(Almost) Everything You Need to Know About Buying Alcohol for Your Wedding


Don't forget the ice!

Let’s be real. One of the biggest cost variables when planning a wedding is booze. If you choose to serve alcohol at your wedding (and don’t let anyone fool you into thinking it’s mandatory), how do you know how much to get? Or what kinds? Do you need to serve a full bar? I mean, it’s easy for a catering company to figure out that a hundred people need a hundred plates of food, but how do you know how many glasses of champagne Aunt Mary is going to throw back vs. Uncle Bob? So today the ever-knowledgeable Elizabeth of Lowe House Events is back to share her expertise. This time she’s here to demystify alcohol calculations so that you end up with (just about) the right number of libations for your guests.

(Almost) Everything You Need to Know About Buying Alcohol for Your Wedding | A Practical Wedding

(Almost) Everything You Need to Know About Buying Alcohol for Your Wedding | A Practical Wedding

So, you’re having a wedding! And you want to serve alcohol. Finally a fun part of wedding planning! Also, confusing, and potentially expensive. Questions about alcohol (what kinds? how much? where do I buy it?) are some of the questions I get asked the most by my clients, because if you’ve never thrown a party for a hundred or more people, all of a sudden providing them with libations can feel overwhelming.

This post is framed around providing your own alcohol for your wedding, whether you’re working with a caterer who will be serving it, hiring a freelance bartender and/or college student to serve it, or just doing a self-serve bar in the backyard. Before we get into it, I just want to confirm that yes, it is totally okay to have a dry wedding. If your crowd is not used to dry weddings they may grumble a little bit, but seriously, they can go get a drink after they leave.

And, if you’re using a venue that provides the bar or makes you use a licensed service, or if you just want to use a bartending service, great! Pro bartenders are a great thing and tend to be fun people, and what you may pay in premium you will make up for in ease and lack of hauling around cases of wine. That said, if they’re not charging you on consumption, or you’re providing your own alcohol for them to serve, I’d suggest still looking at my quantity suggestions below and comparing them against the ones they provide you with, as I find that a lot of beverage service providers tend to significantly overestimate the amount of alcohol you’ll need.

How much alcohol do I need for a Friday or Saturday night wedding with dinner and dancing?

To get started, let’s define serving sizes:

•  1 bottle of wine = 5 servings
•  1 case = 12 bottles
•  750ml bottle of liquor = 18 servings (1.5 oz servings)
•  1 bottle = 1 serving of beer
•  1 full sized keg = 165 beers

And, the all-important basic ratio:

•  Full bar: 20% liquor, 15% beer, 65% wine
•  Beer and wine only: 20% beer, 80% wine

(See more detailed breakdown below.)

I calculate one drink per guest per hour of reception, with the understanding that some people will drink more than that, and some will drink less. In my relatively vast experience, this is more than enough, and you’ll still have some leftovers. (Running out of booze mid-wedding = one of my biggest nightmares.)

So for example, for 100 guests, for a spring or summer Saturday night wedding, with a 4:00 pm ceremony and a reception that ends at 10:00pm, that’s 5 hours. For beer and wine only:

•  100 (guests) x 5 (hours) = 500 drinks
•  500 x 0.2 = 100 beers, or 8.5 twelve-packs (I’d buy 9)
•  500 x 0.8 = 400 glasses of wine, /5 = 80 bottles of wine, /12 = 6.6 cases = I’d buy    2.5 red, 2 white, 2.5 champagne (yes, this totals 7)

What about daytime weddings? Or weddings in different seasons or weather? 

In general white wine is more popular, but in the winter red is more popular. For summer evening weddings I usually recommend an even split between red wine/white wine/champagne. In the winter go 40% red, 30% white, 30% sparkling. Note: if it is hot then no one/almost no one will drink red wine, and beer consumption will rise. Try to plan accordingly.

For daytime events you will also see a sharp decrease in red wine consumption, especially in the summer. Think about it—does red wine sound good to you at 1:00pm on a warm summer day? It probably won’t to your guests either. If you’re hosting an indoor winter lunch, than sure, people will drink red. However, for morning and daytime weddings, people generally drink champagne, white wine, and beer, or select mixed drinks (think: spiked punch, margaritas, mimosas).

