There's nothing like a cocktail hour for socializing and networking in a relaxed, leisurely setting. New acquaintances are made and old ones rekindled. Job openings are circulated, and the seeds of many successful business dealings are planted.

Remember that these events should allow people to talk. Keep the music soft and in the background, and save the loud music for the closing evening event when everyone is all talked out.

Bars take up a lot of floor space at these events because you need room to store back-up stock, ice, and coolers to hold beer and some wines. You also need to allocate enough working space for the bartenders and, if applicable, cocktail servers. Generally speaking, the smallest possible portable bar measures approximately 6 feet by 7 feet, or about 42 square feet. However, more typically, when you take into account the aisle and other space needed, you should plan on using at least 150 square feet for a portable banquet-bar setup.

If you are setting up portable bars for a large function, you might be able to reduce the space needed if you can arrange them in pairs. For instance, two or four portable bars back-to-back in the middle of the function room can share a common area where glassware, ice, wines, beers, and so forth are stored. This eliminates duplicate storage areas and frees up floor space.

Pass the Hors D'oeuvres

Just as important as the drinks is the food. At the very least, include a few hors d'oeuvres or dry snacks. With increasing host and property liability, holding an event that offers only alcoholic beverages can leave you ripe for liability lawsuits should a liquor-related incident occur. (For more on alcohol liability, see page 32.)

Trends in hors d'oeuvres include items that leave no trash (stems, shrimp tails, bones, etc.); fewer UFOs (unidentified fried objects); and food on sticks — everything from salmon lollipops to cheesecake bites. For upscale events, for example, consider scallop corn dogs. A Shrimtini is one jumbo shrimp served in a cordial glass half full of cocktail sauce; rare ahi tuna slices can be attractively presented in martini glasses. One-bite finger food is best, as guests generally eat about a third more if there are plates. Foods that will be passed on trays by servers must be easy to handle and able to hold up well.

Patti J. Shock, CPCE, is professor and director of distance learning, Harrah College of Hotel Administration, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. To learn more about her, visit http://hotel.unlv.edu/hotelweb/shock.html, or send an e-mail to patti.shock@unlv.edu.

Major Margins

For your negotiations, it's important to know about beverage profit margins, particularly when it comes to wine. Most hotels have a separate department in charge of ordering, storing, and serving of all liquor, beer, wine, and soft drinks. The profit margin on beverages is much higher than the profit margin for food. A $20 bottle of wine might cost an operator $10. Even though the bottle of wine has a 50 percent cost, the operator makes a $10 gross profit.

Wines on the Web

THE WINE LOVERS PAGE shows what types of wine go with a wide variety of food. It also has a wine lexicon and a wine label decoder: www.wine-lovers-page.com

EPICURIOUS has a drink search page, with recipes ranging from Almond Lattes to Zombies: www.epicurious.com/drinking/