There's no doubt about it; people love the element of fun. Most believe that the amusement is the glue that bonds all other elements of a cocktail party. In accordance with human nature, most people are apprehensive and uncomfortable at social gatherings, but the amusement breaks the ice and gives guests something in common.
You'll have to determine the level of amusement that is appropriate for your cocktail party. This will depend on the type of cocktail party that you are hosting. Remember that an amusement doesn't have to be outrageous. It can be simple and subtle, like the way food or drink is presented. The goal is to create an environment in which people are surprised and delighted.
Keep in mind that some amusements fall under the category of entertainment, and as everyone knows, you have to pay for entertainment. Most hosts don't think twice about the cost, because they know that this will be the extra special thing that guests will keep talking about for a long time. Here are a few ideas:
Disposable cameras: People love photos, so place disposable cameras around, and guests can snap their own. Have special containers for the cameras with a clipboard and pen tied to them and a note asking guests to provide their e-mail address if they'd like to see the photos. There are many places on the Web where you can upload the photos for free to share them with people (as described in Appendix A). When you get the photos developed, make sure that you ask for them on CD so you've got digital files to upload.
Polaroid photos: Why not hire a friendly face to work the room, taking Polaroid photos to give your guests instant souvenirs of your cocktail party?
Clever nametags: If your party guests have never met each other, provide nametags for everyone at the door. Instead of having them just say, “Hi, my name is,” add a special suggestion below the name that says, “Ask me about.” Guests can fill in the “ask me about” blank with an interest or unusual hobby. This is a great icebreaker and conversation starter. You can have these name tags made especially for you at your local printer. Just tell them what you want the labels to say, and specify that you'd like to have them printed on crack-n-peel paper (sticker paper).
Jukebox: Rent a jukebox and let guests have fun choosing their own music.
Fortune-teller: Hiring a fortune-teller may seem old hat, but deep down, people really like it. Try to provide a mysterious area for the psychic, with dim lights and translucent hangings, so that guests can barely see what's going on. This creates a buzz about the room.
Celebrity look-alike: Live actors are the best. They add such life to a party that you will have guests talking for days. You can call up your local entertainment company, ask around, or put a flyer up around your local college drama department.
Live musical entertainment: Depending on the size of your cocktail party, you can have a one-, two-, or three-piece band—or more— to entertain your guests.
Artist: The most popular idea is to hire a caricature artist. People simply love to see themselves turned into a cartoon.
Color: Making your cocktail party a “color” cocktail party is fun. Guests show up in a certain color, and the drinks can be that color as well. People love the whole concept of color.