For Sunday or weekday (not including Friday) weddings, most people tend to drink slightly less. That said, if it’s a holiday weekend, or a destination wedding where most people have traveled and aren’t working the next day, or you know that your crowd regularly parties during the week, this may not apply.

All of this comes with the caveat that you should look at your guest list and think about their drinking habits (as much as you can). I know that my parents and their friends usually drink wine and champagne at weddings, I have a fair amount of friends who pretty much only drink beer and whiskey, and also that many of my girlfriends are relatively dedicated champagne drinkers. So, if you know you have a ton of beer drinkers, up the beer ratio a little, etc.

So what kinds of alcohol should I offer?

At it’s most basic, a full bar is two beers (one light, one darker), red wine, white wine, champagne*, vodka, gin, whiskey, tequila, rum, and basic mixers.

Now—you do not need to have a full bar. From both my personal experience and feedback from a lot of other wedding industry folks, about 80% of weddings (at least in California) serve beer and wine only. This is more than okay, and in fact is what will mainly be consumed even if you have a full bar. It’s also worth noting that when serving wine, at most I recommend two whites, two reds, and one sparkling. (One of each is also fine!) Too much choice actually overwhelms people. And if you’re doing two of each, definitely go with two different varietals (say, a Chardonnay and a Sauvignon Blanc, a Malbec and a Pinot Noir).

Limited bar are also okay! Do you and your partner love bourbon? Great! Totally okay to offer it as your only liquor along with beer and wine (also, please invite me). The WIC would talk here all about the benefits of a “signature” cocktail…but I think it’s important to ask yourself—do you have a signature/favorite cocktail? (I mean, I do, and it’s a Pisco Sour, made with egg whites. Best. drink. ever.) If so, you should totally consider serving it! If not, no need to come up with one for your wedding.

What kind of beer should I serve?

I generally recommend getting at least two types of beer—something light and crowd pleasing (Corona and Trumer Pilsner are favorites, or, let’s be real, Bud Light) and then something more interesting if you or your crowd is into beer. I also generally recommend against kegs. (See quantities above; a keg has 165 beers in it.) Unless your wedding is huge, and you’re only serving beer, it’s unlikely that a whole keg will be consumed, and unlike bottles, undrunk kegs don’t keep. You have a few leftover twelve-packs at the end of the night? No big deal. Give them to guests (or to your waitstaff) at the end of the night, or just take them home and drink them at your leisure! A half-full keg, on the other hand, is going to go back to the store. Sad face.

What kind of wine should I serve?

Unfortunately for you, I know just enough about wine to order something I’ll like off a wine list, or buy a bottle in a store. Start with a budget (say, under $10, under $15, or under $30,) and go to a wine store or grocery store with a dedicated wine buyer and ask them to recommend a few bottles that fit into that. It will be helpful if you generally know what kind of wine you like so that you can give them some direction. Then have some family or friends over and combine wedding wine tasting with crafts, invitation addressing, or any other type of wedding-related activity that you’d like some help on. Way more enticing (hey, want to come over and taste wine for our wedding, and oh, help stuff, stamp, and lick eighty-five envelopes too?) and a ton of fun.

How much should I spend on wine? And where should I buy it?

That, my friend, is totally up to you. There are (in my non-wine expert opinion) a ton of great wines out there that cost under $10/bottle. If you spend $35/bottle will the wine be better? Well, for the most part yes. But, unless you and your partner are big wine people, and the quality of the wine at your wedding is one of your three most important things, please don’t feel the need to break your budget buying expensive wine. Do you like the way the wine you’re serving tastes? Great! Most of your guests probably will too.

As for where to shop, in California I generally recommend BevMo, Costco, Trader Joe’s, or Safeway (they have great wine sales.) That said, local wine stores are fantastic, and while they may not keep large quantities on hand, are probably going to be totally happy to special order a few cases for you. You’ll also probably get more personalized service, which may make up for the discounts you might otherwise get from the mass-quantity sellers.

What about toasts?

