Wedding 411: 7 Steps to Successful Wedding Bar Planning

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Reality check. A key component of most wedding receptions is booze. Many people want to have a great party, and alcohol, being the great social lubricator, often helps get the party going.  It is no secret that wedding receptions cost a lot of money and serving alcohol can eat up a lot of your budget.  Buying your own alcohol for your wedding (if this is possible for your venue) is one way you can save a significant chunk of change.  That said, the trick for many couples is that their wedding reception is often the first party they’ve ever hosted for 100+ people. For them, calculating the necessary quantity of libations needed to keep the party flowing can be a bit overwhelming. Sound like a familiar story? Don’t worry.

This post will teach you the exact steps to take in order to plan a rockin’ hosted bar for the very best price. Taking the time to select, find, and purchase your own booze is extra work, but it will cut down your costs significantly. These seven steps will also help you avoid over or under purchasing. There is a little bit of math involved, but its simple arithmetic. The rest of the formula is pizazz, and you’re on the Wonderstruck website so we know you’ve already got that in abundance.  Cheers!


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Step ONE:  Booze Headcount. From your guest list get an accurate tally of how many guests 21+ will be drinking.

Step TWO: Drink Count. A great rule of thumb when calculating the number of drinks you’ll need is to assume that each guest will have one drink per hour of your reception beginning with cocktail hour. Some of your guests will drink more, but some of your guests may have only one or two drinks during the whole four or five hours of your reception. So we think it evens out pretty well to calculate one drink per hour per guest. If you have 100 guests and your reception is 4 hours, you can safely assume that you need 400 drinks. 100×4=400

Step THREE: Choose your Bar Type. First, take a moment to be honest with yourselves about how much cash you actually have to spend on bar service, and then have in mind how much cash you actually want to spend on a bar for your guests. Also, weigh your priorities before you decide to have a full bar vs. a limited bar.  Maybe you’d rather spend that extra grand on your honeymoon, or on that special dress you’ve had your eye on. Full Bars are the most expensive option for alcohol service at your wedding, but having a beer and wine only bar can save you significant dollars, and can be just as fun as a full bar. Whatever you decide, make sure its right for your budget, and that it will make you happy. Finally, we recommend that if you can’t afford to host a bar, simply don’t have alcohol at your wedding — or consider limiting your alcohol selection to one or two special drinks. Just say no to non-hosted bars. Its just plain no fun (and not the best of manners) to ask your guests to pay for drinks at your wedding.

Remember this crucial basic ratio:

Full Bar: 20% liquor, 15% Beer, 65% wine

Beer and Wine Only: 20% Beer, 80% Wine

  • Full Bar: A full bar can get really expensive, but it can be done. We recommend that your alcohol list should include two beer selections (a light beer and something more interesting), a red wine, a white wine, whiskey, vodka, rum, tequila, gin, champagne, and basic mixers.
  • Beer/Wine: You do not need to have a full bar. Many weddings only serve beer and wine and many wedding guests drink just beer or wine. Do you have a signature drink? If you do, add that as an option. Do you just really love bourbon? Then have a great bourbon available and make your non-alcoholic beverage something that will mix well with your liquor of choice.
  • Champagne toast: By champagne, people usually mean sparkling wine. As Champagne is only from the province of Champagne, France, and is usually pricey. There are a wide variety of sparkling wines (including Prosecco, which is a favorite of ours) with several different price ranges. You can even find many sparkling wines locally in the PNW.

Step FOUR: Buy the booze. Contact local liquor stores, grocery stores, and wholesalers to get price lists and talk to them about getting your items at or close to cost if possible.  Unless you are able to buy from a wholesaler, we recommend Costco, Trader Joes and BevMo for the best prices on alcohol in large quantities. Also, keep an eye on your local grocery stores for seasonal sales.  Don’t be afraid to call and ask for sale dates or available discounts. After you figure out your best deals then it’s time to figure out how much to buy of each type of alcohol you want. Here’s where your pizazz comes in. You know your friends the best, so make a guestimate on the ratio of wine to beer or liquor to wine/beer that you need. And buy accordingly. Here are some handy serving sizes:

