No matter which progressive dinner party course you've been charged with coordinating, it should begin something like this: Greet guests as if they are the only people on earth you wish to see at that exact moment in time -- and then offer them a drink.
We're not talking complicated mixologist maneuvers here, just immediate access to the libation of their choice. A few moderately priced bottles of wine and a pitcher of signature drinks should do the trick. Just give your custom cocktail a theme-appropriate nickname, and use fresh-squeezed ingredients to give it vibrant color and flavor.
Sangria is simple to make for a crowd. Just combine a bottle of red wine with 1 cup Grand Marnier, 2 cups orange juice, 1 cup fresh lime juice and 4 tablespoons sugar. Then add about 1 cup each of various sliced fruits: lemons, oranges and whatever else is in season. Swirl in a couple cinnamon sticks, chill, pour over ice and voila -- a house cocktail. Plus, it can (and should) be made ahead of time so the flavors can meld -- just strain out the steeped fruit if it's not as pretty the next day, and/or add a few fresh slices for garnish.
Or whip up a pitcher of skinny margaritas. Bartender Darrell Autrey of Georgia-based Bowties & Shirtsleeves Consulting says that for every four guests, you can combine 1 cup silver tequila, 3/4 cup fresh lime juice and 6 tablespoons agave nectar (which is 40 percent sweeter than sugar) in a large pitcher with ice. To serve, drop thin slices of jalapeno into each glass or garnish with a split pepper.
For a non-alcoholic drink that still packs a visual punch, stir up some ginger-pineapple sparkling punch. Though great on its own, it's delightfully easy to rev up with a splash of gin. If you're serving the dessert course, offer a couple of chilled dessert wines, as well as coffee (Irish cream optional).
Keep white wine bottles and cocktail pitchers nestled in a tub of ice so guests can refill at will; a strategically convenient placement will lend a comfy air of abundance to your party. Plus, when guests can pour their own drinks you can get out from behind the bar and do what you were meant to: Play host -- or hostess -- during what's sure to be one of the year's most memorable parties.