I’m personally anti-champagne* toast, for the simple reason that I love champagne, and nothing wastes good champagne like a champagne toast does. For reasons mysterious to me, a lot of people seem to dislike champagne, and so when passed a glass for toasts they will take an obligatory sip, and then abandon their almost untouched glass. Where do you think that champagne (and the money you paid for it) goes? Down the drain, my friend. There’s a simple solution to this: let people toast with whatever they have in hand, and offer champagne at the bar all night. (If you really want to pass drinks before toasts, just send wait staff around with red, white, and sparking. Done.) That said, if you want to do a champagne toast, because you just can’t imagine your wedding without one, make sure that the bar staff only pours 1/3 or 1/2 full glasses, and calculate eight glasses per bottle instead of five for buying purposes.

Inevitably alcohol calculations are an art not a science. With these numbers you may run out of one or two things towards the end, but you certainly won’t run out of alcohol overall. And from my personal experience, wedding guests aren’t upset about having to switch their drink in the last hour of the night if the bar has run out of whatever they’ve been drinking up to that point.

And, most importantly, my golden rule of alcohol at weddings: If your guests complain about the type of free alcohol you’re serving them, they are free to go elsewhere.

One last pro-tip, just because: Homemade agua fresca is available in mass quantities very cheaply (think $15 for 2 gallons) at many Mexican restaurants and Mexican grocery stores, and makes for a great and easy mixed drink when mixed with vodka or tequila. If you fill up a glass drink dispenser (or two—multiple flavors!) and have the booze on the side, you can cover both your non-alcoholic offering and your “signature” cocktail. Win all around.

Also—don’t forget to buy ice!

*champagne = sparkling wine. Prosecco, Cava, or California Sparkling Wines are all way more than acceptable alternatives.

Photo by: Hart & Sol West (APW Sponsor)

Elizabeth Clayton

Elizabeth has been planning weddings since 2006, and has done so full time under the Lowe House Events banner since 2011. She considers herself incredibly lucky to get to work on events full time—it just doesn’t get much better than going to a party most weekends because it’s your job.

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  • Alli

    This is so helpful! I’ve been searching everywhere for how much to serve for a DIT wine and beer only bar, with no luck.

  • http://poppiesandicecream.blogspot.nl/ Amanda

    You could also make Sangria :) You will need equal quantities (1:1 proportion) of wine + a lemon or grapefruit soda (Fanta Lemon, Schweppes lemon, Squirt…) + 250 ml orange juice per liter of wine + sugar (to your taste, I tend to add a lot).
    Cut apples, peaches, melon, even watermelon into dices. One day before leave the fruit macerating in the wine in the fridge. At this point you should also add the orange juice and some of the sugar (half of it?) I do all of this “a ojo de buen cubero”.
    When you are ready simply fill your colorful glass jar (or dispenser) with the Soda, add the rest of the sugar until it is as sweet as you like and ice if necessary.
    If you are feeling naughty you can add all kinds of liquor as well. Vodka? Tequila? Malibu Rum? But be sure no one will drive later…

    • Sarah

      We did sangria! Just…umm…not this classy. We soaked dark berries (a bag of mixed blackberries, cherries, and raspberries, bought frozen from Sam’s), sliced oranges and lemons in orange liqueur overnight; and the day of the wedding mixed wine, fruit, a little more liqueur, some Perrier and some ice. Served out of a big dispenser cooler, like the type you see at sports games. But–it was behind the bar! No one could see the dispenser, and the (completely full) cooler was pretty much empty by the end of the night. The glass jars are pretty, but they don’t hold enough for a wedding of 175, and they’re MUCH more expensive than the cheap plastic ones and have a reputation for leaking everywhere that we didn’t want to risk with red wine.

  • Edelweiss

    Our next day brunch is a Cinco de Mayo afterparty. Agua fresca just made stocking booze for that so much easier!

  • E

    This would have been SO helpful when I was wedding planning! We had a serve yourself bar in the backyard so we had to figure everything out ourselves. It was a pain, but it ended up working out ok. That said, figuring out WHAT to serve was tons of fun – we did a beer tasting at a local craft brewery to figure out beer (we actually got two pony kegs + some extra cases of cheaper beer which was just about perfect for out 175 person wedding) and then bought a bunch of wine for wine tasting a different night. We still call the white wine we picked out our “wedding wine” and buy it on special occasions, especially on our anniversary.