  • 1 bottle of wine = 5 servings
  • 1 bottle of champagne = 6 generous serving  or,  = 8 toasting servings
  • 1 case of champagne = 72–96 glasses depending on generosity of pour
  • 1 case of beer or wine or champagne = 12 bottles
  • 750ml bottle of liquor = 18-20 servings
  • 1 Litre bottle of liquor = 20-22 servings
  • 1 Litre soda = 5-7 glasses (depending on size of glass + ice)
  • 1 bottle = 1 serving of beer
  • 1 full sized keg = 165 beers

Also, you can try this handy calculating tool to double check your quantity estimates. If you reach a quandary about thinking you may be over-purchasing, we recommend buying  a little too much than not enough. Running out of supplies halfway through a reception can be a party killer. Plus, booze never goes bad – and you can keep the leftovers to start your own liquor cabinet in your new home together. Score!

Step FIVE: Pay and arrange a pick-up or delivery time. Make sure the alcohol and mixers arrives at your venue with plenty of time to spare and that you leave clear instructions for your bartender about set up, and serving. You or someone in your wedding party can do this yourselves to save a few bucks, or you can have distributers do it for you.



Step SIX: Serving Logistics. We strongly recommend hiring a bartender. Or two, depending on the size of your party.  Usually one bartender is enough for up to 100 guests, but we recommend 2 bartenders for over 150 guests, and 3 bartenders for over 250 guests.  Having a self-serve bar will not necessarily save you money.  We definitely think it is worth it to hire a pro. Your bartender will ensure accurate pours and won’t over serve your guests. They are trained and paid to make sure alcohol service goes smoothly all night long and that proper clean up happens. While a self-serve bar seems like a way to save money, it’s likely one of your friends will end up pouring drinks all night and not having much fun.

Step SEVEN: Consider these pro tips:

    • Generally, wedding guests prefer to drink white or sparkling wines. Unless you are getting married in the winter. Maybe it has something to do with being all dressed up and not wanting to risk a red wine spill, or maybe its just because cool, white wine is more appealing at a wedding taking place in the spring, summer, or early fall than a glass of red wine that is usually preferred in the winter months. We recommend 80% white wine and 20% red wine standard – but again, you will know your crowd best – so use your planning pizzaz to make the best decision for your group. PS, if you’re having an outdoor summer wedding and its hot outside, almost nobody will drink red wine, OH, and beer consumption will rise.
    • Sunday or Weekday weddings – its no surprise that guests tend to drink less on these days because many have obligations the next day. Throwing your wedding on one of these days is a good way to save money in a lot of ways, including on the bar tab. This may not apply if the date falls on a long weekend or a holiday.
    • Serve beverages you like. Make your bar personalized to your tastes if you want to. And yes, its ok to have limited beverage choices on the menu. In fact, people are usually better able to make a choice when they are not presented with unlimited options. We would recommend, however that if you are serving alcohol that you do make sure there are some tasty non-alcoholic beverages on the menu too for the underage or those who may not drink alcohol.
    • Its totally ok NOT to have a champagne toast. Many people even prefer to toast the happy couple with whatever’s already in hand. Having champagne available at your bar for those who want it, but not passed out to every guest for toasts can save you hundreds of dollars, and your guests will be just as happy with the drink they’ve already selected.
    • Don’t forget to buy ice.  A good rule of thumb is one lb of ice on hand per person. Increase that  to 1.5 lbs of ice per person if it’s a outdoor wedding in the hot summer sun.  Typically, you can purchase ice from grocery stores in 10 and 20 lb bags.  So, for a 100 guest wedding, you’ll need (10) 10lb bags of ice or (5) 20lb bags of ice. We usually tend to purchase one or two more bags than we think we need just in case – and it usually gets used.
    • Have a fantastic time at your party and please, drink responsibly.


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We’d love to hear your wedding bar plans! Please leave us a comment below.

xoxo, Wonderstruck

2 thoughts on “Wedding 411: 7 Steps to Successful Wedding Bar Planning

  1. Thanks for including the basic ratio for the different types of bars! My sister’s getting married soon, so this is really helpful to know when planning the beverages. We’ve got a little bit of time before the wedding, so we’re going to take your suggestion to watch for sales at our local liquor store!

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