wedding drinks

Building a Killer Wedding Bar

How to spend intelligently and offer great drinks

By Lessley Anderson

Do you serve just beer, wine, and champagne at your wedding? Or do you offer mixed drinks—and if so, which ones? Will people notice if you use crappy vodka in the Cosmopolitans? Can you hire your buddy to mix the drinks?

Typically, your caterer (or a separate beverage caterer, if you’re going that route) will run your bar. Most provide everything from glassware, garnishes, and nonalcoholic drinks to the booze and the bartenders. What they serve, however, is negotiable, as is the amount you spend.

CHOW spoke to beverage and food caterers to find out how brides and grooms can offer quality quaffs without paying a premium. Below are tips on where to cut corners, where to shell out, and how to add classy touches at modest expense.

Don’t Ask Your Friend to Bartend

Most venues have liability insurance that stipulates that you must work with a licensed and insured caterer. Your friend probably isn’t a pro, and even if he is, he might get drunk and chat up your cute cousin while your mother’s trying to get him to refill her champagne glass.


Buy Your Own Booze

Caterers mark up alcohol—especially wine—nearly as much as restaurants do. But many caterers are comfortable with the idea of you buying the booze for them. Ask first, and if it’s not a problem, shop Costco, BevMo!, and other big national chains for deals. If the store offers delivery service for a fee, take it. “You don’t want to be unloading the wine in your tux,” says Sheldon Sloan, director of sales for South San Francisco–based catering company Melons. Buying your own garnishes, nonalcoholic drinks, and mixers, on the other hand, won’t save you much, so let the caterer take care of those. In any case, don’t forget to designate a friend with a car to haul away any excess liquor at the end of the evening. It’s something people often forget, and it can be a hassle.

Buy the Right Amount

Calculating the correct quantity of booze for a reception is an inexact science influenced by the duration of the wedding, the age of the guests (a 24-year-old guy may drink more than your great-aunt), and the time of day (evening events are boozier than afternoon ones). But here’s the rule of thumb: On average, a wedding guest consumes 1.5 cocktails per hour, or half a bottle of wine during the course of the party. (Red wine is more popular than white, in general.) If you pass out sparkling wine or champagne to each guest during the toast, factor in one glass per person, or a little less if it’s available only upon request. Beer is trickier, and varies widely based on your guests and the type of wedding. For instance, outdoor summertime affairs tend to be bigger beer bashes, and younger guys and Brits will often drink more beer. Think about your guests’ drinking habits, and make an educated guess. One further note: Unless you’re doing a casual barbecue-style reception, saving money by buying a keg is controversial. “The hand-pump ones are too foamy, and the jockey boxes are just horrible and ugly,” says Sloan.

Lessley Anderson is senior editor at CHOW.

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