    We also kinda had a “signature drink,” although we weren’t planning on it. One of my in-law’s neighbors offered to make a giant punch bowl of Sangria for us. That ran out quick because it was so delicious!

  • Granola

    This is a GREAT post and super helpful information. Thank you so much Elizabeth!

    I generally don’t drink very much, so I asked for hot apple cider at our wedding this past October (I wanted to be able to have something festive to drink). I and everyone else then spiked it with rum from the bar (it was too good to turn down). It was a big hit – everyone was excited about the hot apple cider, and the kids got to feel fancy drinking it. It was comforting b/c it started to get a little chilly and everyone could have it how they wanted it.

  • Hannah

    This was an awesome post! Our wedding had 100 guests and looking back, we bought quantities similar to those described. Because we live in Kentucky, we had a “Kentucky Bar” with 2 kinds of wine (3 cases of cabernet & 2 cases of a white blend) from a local winery, 2 kinds of beer from a brewery in town, and then 6 kinds of bourbon from around the state. We saved a ton on the wine because the winery does a sale every year in December to celebrate the anniversary of Prohibition where they mark down their wines by 50%–so that $28 bottle of cabernet was less than $15 with tax. We ended up with quite a bit left over, but no complaints there! A few months after we made our purchase at the winery, that wine ended up getting a gold medal at the San Francisco wine festival so we were happy to have a surplus.

    • sarah

      We’re also in Kentucky and expecting 100 guests. I was surprised at the amount of wine you said you had. Did you have a ton left over? Can you tell me the quantities of beer and bourbon you had? Thanks!

  • Laura Lee

    We’re planning to just have wine (red & white) and a signature cocktail, no beer. Any ideas on how to calculate quantities for that?

    • http://lowehousecreative.com/ Elizabeth @ Lowe House

      I’d just switch out your cocktail for beer – so around 20% of the total!

  • Megan (from Nova Scotia)

    Very timely post! But how about one on how to convince your fiance to agree to no alcohol at the early afternoon reception? haha I’ve given up!!

  • RF

    At least where i am (which is another country from where most of your readers are), if you buy at a specialized store (like a supermarket, only for drinks), they’ll usually just take beer/wine you didn’t need back and refund you your money. They can just sell it again. So in that case, there’s nno problem with buying too much.

    • KateM

      I believe Trader Joes will do the same here in the States. Plus the guys at TJ’s are friendly and know their stock. They also do wedding tastings in store twice a week.

    • Alyssa

      BevMo definitely does this as well…almost all of our wine had to go back, and thankfully it wasn’t a hassle at all.

      • Laurel

        Technically this is something they’re not supposed to do in California, so be careful about counting on it.

  • Elisa

    This is helpful and I appreciate it, but if you come from “hearty” midwestern stock like my husband and I, its not that accurate. Our 200 guests went through 40 bottles of wine (red, white, and white zin for the aunts) 2 kegs of Michelob Golden Light and 2 kegs of Killians Irish Red in 5 hours. There was liquor available at the bar but it wasn’t free and we didn’t have a champagne toast. The beer ran out about 30 minutes before the end and the catering manager asked if we wanted to tap the reserve keg, but we were like, “No, these people are drunk enough, already!”

    • Elizabeth

      Yes, we also went through way more beer than wine (hot summer Midwest wedding).

    • Christina

      Thanks for posting your experience, Elisa. I’m trying to figure out our potential alcohol consumption for our May Minnesota wedding. Our catering coordinator suggested 3-5 kegs based on her experience. Our current allotment for the 200 or so adults at our wedding is 3 kegs and 30 bottles of wine, which I’m now thinking will not be enough. Our families aren’t huge drinkers but I’d like the alcohol to last beyond cocktail hour, if possible!

      Beer definitely seems to trump here in the Midwest!

    • Catherine B

      It’s fun to hear about different regional differences! I definitely plan on stocking more beer than this, and probably kegs, based on our midwestern crowd and the bbq we’re serving.

    • Moe

      Your hearty midwestern stock sounds similar to my Californian Mexican family. :) I know the men in both families are big beer drinkers too.

