stranger about how good the food is or simply begin, “I don’t believe we’ve met yet. I’m Jack Smith and our host Bob and I work together. How do you know our hosts?” The conversation may be long and enjoyable, but the purpose of such a party is to “circulate” and meet lots of people. For further suggestions, see the answers to the next two questions.