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Stocking a Bar for a Wedding

By KatDavid

We all know that there are thousands of things that need to be planned and organised for a wedding.  From the ceremony to the reception, everything needs to look just right and go off without a hitch.  And while celebrating your love and relationship is the most important part--at least it should be the most important part--many of your guests may be anticipating the fabulous bar that awaits them at the reception.  So to thank your guests  for all their support during this special time in your life, pull out all the stops for your wedding bar and make sure it's fully stocked with the right brands and accessories.

What to Consider

Hopefully you and your future spouse know your wedding guests  pretty well--this should help you determine what types of alcohol and how much you need for the bar.  For example, if your friends are part of the beer drinking crowd, don't overbuy on hard alcohol, and vice versa.  Another thing to consider when selecting alcohol for your reception is the time of day the party will take place; this will help you decide what drinks are appropriate to serve.  If you are having a brunch or a daytime wedding, Bloody Marys  or Mimosas may be great signature drinks to serve.  If you are having a trendy nighttime affair, flavoured Martinis  may be the perfect way to go. Always remember, however, that having a wide variety of available drinks never hurts.

Important questions to keep in mind when stocking a bar for a wedding are:

  • How much beer, wine , and liquor should you buy?
  • What types of liquor should you be purchasing?
  • What brands of alcohol will be best?
  • How much money are you willing to spend on alcohol?

Types of Alcohol

If you're not a drinker and don't know where to start, or if you want to refresh your memory on the common types of alcohol that can be served at your wedding, this list can help.

Wine

  • There are three common types: red wines, white wines, and rosé wines.
  • Wine is a great choice to for wedding receptions because it can be paired with food, and it doesn't have a very high alcohol content so your guests won't be hammered by dinnertime. (Unless they want to be.)
  • While the finest wines may be very pricey, many good-quality bottles are quite inexpensive, so you won't have to worry about going broke when stocking your bar.
  • Sparkling wine  or champagne is an excellent addition to any wedding reception bar. Be sure to have some when it's time to make the toast!

Beer

  • When providing beer (don't forget tankards  for optimal enjoyment), there are several things to consider:
    • Light beer is a good choice because it is easy to drink with many kinds of food.
    • Dark beer  is often preferred by those who favour more flavourful brews.
    • Imported beer tends to be slightly more expensive than domestic options.
  • Also, keep in mind that buying a keg of beer will limit your guests' choices, but save you a bunch of money.

Spirits and Liquor

How Much to Buy

Many people have found themselves asking, "How much alcohol should I get?" Overbuying is extremely costly and wasteful, and underbuying is a major faux pas. Thank goodness for the invention of a drink calculator!

Calculators

Drink calculators help you determine the amount of beverages you should purchase by entering:

  • The duration of the party.
  • A guest count (and some calculators have you specify how many guests are light, average, or heavy drinkers).
  • What beverages will be served (beer, wine, and/or liquor).

Doing the Maths Yourself

If you'd rather calculate things yourself (which will require some guesswork and averaging), here are some guidelines.

  •  For every 100 wedding attendants, it is recommended you buy:
    • 2 cases of beer
    • 1.5 cases of white wine and one case of red wine
    • 1.5 cases of champagne 
    • 6 litres of vodka 
    • 3 litres of gin
    • 3 litres of scotch
    • 2 litres of bourbon 
    • 2 litres of whiskey
    • 2 litres of rum
    • 1 litre of tequila
  • If you'd rather calculate how much alcohol you'll need by the amount of drinks that will be consumed per guest, this can help:
    • A bottle of champagne fills six glasses (eight if the flutes  are narrow).
    • A bottle of wine fills five glasses 
    • A one-litre bottle of liquor makes about 18 mixed drinks.

Bar Accessories

While the the booze is undoubtedly the most important part of the bar, you need some other items to keep things looking classy and tasting great.  If your reception hall or liquor provider isn't providing all the accoutrements for serving up all the beverages, here are a few key items to consider purchasing.

The Mixers

Cocktails and mixed drinks  require ingredients other than alcohol, so be sure you have all the popular mixers you might need. Soda cans  and juice are also good to keep on hand if children are attending the reception.

Keepin' It Cool

Having a freezer full of ice is the easiest way to keep drinks cool. Another alternative, however, is to purchase an electric wine chiller or a mini bar fridge . Both are a bit pricier, but they can keep drinks at a consistent and specific temperature.

Glassware

If you want inexpensive glassware that will make cleaning easy, consider buying disposable plastic glasses. However, if you want to keep things classy and traditional, having wine glasses and cocktail glasses  on hand is very important.

The Extras

You can't mix a proper cocktail without a cocktail shaker! Other important bar accessories are wine openers and stoppers and pourers, which help preserve wine throughout the day. You also can't forget to buy drink garnishes like cocktail umbrellas .

Money Saving Tips

  • Choose a reputable company. Have some friends recommend a good alcohol provider or wholesaler that they've worked with in the past. Make sure the company will not only consult with you to make sure you are choosing the right amount and types of liquor for your menu and guest list, but that they also won't charge you a delivery fee.
  • Set a budget beforehand. Determining a wedding budget for beverages before you buy a single drop of alcohol will help you avoid unnecessary spending. A good liquor company will work with you to stay within your means and they will help you choose from a vast array of selections, within different price ranges.
  • Avoid an open bar. A limited bar only serves a few preselected beverages. For example, if you only provide Merlot  as your red wine, Riesling  as your white wine, a few simple mixed drinks, and a beer keg, your guests will have a decent selection and you'll save money.
  • Consider hiring waiters. this way, instead of everyone going up to a bar for drinks, they'll wait until someone comes by with a serving platter . This should result in fewer guests going overboard, so even with the staffing fee, this could be more economical.
  • Take out the extras. Make sure you review every detail of the alcohol package with your provider. You don't want to be talked into getting any extra garnishes or cocktail mixers  you won't need.
  • Choose wisely. Make sure you determine which alcohol really needs to be top shelf and which is perfectly fine as house-pour. The same goes for beer, where domestic may be just as satisfying as expensive imports.
  • If many of your guests don't drink any alcohol, skip it altogether. Alcohol tends to be the most expensive type of beverage, so you'll save plenty of money. Provide tasty soda, juice , and club soda, and instead of champagne for the toast, serve non-alcoholic sparkling apple cider .

Top Selling Bartending Guidebooks

If you still need some extra help with selecting, mixing, and serving drinks, these top selling guidbooks will provide all the assistance you could possibly need.

Bartending for Dummies 

Don't let the title fool you--this comprehensive book will provide detailed information on how to stock a bar, tips for mixing alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks and garnishing beverages, and even help for curing hiccups and hangovers.

Sotheby's Wine Encyclopedia 

Arranged geographically, this book includes maps and detailed descriptions of the different wines of the world, as well as notes on wine production, grape varieties, individual wineries, and growth factors such as climate, soil, and location.

The Savoy Cocktail Book 

This book is not only full of historically famous drinks that were popular in London during the 1920's and 1930's (when Americans were escaping Prohibition), it is full of drink recipes that are still just as popular today.

Related Guides

Cocktail Receptions

Reception Food and Drink

Wedding Toasts

Food and Wine Matching

Analysing Wine from A to Z