      At my niece’s wedding she was on a tight budget and only offered a champagne toast with a cash bar at a restaurant. It didn’t seem to deter my family from having a good time and they let us buy wine and champagne by the bottle to share at our tables.

    • http://www.foreveryoungadult.com Erin

      Boy, am I glad to hear someone else say this. I keep hearing the 1 drink per adult per hour rule of thumb, and I’m like, “who ARE these lightweights?” I’m planning on calculating 2 drinks per hour (and it WOULD be three, but it’s an afternoon/early evening wedding), because my family and friends can and will drink us under the table.

      (I’m also calculating transpo to and from the nearby hotels. :)

      • Jamie

        Just be careful when purchasing large amounts of liquor. I’m not sure about in the US, but in Canada if you are inspected for compliance with your liquor permit having amounts more than 1 drink per hour per adult is illegal and you could be fined. Remember, you’ll likely have plenty of adults not drinking and so you’ll have more than you need per actual drinking adult.

    • http://irvingplace.net Kayjayoh

      Yes, I have no doubt my Wisconsin guests will have no problem killing a keg (or two).

  • efletch

    I’m brewing the beer for our Sunday back yard reception. Was planning to serve it out of two half kegs along with some locally brewed mead. Now I’m thinking I may want to bottle the beer instead. This was a really helpful post and gives me lots to think about. Thanks for doing the math for us!

    • http://youlovelucy.tumblr.com youlovelucy

      Yay homebrewers! We homebrew too, though we didn’t for the wedding (we just had way too much already going on).

      I think the keg vs. bottles thing really depends on your crowd. Since we had the full weekend, we opted for buying two kegs, which seems like quite a lot for our 80ish person group. However, most of our relatives drink only beer, and were all in for a serious weekend party. We went through them pretty easily, and ended up with hardly anything left in the 2nd keg.

      Wine, on the other hand, we had left over in pretty large quantities. More for meeeee. :D

    • Sara B

      We homebrewed for our wedding, plus the best man and my cousin both contributed some of their homebrew. We went the bottling route because then we could make a bunch of different beers (experiments!), and bring home the leftovers. We also wanted to rotate through the beers.At a friend’s wedding, there were 2 kegs of homebrew, but only one could be tapped at a time. We all kept going up to the bar to see if the 2nd keg had been tapped, since it was one we all wanted to try. With the bottles, we made little table tents for the bartender to put out with the style and approximate ABV and told her to rotate through the 10 varieties throughout the night.

      • http://blogofadventure.wordpress.com Seren

        Homebrewers unite! We’re currently brewing our first batch of Wedding Beer. A Robust Porter. We’re planning on making 3 batches ourselves and using the mead we started the week after we got engaged as our toast, as neither of use like champagne really. We’ll bottle all of our beers because it’s just simpler that way, and we aren’t having a bartender. We’ll likely label them, or color code the caps and then have a ‘legend’ for the cap colors. Our current plan for our ~115 person wedding is: 3 batches of homebrew (porter, saison and a spelt beer) 1 batch of homebrew from Jarak’s uncle, mead, and 2 cases of wine, plus a bottle each of vodka, rum, bourbon, scotch and tequila plus mixers. We may need to rethink the wine quantity now…It’s a lunchtime reception in mid-June.

    • Cheyenne

      We homebrewed also! Well, my husband did all of the brewing… He also made an information sheet describing each style along with the ABV and so on. We had a Porter, Alt Bier, and Belgian Wheat (all bottled). We also had two red wines and two white wines (plus a champagne) from Binny’s and I returned a few bottles that didn’t get opened. The leftover beer obviously couldn’t be returned, but some went home with guests and my husband was happy to keep the rest!

  • KATE

    Wow, this is great, thank you! Our venue is providing the alcohol/bar, but this is really helpful for calculating what the final cost might be.

    • MDBethann

      Something to ask your venue, since they are providing the alcohol, is if they are willing to take into account the fact that children, elderly guests, and pregnant women (just to name a few) won’t drink at all. We had our reception at a microbrewery last year and did just wine & beer (why not when they make it on site???). I gave my venue 2 head counts – one of non-drinking guests (for just the soda package) and one of guests that could drink alcohol (for the wine & beer package). It saved me lots of money – I mean, why should I pay for wine & beer for someone who isn’t legally allowed to drink???

