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Our Ultimate Guide to The Wedding Bar

By Rebecca Padgett


While the wedding ceremony is a celebration of unwavering love and a commitment to forever, the reception is one big party. And what gets a party started and keeps it going more than libations? Bar service might have you all warm and fuzzy after the wedding, but it can be a headache trying to figure out all of the logistics beforehand. So here are five key questions to ask yourself in order to find the libation situation that best suits your wedding.

1. How Many Guests?

Fortunately, this is Step 1 in determining most aspects of your wedding. Once you compile your guest list, you will have a number and a good idea of who your guests are — which answers the next few questions.

2. What Kind of Bar?

There are four main types of bar options available for weddings: open bar, limited bar, cash bar or a dry wedding.

  • Open Bar: By far the most popular option amongst guests. This option is a true crowd pleaser as it allows guests to drink as much or as little as they would like. Open bars are typically full bars or close to full bars, offering guests a variety of beer, wine and liquor options. The big appeal is that it’s free for guests and seemingly endless. The drawback for the couple is that it’s the most expensive option, and there is always the fear of running out. When in doubt, buy or select more than you think you will need. This option is usually best handled by a catering company or bar service that is equipped for such large events.
  • Limited Bar: Typically this choice will include just beer and wine but can also feature signature cocktails. Again, everything is free. Limited bars are the easiest to buy your own alcohol for.
  • Cash Bar: This option is not popular for guests as they have to pay to drink. This should really only be an option if alcohol prices don’t fit in your budget, but your guests still wish to imbibe.
  • Dry Wedding: If you, your family or your friends don’t drink, this is an option that could be ideal for your wedding. There are also some venues that do not allow alcohol to be served on the premises.
Photo by Woodland Fields Photography

3. What Kind of Alcohol? 

Take into consideration who is on your guest list. Are they mostly wine drinkers? Do they prefer beer? Is liquor more their speed? Think of this as a pie chart separated into percentages — 50% wine, 25% beer, 25% liquor … or 60% liquor, 30% wine, 10% beer and so on.


4. How Long Will It Be? 

This is a big determinant in how much you might need. Will you have a cocktail hour? How long will the reception be? Will the bar be available the full time? Let’s say you have an hour-long cocktail hour and then a four-hour reception. On average, guests would drink one drink per hour. So, that is five drinks per guest. Of course, there are those who will drink much less, much more or none at all.

Photo by Woodland Fields Photography

5. How Much Alcohol Will You Need?

Here is some knowledge on how many servings are in a variety of containers.

  • A 750 milliliter bottle of wine: 4-5 servings
  • A 750 milliliter bottle of champagne: 12 servings
  • A 750 milliliter bottle of liquor: 20 drinks
  • A keg can hold 165 servings

With this in mind, take the party time, the guest total and approximate number of drinks to get a rough estimate of how much alcohol you might need. If you want to know how much money you are spending, but like me, don’t want to do the math, there are plenty of online alcohol calculators to assist you in the task.


Tips and Tricks

  • Speaking of tips, even if you have an open bar, guests can feel free to tip the bartenders.
  • When in doubt, buy more alcohol than you think you need. If your plan is to return it afterward, check with the store or vendor on their return policy. Don’t bet on the fact that they automatically have one. Leftover wine or liquor makes for wonderful gifts.
  • If your reception is on private property, such as a friend’s house or your family’s land, you should get liability insurance. While you never want something to go wrong, there is always the risk of the unexpected happening where alcohol is involved and you want to be prepared.
  • Check with your venue about whether or not they will have a deputy or security on site.
  • If you’re buying your own alcohol, make sure your venue has a place for you to store the supplies or keep them cool, if necessary.
Photo by Woodland Fields Photography

Purchasing Your Own Bar Supplies? 

Here’s a shopping list based off of a 100-person guest list. Feel free to cater this to your preferences — say you have more whiskey drinkers or white wine drinkers.

6 bottles of vodka

4 bottles of whiskey

2 bottles of gin

2 bottles of tequila

1 bottle of rum

35 bottles of red wine

23 bottles of white wine

3 different types of beers

10 liters of club soda or seltzer

8 liters of preferred cola

8 liters of preferred diet cola

6 liters of ginger ale

6 liters of tonic

3 quarts of preferred juice

Garnishes: limes, lemons, simple syrup, etc.


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