Nailing Your Wedding Bar Menu: A Start-to-Finish Guide

  • Publication date: 03/07/2024
  • Updated: 03/07/2024

Planning a wedding involves making many decisions, big and small. One important consideration is determining how much alcohol to buy for a wedding. Providing the right amount of drinks is key to keeping your guests happy and avoiding wasting money on excess booze.

The following guide will walk you through every step of stocking the bar at your wedding reception. We'll provide you with a useful wedding alcohol calculator spreadsheet to estimate your needs, as well as recommendations on personalizing your offers, bar menu ideas, and shopping advice to help you get the wedding libations you need. With our tips, you'll be able to provide drinks that will impress your guests while staying within your budget!

Wedding Alcohol Calculator

Photo CxRA Caterer

Planning your wedding is a journey filled with countless decisions, from the venue to the dress, the music, and, crucially, the refreshments. Among the latter, figuring out the right amount of alcohol to keep the spirits high without going overboard can be a tricky balance. Fear not, for we have devised the ultimate alcohol calculator for weddings to guide you through this aspect of your wedding planning!

Why You Need a Wedding Alcohol Calculator

Every wedding is unique, and so are its guests. While Aunt Linda might prefer sipping on a fine Merlot, your college buddies are probably more inclined towards craft beers or signature cocktails. A well-planned alcohol selection ensures that your celebration remains merry from start to finish, without the worry of running dry or wasting your precious budget on excess.

Factors to Consider

Before diving into numbers, let’s understand the factors that will influence your calculations:

  1. Guest Count: The cornerstone of your calculation – the total number of attendees.
  2. Duration: The length of your reception plays a crucial role in determining the quantity of alcohol needed.
  3. Guest Preferences: Assess the drinking preferences of your guests. This insight will help tailor your alcohol selection.
  4. Alcohol Types: Decide on a mix of beer, wine, and spirits that will delight your guests.
  5. Non-Alcoholic Options: Always plan for soft drinks, water, and non-alcoholic alternatives for those who prefer them.

The Calculator Breakdown

Our calculator simplifies the process, ensuring you have a well-stocked bar that caters to all your guests. Here’s how it works for a wedding with 100 guests, lasting 4 hours, with 80% expected to partake in the festivities:

  1. Total Drinks: An average guest consumes about 1 drink per hour.
  2. Alcohol Mix: We recommend a balanced mix of 50% wine, 30% beer, and 20% spirits, adjusting based on your guests' preferences.

For our hypothetical wedding, you would need approximately:

  1. 32 bottles of wine
  2. 4 cases of beer
  3. Nearly 3 liters of spirits

This assumes 5 glasses of wine per bottle, 24 bottles or cans of beer per case, and 22 shots per liter of spirits, catering to a mix of light, moderate, and heavy drinkers.

Remember, these numbers are a starting point. Adjust according to your specific guest list and their drinking habits. It's always better to err on the side of abundance, as many suppliers offer returns on unopened bottles.

How to Stock a Wedding Bar

Photo Deborah Miller Caterer

Carefully planning how to stock a bar for a wedding is crucial for keeping the drinks flowing and your guests happy. Take time to think through all the logistics to ensure your bar is fully equipped. Consider the types of alcohol, quantities based on your guest count, drinkware needs, garnishes, bartending supplies, and any special touches that fit your wedding style. Advance planning takes the stress out of bar setup on the big day.

Don’t Forget About Beer and Wine for the Wedding

When calculating alcohol for wedding needs, don't forget about beer and wine. Include estimates for these when using the alcohol calculator. Have a mix of beer options including domestics, imports, craft, and light beer. For wine, choose one white, one red, and one sparkling that appeals to a range of palates. Factor in having roughly two drinks per guest when estimating quantities.

Provide Non-Alcoholic Options

Have festive mocktails, sodas, juices, and sparkling water for teetotalers and designated drivers. Cute signage and garnishes will make the non-alcoholic station appealing. Consider having flavors like grapefruit soda, ginger ale, lemonade, cranberry juice, and club soda for mixing. Provide drink suggestions and custom glassware.

