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A cocktail party is a party where cocktails are served.

Although many believe the inventor of the cocktail party to be Alec Waugh of London, who in 1924 found a need for this pleasant interlude before a dinner party, an article in the St. Paul Pioneer Press credits Mrs. Julius S. Walsh Jr. of St. Louis, Missouri. Mrs. Walsh invited 50 guests to her house on a Sunday at high noon for a one hour affair. "The party scored an instant hit," the St. Paul Pioneer Press declared. And within a matter of weeks, cocktail parties became "a St. Louis institution".

Cocktail hour has been used as a marketing technique by restaurants and hotels as a means of attracting patrons in the hours between 4pm-6pm.

When planning for a cocktail party, many experts on entertaining suggest hosts should assume at least three beverages per guest, unlike a dinner or reception where heavier foods are expected to be served and fewer mixed drinks are served. A cocktail party may include a variety of finger foods, light snacks or even heavy hors d'ouvres, but the primary focus is generally on cocktails, good conversation and music, not on the food.

A well-planned cocktail party is often an exciting blend of social mixer and night on the town. Meeting new people can be much easier under the relaxed atmosphere of a cocktail party. A good cocktail party host should provide a selection of soft drinks and non-alcoholic versions of popular cocktails to designated drivers and those who choose not to drink alcohol for personal or religious reasons.