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Cheers! | Hosting a Happy Hour at Home

Hosting a happy hour is one of my favorite ways to entertain; the name “happy hour” just sounds like it will be a good time. It’s a low-pressure, low-commitment alternative to the traditional dinner party, for both the host and the guests. Most importantly, it accomplishes the main goal, which is to reconnect with friends you may not have seen in a while. Keeping some simple tips in mind can make this kind of entertaining easy, budget-friendly, stress-free and, most importantly, fun. For the cocktails, you may get the wines you need from a local wine store.


Happy hour is usually from 5 to 7 p.m. Make it clear when you invite your guests, via email, text or evite, that it’s ok if they have dinner plans afterwards, and that they can drop in any time during that period. This way they’ll understand they won’t be served an entire meal, and it increases the chance that friends will stop by, even for a little while.

Oven Roasted Garlic Butter Shrimp
If you feel like cooking, make something super easy and flavorful, like this shrimp recipe.

  • 2 pounds extra-large or jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 tablespoons butter, softened
  • Pinch of freshly chopped parsley for garnish (optional) 1/2 lemon

Place the shrimp in a 13×9 pan and toss with the oil, salt, pepper and garlic. Roast at 350 degrees for 6 to 8 minutes, just until the shrimp are pink and cooked through. Immediately add the butter and stir until melted. Pour into a large shallow bowl, sprinkle with a bit of parsley if desired, and squeeze the lemon juice over all.

Toss and serve with toothpicks and slices of baguette to mop up the juices.

One of my favorite quotes from noted chef Ina Garten is, “Food is not about impressing people. In fact, it’s just the opposite: it’s about making them feel comfortable.” I find that if I am a relaxed host, my guests are comfortable and enjoy themselves no matter what food I serve. Some of my happy hours that turned out to be the most fun were impromptu affairs, made possible by items I already had on hand.

Items that every well-stocked kitchen should have for drop-in guests are foods that have a long shelf life in the pantry and go well with a cocktail or a glass of wine: think olives, nuts, mini-pickles and crackers. A wedge of cheese is also easy to keep on hand in your deli drawer. Just arrange the snacks in pretty bowls or on a large platter and serve with some napkins and small plates.

Of course, if you have more time and want to be a little “extra,” the sky is the limit. If I plan a happy hour ahead of time, I like to make an overflowing charcuterie board using a big wooden lazy Susan or a large wooden cutting board saved just for these purposes. You can also use any large, flat platter.

Elements of a great charcuterie board include a variety of flavors and textures. For a basic arrangement, start with a bunch of grapes or a pile of strawberries, slightly off-center to add interest, color and height. Then place four different kinds of cheese around the platter with a small spreader or cheese knife for each cheese: soft (goat, Brie, or Boursin), stinky (blue, Camembert), semi-hard, (cheddar, Havarti, Gruyere), and hard (manchego, Parmigiano-Reggiano, aged Gouda).

Next place condiments in little bowls or jars, such as fruit paste or jam, or honey and a good stone-ground mustard. Add cured meats like slices of salami and prosciutto, as well as crackers and baguette slices. You can also include olives and cornichons, placed in small shallow dishes so the crackers don’t get soggy.

Even though your board is likely very full by now, fill in with nuts such as Marcona or smoked almonds or roasted macadamia nuts, and dried fruit like cherries, apricots or figs. You can also include some fresh veggies like baby carrots and cherry tomatoes, until it looks plentiful but not messy.

1, 2, 3 Grapefruit Cocktail
This easy cocktail is a personal favorite, and makes a delicious “mocktail” without the alcohol.

  • 1 part grapefruit vodka, such as Deep Eddy’s
  • 2 parts club soda
  • 3 squeezes lime juice

Combine, stir, then add a few ice cubes.

Wine is a classic offering at happy hour. Keep it light, such as a white, rose or pinot noir, since most people prefer heavier wines with dinner. It’s good to offer beer and hard seltzer since it’s so popular right now, and it’s easy enough to keep some stocked in fridge. Alternately, you could offer one special cocktail, either as a make-ahead, big-batch pitcher drink that guests can serve themselves, or set up a small bar with just enough ingredients for guests to make their own.

Put on some great music at a volume where people can relax and talk easily. If there are presentations or live performances, make sure to set up a portable stage. Arrange the food on a kitchen table, island or coffee table so people can sit around it and nibble as they talk. If you expect a larger crowd, you can set up food in a few different locations to provide cozy, intimate settings for your guests. Also, if the weather cooperates, take it outside on the patio or deck. Cheers to some great happy hours in your future!

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