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When you’re planning out your wedding reception, one of the trickiest things you’ll need to plan is how much alcohol to have. Alcohol for your wedding will depend on how many guests you plan to have, how much these guests tend to drink, what type of wedding environment you’re aiming for and your expected budget. Our step-by-step process helps guide you through the logistics behind planning how much alcohol to have at your wedding.
Things to Consider
Before we dive into the different bar options and how to calculate the amount of alcohol you’ll need, there are a few things you should take into consideration. The time and day of the week of your wedding will influence the amount of alcohol people will want to drink. For example, attendees at a Friday night wedding will most likely drink much more than attendees at a Sunday daytime wedding. The personalities and tendencies of your guests should also be considered. If you know that your family can and will drink a lot of wine but will shy away from hard liquor, you should plan to have less hard liquor (if any at all) and more wine to compensate.
The type of wedding environment you’re hoping to have is also a major influencer in the amount and types of alcohol you supply. If you’re planning to have a classy, formal affair you’ll probably shy away from having an open bar so that people don’t get overly rowdy. If you want to have a big party that’s more casual, offering an open bar or many types of alcohol would be more appropriate. Of course, your budget is one of the biggest factors in your decision-making process so if you’re not planning to allocate a large part of your wedding budget to alcohol, you most likely won’t choose to go with an open bar.
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If you want to ensure there’s ample alcohol to go around but also stay within a reasonable budget, opting for beer and wine only is a cheaper alternative. You can also offer limited options to avoid buying many different kinds of alcohols. When offering limited options, remember that you don’t need to cater to everyone’s preferences. After all, this is your wedding and the spirits you choose to serve should reflect your personalities in addition to what your friends and family enjoy.
One final thing to consider is that some venues do not hold the proper liquor licenses to serve hard alcohol. Make sure you double check with your venue before hiring a full bar.
Types of Bars
An open bar is when the bride and groom prepay for their guests to enjoy unlimited drinks for the duration for which the bar is paid for. This is the most expensive bar option for your wedding because you will need to have many different types of alcohols and mixers as well as an experienced bartender who will serve your guests drinks. Though pricey, it is the best option if you have a lot of guests who will drink quite a bit and would be better suited with a variety of alcohols.
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A cash bar is where you have a fully hosted bar but instead of you paying for the drinks, the guests pay for the drinks as they consume them. Many couples choose to have a cash bar in addition to providing champagne and wine for toasts and dinner so that they are not responsible for footing the entire alcohol bill. Though this is a way to cut costs at your wedding, it is generally frowned upon to have a cash bar at your wedding. You wouldn’t have a dinner party at your home and then ask your guests to pay for the meal, would you?
A limited bar is when the bride and groom pay for all of the alcohol, but serve only a limited number of types of drinks so that they don’t need to pay for a bunch of different kinds of alcohol. For example, serving champagne for toasts, beer and wine for dinner and a signature cocktail or two will be much more affordable than offering an open bar.
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The Signature Cocktail
Having a signature cocktail or a themed cocktail is becoming a more prevalent option in modern weddings today. If your wedding has an overall theme, having a cocktail to go along with it is a fun addition. For example, a rustic barn wedding might have an old fashioned as the signature drink, while a Roaring Twenties themed wedding might have mint juleps. Not only are these a fun way to add to the feel and ambiance of your wedding, but it’s a great way to control the amount of alcohol and supplies you’ll need to purchase for the wedding. It’s also a cheaper alternative as you’ll get to buy in bulk.
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Beer and Wine vs. Hard Liquor
As we mentioned earlier, some venues may not hold the appropriate licenses to serve hard liquor. If this is the case, you will have to stick to “soft” liquors, such as beer, wine and champagne. Today, many weddings stick to just beer and wine only to keep things simple, more cost-effective and prevent the crowd from getting too rowdy.
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If you’re having a signature cocktail, simply having beer and wine to accompany it is completely acceptable and very common. If you’re set on having hard liquor at your wedding, choosing a limited bar with just a few different types and brands of alcohol would be more cost-effective than hosting a full open bar. Think about the guests you have invited and what types of alcohol they will like to drink. If you know that your friends all love whiskey but stay away from tequila, there is no reason for you to purchase any tequila at all. Make sure you get plenty of the preferred brand and the appropriate mixers. Finally, if your concern is that your guests will drink too much, ask your bartender not to serve shots and to cut people off at his own discretion.
Who Supplies The Alcohol?
