Along with food, drinks are a key component to a successful celebration. Regardless if you’re serving lemonade or Dom Perignon, the universal rule is to keep the cold drinks flowing without a wait time at the bar. Beyond that, however, things can seem a bit more confusing as you contemplate what to serve at the wedding bar. How many bags of ice do you need? What’s the difference between a consumption bar and an open bar? Do you need to serve champagne for a toast? We have all the answers you need plus a number of helpful charts and checklists.
First up, a primer on terms…
Open Bar -An open bar is just as it sounds – wide open for guests to have whatever drink is offered. You, as the hosts, pay a flat-fee for the bar to the hotel/restaurant/caterer, regardless of how much is consumed.
Consumption Bar – Bartenders keep a running tab of what is ordered throughout the event and you, the hosts, pay the bar bill at the end of the night. Guests do not pay and are free to choose whatever drinks are being offered.
Cash Bar – Guests pay for their drinks. Please try to avoid this option at all costs. Guests are invited to share in your celebration and should not be expected to pay for their food or drink.
Dry House – If you or your family don’t drink alcohol, you can certainly serve sodas, water, juices and lemonades. Consider including a sparkling non-alcoholic cider for a toast
Keeping the drinks flowing can get costly, however, there are creative ways to keep the budget down…
Skip the Top Shelf – After the first drink or so, most people are not going to know if they’re sipping Grey Goose or Absolut in their Screwdriver so opt for the lower cost house brands.
Shots, Shots, Shots – Nothing racks up the bar bill faster than rounds of shots. If you’re having a consumption bar, consider either having NO shots allowed or having a cheaper bottle of tequila or vodka specifically for shots. Work out with the bar to charge by the bottle, rather than individual shots.
Toast the Sparkling – Nowhere is it written that you must serve champagne or sparkling wine for the wedding toasts. Although it has become a tradition, it’s perfectly fine to have guests raise their glasses with whatever they’re drinking, be it a beer, wine or even water. Most people don’t care for champagne and will have a small sip only, leaving the wait staff to toss out the remainder, literally throwing money down the drain.
Limit the Options – Rather than offering every cocktail or alcohol possible, scale down to beer, wine, selected hard liquors and perhaps a signature cocktail that uses limited ingredients. Still need to scale down? Consider keeping it to beer, wine and sodas.
BYOB – Depending on your venue, you might be able to bring in your own alcohol, beer and wine which can save quite a bit on the wedding bar tab. Note that they likely will charge you a corkage fee for every bottle of wine or alcohol they open (usually around $10) but the savings can still be substantial, especially if you stock up whenever you see a sale during your engagement. Another idea is to have a Stock the Bar Shower, where guests gift you with bottles rather than kitchen or bath items.
Keep it Simple – If you are stocking it yourself, the fewer ingredients you need for cocktails, the more money you’ll save. Offering Mojitos, Margaritas, Martinis, Moscow Mules, requires a variety of supplies as well as specialty glasses. Same goes for wines. If the budget is tight, opt for one white (Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio are safe bets) and one red (Cabernet Sauvignon appeals to most palates). For beers, have one easy drinking lighter beer and one heavier, like an IPA.
Brewskies – Speaking of beers, opt for bottled beers, as kegs and cans scream Frat Party. If the budget allows, offer a few suds, such as a light beer, imported, domestic and maybe a couple of local microbrews.
Specialty Cocktail – Another way to cut back on the wedding bar costs is to offer a specialty cocktail rather than a variety of mixed drinks. Opt for something with fresh juice and herbs, with a refreshing flavor profile. Steer clear of sweet drinks, like Pina Coladas, as the high sugar content is more suited to sipping around a pool than being the drink of choice throughout the night.
Limit the Cocktail Hour – Instead of having a full bar for cocktail hour, consider offering beer, wine and one or two specialty cocktails. Usually, the first two hours of an event are when people drink the heaviest (on average two drinks per hour, dropping down to one drink per hour at the third hour) so a limited bar can help keep costs down.
