How to Set Up a Bar for Your Holiday Party

Hosting holiday parties is one of our favorite ways to get together with friends and family during this festive time of year, but often the to-do list for party prep can feel a million miles long. Plus, once your guests have arrived, there’s a lot of pressure to be sure the bar is stocked, the trays are filled, and everyone is enjoying themselves!

Make things easier on yourself by setting up your bar in advance. That way, your only task on the day-of is to have fun.

How to set up a bar for a holiday party

1. Pick Your Poison

Start by deciding what kind of drinks you want to serve. Do you prefer a full bar so guests can make their favorite cocktail? Do you want to keep things simple with wine and beer? Will you be making a signature cocktail?

Each option has its pros and cons and requires different approaches to stocking the bar.

2. Stock Up

No matter what types of drinks you’ll be serving, you want to be sure you have all of the necessary supplies. For wine and beer, your beer options will most likely be in cans or bottles, but you’ll need plenty of goblets for wine. We like to use stemless wine glasses whenever possible because they’re less likely to topple over and take up less room.

And don’t forget a bottle opener and corkscrew!

If you’ll be serving a full bar, you’ll want to have jiggers, stirrers, an ice bucket, and shakers, plus plenty of mixers. Everyone makes their favorite cocktail a little differently, so be sure you have everything they’ll need. You don’t want them to have to hunt you down in the middle of the party to find a strainer! And don’t forget lemons and limes.

See our Bar Cart Essentials Checklist, and shop all glassware.

Serve a signature cocktail at a holiday party in a punch bowl3. Signature Style

We love how festive a signature cocktail feels, no matter what type of party you’re throwing! Not only are they a fun way for guests to get in the spirit, but they’re easy to make and don’t require a ton of work. Just mix up your favorite drink (some drinks you can even make a day in advance), pour it in a punch bowl, and set out plenty of glassware. 

Bunny Williams loves to serve Milk Punch — a Southern classic with milk and brandy or bourbon — at her Christmas party. Here’s her recipe.

4. Pop the Bubbly

Nothing says ‘party’ like a bottle of champagne, so if you don’t feel like mixing a signature cocktail, a few bottles of sparkling wine can bring that same festive feel. You don’t even need a corkscrew!

5. Sips and Sweets

Champagne and dessert make the perfect pairing, so host a dessert only party and bring these two elements together. Just be sure you aren’t throwing your party during meal times — think late afternoon or even an after party.

6. Small Spaces

Even small space dwellers can throw a rockin’ holiday party, so long as you think strategically. Host your party at a time when guests won’t need to be fed, this way you don’t need a large buffet. Simple hors d’oeuvres work great and can be placed throughout your space. Set out a few plates on your coffee table, a few in the kitchen, and some on a console table.

If you have a small space, a bar cart is your best friend. We especially love the ones designed to store barware. Be sure your bar cart has plenty of glasses and enough empty space for guests to put their drink down. There’s nothing more frustrating than a surface that’s so overrun with stuff that you can’t put down your glass to refill!

See tips for Entertaining in a Small Space.

7. Styling Your Bar

Now for the fun part! For a holiday party, it’s important to add some festive elements throughout your home, especially the bar. Just be sure you don’t take up valuable space with tons of holiday tchotkes cluttering up real estate guests will need for making their drink. Instead, we like to hang things over the bar. A wreath over a mirror or piece of art works beautifully. Or tie garland or ribbon around chandeliers and sconces. Basically, add simple touches to your existing decor that will make an impact without adding clutter.

8. Kid-Friendly Festivities

Will children be at your holiday party? If so, consider adding a hot chocolate bar to the mix! Some gourmet hot chocolate and tons of toppings are a great activity for your littlest guests, and don’t be surprised if the grown ups get excited about hot cocoa too.

3 Tips for Setting Up a Hot Chocolate Bar

9. Alcohol Free Options

While we’re on the topic of non-alcoholic beverages, be sure you have plenty of options for any friends or family members who don’t drink. You certainly don’t want anyone to be stuck drinking tap water when everyone else is celebrating!

Find more holiday hosting ideas on our blog, shop for tabletop essentials at Ballard Designs, or browse our favorite entertaining pins on Pinterest.

Caroline McDonald

Caroline lives for pairing together patterns, mixing furniture styles, and oogling over our newest furniture pieces. As you can imagine, her little 1920's craftsman is in a constant state of flux. Here on How to Decorate, it's her goal to help you turn your home into your own little slice of paradise.