      I will note that my venue was a restaurant an microbrewery and was fantastically flexible (as well as eco-friendly!). Still, it doesn’t hurt to ask – you never know how flexible your venue is unless you ask. The worst they can do is say no.

      • one more sara

        My venue (a hotel) does this as well. Adult guests over 21 are full price. Guests aged 13-20 get a discount ($12 off) and kids under 12 are even cheaper, though I don’t remember the price point off the top of my head

  • E

    This is super helpful. We consulted with a local liquor store and ended up getting just about the right amount of booze. My parents returned some of the extra stuff and kept some. We ended up offering beer, one mid-range red wine and one white wine, champagne for a toast, and vodka lemonades – a “signature cocktail” that was super easy and not expensive. A full bar would have been too expensive for us, but this was the perfect solution. People really liked the vodka lemonades – they were refreshing in the summer heat.

    • http://cmorrisphoto.com Lauren

      Hi! We’re doing the same thing (beer, wine, vodka lemonades) and we’re having a summer wedding! Can you please post the quantities you bought? Thanks!

  • http://landlockedlove.blogspot.com Kelly

    Buying the booze was actually one of the most enjoyable parts of our wedding. We had licensed bar tenders (per venue’s requirements) who brought their own set up, glasses, ice, garnishes, etc. We just supplied the alcohol for them to serve. Having no such handy post like this to reference (this is awesome, Elizabeth. And I’ll keep it in mind for parties in the future!) I’m surprised that we came up with an almost identical calculation. We got two reds, two whites, and a sparkling. Vodka, gin, and whiskey.

    I’d say most of it was consumed at the 7 hour ceremony (was only supposed to be five, but we had paid for the venue for the whole night, and the motorcoach we hired to transport guests was late,so why not keep partying?), but we had some left over. Guests took home quite a few unopened bottles at the end of the night, but David and I walked away with 1.5 cases of wine, 1 case of beer, and 1 case of sparkling. We got married 5 months ago, and the wine and beer are long gone, but we’ve still got all the sparkling wine left, and it’s so fun to bust it out for special occasions!

    For anyone in the Mid West, we bought booze from Haskell’s and they could not have been more welcoming or helpful. It was a seamless process, and we had a great time tasting and chatting with their employees (who were super knowledgeable, and didn’t give us crap for our combination highbrow and pedestrian tastes!)

    • http://landlockedlove.blogspot.com Kelly

      Er, 7 hour reception. Our ceremony was roughly 20 minutes, tops.

  • http://kristyshealthrevolution.wordpress.com Kristy

    See, I totally disagree with the wine/beer ratios up there. I know, you are the experts. But I KNOW my guests, and I know the beer/wine ratio would have to favor beer MUCH heavier than wine (maybe even 2/1)!

    • Emily

      Hence this part: “All of this comes with the caveat that you should look at your guest list and think about their drinking habits (as much as you can).” :)

  • kyley

    I have a question:

    We’re planning on covering the tab for beer and wine, but not for cocktails. (We can’t bring our own alcohol into this space, so we’re stuck with their consumption-based bar.) Any idea how to get the word out that if you order a cocktail, you have to pay for it?

    If too many people RSVP “yes” and we can’t afford an open bar, we’ll be providing cocktail hour and some wine on the tables during dinner. What’s an effective way to let people know, in that situation, that they should bring their debit card?

    Any advice is appreciated!

    • Amy March

      I’m curious because while on the one hand adults bring their wallets places, on the other I’ve definitely shown up at weddings penniless before.

      Do you have to make a full bar available? A solution might be to only offer beer and wine, cover the back of the bar and if anyone asks, have the bar tender tell them that he’s just serving beer and wine.

      • http://landlockedlove.blogspot.com Kelly

        This, I think, is one of those things I needed to learn by experience. Several times. When I was in my early 20s, and the first waves of weddings were happening in my social circle, and I didn’t know shit about weddings or anything really, I would show up to a wedding sans cash. Now, my husband and I stop at the bank on our way to all weddings, no matter what.

        We had an open bar because our wedding was in an apple orchard out in the middle of nowhere. No ATMs to be found. Plus we could afford it and it’s something we wanted to do.