Select Wines Suited for a Crowd

Choose easy-drinking red, white, and sparkling wines. Avoid obscure varietals. Pick wines like Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet, and Prosecco that have broad appeal. Select wines that represent a range of price points to suit guests with different tastes. Ask your caterer for crowd-pleasing wine suggestions if you need guidance.

Photo Acquolina Caterer

Include Bottled Beers & Cocktails

Provide beers that appeal to a range of tastes along with some canned cocktails or hard seltzers. Offer domestics like Budweiser and imports like Corona. Include craft beers from local breweries that suit your area and wedding theme. Stock fun pre-made cocktails and hard seltzers for variety.

Factor in Glassware

Make sure to have enough glassware for wine, beer, cocktails, and non-alcoholic drinks. Allow for breakage by having extra stemware and pint glasses on hand. Consider glassware rentals so you don't have to buy them. Check glass needs with your caterer or rental company. Elegant glassware elevates the bar presentation.

Set Up Garnishes & Mixers

Citrus wedges, olives, cherries, bitters, soda water, cola, tonic, etc. for mixing drinks. Make sure you have all the bar tools - from bottle openers, pour spouts, and cocktail shakers to fruit garnishes and stir sticks. Set up drink mixing and garnishing stations so multiple bartenders can work efficiently. Keep extra supplies like cherries, limes, and olives chilled in a refrigerator.

Customizing Your Alcohol List for a Wedding

Photo Kalon Event + Food Design Caterer

The types of alcohol you offer should suit your wedding style and season. Consider your theme, venue, time of day, and other details when curating your wedding alcohol list. Your choices make a statement and set the vibe.

Lighter Drinks for Day & Summer Weddings

Serve crisp wines, beers, sangria, and sparkling cocktails for warmer-weather weddings. For summer garden weddings, make signature cocktails featuring ingredients like muddled berries, citrus, cucumber, rose, and elderflower. Offer lighter wines like Vinho Verde, Pinot Grigio, and Sauvignon Blanc. Have seasonal beers like citrusy wheat beers and fruited sours.

Heartier Drinks for Fall & Winter

Darker beers, red wines, and whiskey cocktails pair well with cooler weather. Warm up guests at winter weddings with drinks like mulled wine, spiked apple cider, and Irish coffee. Choose full-bodied Cabernet, Malbec, and Tempranillo wines. Serve IPAs, porters, and stouts for beer. Feature bourbon and rye whiskey in classic cocktails.

Signature Cocktails

Create unique cocktails inspired by you and your spouse as a memorable touch. Infuse your personality into drinks like a "Jessica Spritz" or "Mark's Old Fashioned." Work with your bartender to craft the perfect bespoke cocktails. Provide cute cocktail names and display recipes at the bar.

Local Beverages

Serve local craft beers and wines to represent your area. Showcase beers from hometown microbreweries. Many vineyards will sell wines specifically for weddings. Local drinks make for a thoughtful regional touch.

Photo CxRA Caterer

Limit Liquor Selection

Pick 2-3 base spirits (vodka, rum, tequila, etc.) avoiding obscure premium liquors. Stick to well-known, crowd-pleasing liquors. Having too many options can lead to costly waste if certain alcohols go untouched. Swapsies - providing swap options with mixers, such as rum/vodka with Coke, simplifies ordering.

Alcohol-Free Choices

Have interesting non-alcoholic options beyond soda for designated drivers and non-drinkers. Create special mocktails as unique as your signature cocktails. Infuse fruit essences and herbs into sparkling waters. Provide handcrafted sodas with flavored syrups. Elevate the experience for non-drinkers.

Limit Sweet Offerings

Skip the Jell-O shots and sugary coolers in favor of more refined options. Unless expressly requested by younger guests, steer clear of overly sweet shots and premade fruit punch cocktails. Or, offer these as a pre-ceremony option then transition to a classy bar for the reception.

How Much Liquor to Buy for a Wedding

Photo Michael Scott Events Caterer

The amount of needed alcohol at weddings varies based on your guest count, types of liquor, and other reception details. Here are some scenarios with estimated quantities to use as a guide when determining how much liquor to buy.

The Intimate Evening Affair

Guest Count: 50

Duration: 3 hours

Preferences: A mix of wine and spirits, with a preference for cocktails.