Many wedding and reception venues, such as hotels and restaurants, require you to coordinate alcohol through them. This is oftentimes included in the contract as a Food & Beverage cost, usually quoted per person or as a minimum total cost. Caterers will also typically request you coordinate alcohol through them, and they will either handle the process themselves or, if they do not have a liquor license, they will work with a vendor for you. If you have chosen a vendor that requires you to supply alcohol for your wedding through them, then they will take your requests and provide the appropriate amount of alcohol for your wedding.
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If your venue allows you to supply your own liquor, you will have to spend some time doing the math and deciding exactly what types of alcohol you want to have. Some venues will charge you a corkage fee, which is a flat rate fee per bottle opened, but if you are able to purchase your alcohol at a wholesale price you will still save an incredible amount.
How Much Alcohol Should I Buy?
Now that you have decided to purchase your own alcohol for your wedding, here are the necessary steps you’ll need to take to make sure you have a successful bar:
1. Decide what types of alcohol you want
Will you be serving beer and wine only with a champagne toast? Will you offer a signature cocktail and if so, what will it be? Will you provide a few different spirit options for your guests and if so, what types and what brands? What kinds of mixers and garnishes will you provide?
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A good rule of thumb is to have two options for each type of alcohol. For example, you could offer a light beer and a darker beer, a well vodka and Grey Goose, a pinot noir and a merlot and a chardonnay and a sauvignon blanc.
2. Determine the quantity to purchase
The amount of each alcohol you buy depends on the number of guests you’ll have and when you want to serve drinks. However, the actual amount that will be consumed is impossible to predict and it’s better to have extra than not enough.
If you’re doing a champagne toast and don’t expect to drink anymore champagne afterwards, one bottle for every 8 guests is sufficient. Toast glasses don’t need to be completely full so be sure to instruct your servers to fill the glasses up only 1/3 or 1/2 of the way. So, if you have 100 guests, you’ll want to have 13 bottles of champagne.
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A good rule of thumb for the amount of beer, wine and liquor to buy is to assume each guest will consume about two drinks for the cocktail hour and one drink per hour every hour after that. You’ll need to calculate how much of each item you’ll need.
If you have 100 guests, purchasing 7 cases of beer (24 bottles per case = 168 bottles) will most likely be more than sufficient as not everyone will want to drink beer. In general, evening receptions tend to consume more red wine than white wine. Each bottle of wine is 5 glasses of wine, so if you think your guests will consume red and white wine evenly then 12 bottles of each (one case each) will be sufficient (5 glasses per bottle x 24 bottles = 120 glasses). Of course, if you know your guests are big wine drinkers you’ll need to adjust accordingly.
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Sorting out the number of bottles of liquor you’ll need is a little trickier, given that there are more options and it’s difficult to gauge what your guests will feel like drinking when the time comes. If you choose to have a signature cocktail, make sure you have enough to serve each guest one per hour for the duration of the reception. So, if you have 100 guests and your reception is scheduled to last three hours, you’ll need at least 300 servings of your cocktail. If you have chosen to go with a limited bar and have selected your brands and types of spirits, you can do the math by assuming each 750ml bottle of liquor has 18 servings in it. Again, you know your guests best so do your best to estimate which liquors will be more popular and purchase more of it as needed. If you’re unsure how much of each type of liquor to buy, purchasing 4 bottles of vodka, 2 bottles of gin, 2 bottles of rum, 2 bottles of bourbon and 1 bottle of scotch should be enough to satisfy your guests.
3. Don’t forget the extras
In addition to the actual alcohol, you’ll also need mixers and garnishes. You can forgo the garnishes if you’d like, but some cocktails are simply better with an olive or a zesty orange peel. For each bottle of spirits, you’ll want to buy three bottles of mixers. Common mixers include soda water, tonic water, cranberry juice, cola, Sprite and ginger ale. You’re also going to need plenty of ice. You can estimate about 1 pound of ice per person.
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4. Make a shopping list
Given our calculations above, here is your shopping list for a wedding of 100 people:
- 13 bottles of champagne
- 12 bottles of red wine
- 12 bottles of white wine
- 7 cases of beer (24 bottles per case)
- 4 bottles of vodka
- 2 bottles of gin
- 2 bottles of rum
- 2 bottles of bourbon
- 1 bottle of scotch
- 33 containers of assorted mixers
- 100 pounds of ice
- Garnishes as needed
So there you have it! This is just a sample shopping list for a generic 100-person wedding. We emphasize the fact that you know your guests best and so you should adjust the shopping list as needed. Remember that this is your wedding and your guests will appreciate whatever drinks you offer them for free.