Cut Back on Roaming Cocktails – Rather than having waiters passing around with trays of cocktails and glasses of wine at cocktail hour, have a limited number pre-poured so there is limited wastage. If your group is larger than 50 people, consider having a smaller satellite bar just for beers, wines and sodas.
A few other things to consider…
50% of guests will prefer wine, 30% beer, 20% mixed drinks
If you’re only serving beer and wine, plan on 60% drinking wine and 40% drinking beer
If it’s hot, people will drink more white wine than red and more beer than mixed drinks
For every liter of hard liquor, you’ll need 3 liters of mixer (sodas, juices)
Don’t forget to have water, ice, ice buckets, ice chests/coolers, cocktail napkins, stir sticks, glassware, garbage bins and bags. Check out this handy chart if you’re DIYíng the bar (courtesy http://cleverpartiesblog.com/bar-basics/bar-shopping-list-6/):
1 bottle of wine = 5 glasses
1 bottle of champagne = 8 glasses
1 bottle of hard liquor = 18 drinks
1 case of wine = 12 bottles
1 case of beer = 24 bottles
1 waiter per 25 guests
1 bartender for every 50 guests
Not sure how much wine, beer and liquor you’ll need? Check out this helpful calculator
Don’t set up the bar by the entrance as it will create a bottleneck. Have one near the dance floor so guests can refuel without having to leave the vicinity.
An idea of how to stock a basic bar for 100 guests (no specialty cocktails):
- 10 bottles of vodka
- 6 bottles each of gin and rum
- 4 bottles of scotch
- 2 bottles each of whiskey, bourbon, tequila and Triple Sec
- 2 bottles of vermouth.
- 2 cases of beer
- 3 to 4 cases (36 to 48 bottles) of white wine
- 2 to 3 cases (24 to 36 bottles) of red wine.
- 2 cases (24 bottles) of champagne
- Plus mixers
If you’re DIYing the bar, download our checklist here Barchecklist so you don’t overlook any supplies.
Questions for your Bartenders/Venue
Depending on your location, you may have the bar staff included (ie hotel, restaurant) or you may have to hire an independent bartending company. Either way, this set of questions will help ensure everyone is on the same page. I’ve included them all in this PDFWhattoAskyourBartender.
- Do you have my date available?
- Have you worked at my location before?
- How long have you been in business? How many events do you typically do a weekend?
- Are you licensed?
- What type of insurance do you carry?
- Are there any permits needed for my wedding? If so, will you handle them or is it our (the couple’s) responsibility?
- Do you include all the glassware and bar set up (wine keys, shakers, knives, tables, tablecloths, coolers)? If so, do you have photos of what is included?
- Can we bring in our own alcohol or wine? If so, what is the fee? Is it a fee per person or per bottle?
- Do you have any signature cocktails?
- Do you provide cocktail tastings? If so, pricing?
- What is covered in your clean up?
- How do you charge for the bar – flat per person fee or based on consumption? Pricing?
- If you provide the alcohol, what brands do you serve?
- What brands of wine will you serve?
- What brands of beer will you serve?
- Is wine included with dinner and will your staff serve table side?
- Is a champagne/sparkling wine toast for dinner included? Pricing?
- How long will you serve alcohol for?
- What will be the bartenders per guest ratio?
- How will the bartenders be dressed?
- Do we need to provide them with a meal?
- Do you have a zero drinking policy for your staff (meaning no drinking alcohol on shift)?
- Are service charges and taxes included or separate line items? What fees are charged? Are there any additional fees that may not be included in the proposal that we need to be aware of?
- What time does service end? If we run overtime, what are the fees?
- How much time do you need for set up on the day? Break down?
- Is there any special equipment you need or have to rent in order to execute our wedding? If so, is there an additional fee?
- How do you ensure we don’t have intoxicated guests?
- When is the cut-off date for final guest counts?
- What is your payment policy?
- How much of a deposit do you require to secure booking? When is final payment due?
- How long does it take to receive your contract? If we make any changes to the menu choices, etc. how long will it take for a revised copy?
- What is your cancellation policy?
- Can you please provide us with recent client references?
And there you have it – everything you need to ensure your wedding bar is a success. Cheers!