Given the smaller size and shorter duration, plus a focus on cocktails and wine:

  1. Wine: 15 bottles
  2. Spirits: 2 liters

The Large, Lively Celebration

Guest Count: 200

Duration: 5 hours

Preferences: Equal preference for beer, wine, and spirits.

For a large, lengthy event with a diverse preference in alcohol:

  1. Wine: 100 bottles
  2. Beer: 10 cases
  3. Spirits: 8 liters

The Afternoon Toast

Guest Count: 75

Duration: 2 hours

Preferences: Mainly wine and some beer, lighter drinking expected.

A shorter, daytime event might see less alcohol consumption:

  1. Wine: 30 bottles
  2. Beer: 3 cases

The Spirits-Forward Soiree

Guest Count: 100

Duration: 4 hours

Preferences: A heavy emphasis on spirits with some wine for dinner.

For a crowd favoring spirits, with a moderate amount of wine:

  1. Wine: 40 bottles
  2. Spirits: 6 liters

The Wine and Beer Garden Reception

Guest Count: 150

Duration: 6 hours

Preferences: A focus on wine and beer, minimal spirits.

A longer event with preferences for beer and wine might require:

  1. Wine: 90 bottles
  2. Beer: 8 cases

How to Use This Guide

This guide provides a starting point for estimating the alcohol needs for various wedding scenarios. Remember, these are estimates based on average consumption rates (1 drink per guest per hour), and you should adjust these numbers based on your knowledge of your guests' preferences.

Bar Service Styles for Your Wedding

Photo Michael Scott Events Caterer

Determining the type of bar service is an important decision for your wedding reception. From open bars to limited options, the format you choose impacts your budget and guests' experience. Consider your priorities and needs when selecting a bar service style.

Open Bar

An open bar provides unlimited alcohol for the wedding. It offers the ultimate convenience and flexibility. Open bars work best for smaller guest counts where costs can be managed. Having a time limit, like 5 hours, helps contain expenses.

Limited Open Bar

This provides free drinks from a select wedding bar menu of beer, wine, liquor, and cocktails. It allows you to control costs while still offering guests a variety. Limit top-shelf liquors and instead offer house brands. You can also limit by hours. The limited bar strikes a balance for many couples.

Beer & Wine Bar

Offering beer, wine, and basic mixers keeps bar costs down while still providing a range of options. Choose budget-friendly wines and domestic beers. Sodas, sparkling waters, and juices can round out the selections. This affordable approach satisfies most guests.

Consumption/Cash Bar

Guests pay for their own drinks at the bar, either with cash or putting it on a tab. This allows you to completely control bar costs, but some see it as inhospitable. Making signatures the only free drinks minimizes the impact.

Shopping Tips for Alcohol for Wedding Reception

Photo B I T E New York | Caterer

Finding the best deals on libations for your big day takes some savvy planning. Follow these shopping tips to get all the alcohol you need while saving money:

  1. Buy liquor in bulk from warehouse stores. You can often return unopened bottles after the wedding. Shop early to allow time for possible returns.
  2. Purchase wine from warehouse stores or local liquor stores that offer case discounts or wedding packages. Look for off-season sales too.
  3. Compare prices online before purchasing. Search for promo codes and coupons for additional savings on wine, beer, and liquor.
  4. Join retailer rewards programs for exclusive discounts offered through the memberships.
  5. Time purchases strategically - shop sales leading up to weddings like Valentine's Day and New Year's Eve.
  6. Buy soda, tonic, club soda, and mixer quantities from big box stores. You can save significantly over convenience store prices.
  7. Check if your caterer offers alcohol packages or has wholesale contacts they can purchase from.
  8. For garnishes, look for sales on juice and olives at grocery stores. Buy cut fruit like lemons and limes fresh vs. pre-cut citrus from bar supply stores.
  9. Purchase extras like back-up beer and wine to allow for breakage or over-consumption. Extras can often be returned.
  10. Provide options at different price points. Have a premium bar along with cheaper beer and wine for budget-conscious guests.

With proper planning, you can secure wedding alcohol at the best prices. Shop wedding sales, buy in bulk, compare deals, and utilize all available discounts. Use these tips to maximize savings on reception drinks.

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Natali Grace Levine Editor-in-Chief

Manages The Wezoree's content strategy
Writes and edits articles for the Inspiration Blog