        I’m not sure how to let guests know the situation ahead of time. It’s tricky, because people can and do make assumptions, even when they shouldn’t. Still, I’m not sure it’s your responsibility to inform your guests that they should be adults.

      • Catherine B

        I think this is the more gracious solution. As a guest, I think I’d rather show up to a beer & wine only event and feel taken care of.

    • http://vanillaandvinegar@blogspot.com Sonarisa

      This is a tough one. You can always put a sign on the bar (maybe print something off in a cute font and frame it) notifying people that beer and wine is free and cocktails are available for purchase. That would be easy and completely fine. The main worry for me would be Amy March’s penniless comment. I don’t have any ideas how to communicate with people before they show up, and if they don’t bring their wallets, that could be a problem.

      At the same time, I would think that most of your guests would have their wallets on them…

      • http://www.foreveryoungadult.com Erin

        I’ve shown up penniless to weddings before, and if I was greeted with a cash bar, I always felt it was my fault for not bringing cash.

        And, in this scenario, I think people who don’t have cash are fine to drink beer or wine – and like you said, a sign works for telling them about cocktails. I kind of feel like if you’re one of those person who ONLY drinks cocktails over beer and wine, you’ll come to a wedding prepared.

    • Christina

      I’ve been to many weddings where there’s a sign posted at the bar indicating what is hosted, e.g, “Compliments of the Bride & Groom: Miller Lite, Chardonnay, Merlot, Soda” or something like that. As the night goes on, the sign can get updated when/if something runs out (a chalkboard is good for that). As a guest I always find something like this helpful.

      • http://www.snippetsof.blogspot.com Sarah E

        This is a great way to phrase it.

    • http://anniecardi.com Annie

      I don’t think you need to make an announcement, necessarily, especially since you are serving alcohol during cocktail hour and dinner. If you’re concerned, you could have your families/good friends spread the word, or have a note on a wedding website if you have it. (Like “Reception will be at X place at X time, cocktail hour at X. Wine will be served with dinner, and we’ll have a cash bar for other drinks if you want them.”) But again, I don’t think you need to stress too much about that.

    • Ana

      We’re having just wine and beer – our caterers aren’t legally allowed to touch liquor. I’ve spread the word to people as we’ve talked about wedding planning with them. Those who seemed particularly bummed (mostly my future brother-in-law) I suggested that no one would probably notice or mind if they brought a discreet flask of liquor.

      Most of our guests are from out of town so we’re also putting this info (not about the flasks, but the “just beer and wine”) on our website and on the “guides” we’re giving out at the hotels. That should give them enough time to grab a gin and tonic before the wedding if they want and if you’re wedding is similar to mine, you’re guests will know to head to the ATM pre-wedding if they want a cocktail. You could even list the closest ATMs if you wanted to get really fancy.

    • Kelly

      Yeah I agree with just spreading the word via friends and family – I went to a wedding in October like this, and we all just spread the word to plan on beer/wine or bring money if you just have to have liquor. I didn’t hear any stories later about anyone surprised that they had to purchase liquor – the ones who missed the heads-up probably just asked for a cocktail then switched their order to beer when the bartender mentioned a cost.

      • Samantha

        Agreed. I think hosted beer and wine and cash liquor bars are pretty common for weddings. That’s what my experience has been. If they are really stuck most people probably don’t mind switch to wine from liquor.

    • Kara

      Easy. A sign stating which drinks are complimentary and which aren’t. If guests aren’t happy with what is on offer then they can buy a drink after your reception on the way back to their hotels.

  • Laura

    Californians, don’t forget about BevMo’s 5¢ wine sales! They happen sporadically so you have to keep an eye out (or make friends at the store for an inside scoop) but you can always stock up ahead of time. My student association throws some super classy parties on a shoestring this way.

    • AH

      Arizonans too! I’m living in AZ now but getting married in FL after moving out of Arizona in the spring. Perhaps I’ll have to stock up before the move :)

      • http://www.lilredsbasket.com Stephanie J

        In Forest Hill, Maryland, Ronnie’s has $1 Day Sales – wine is $1 above cost, which worked out to be 30% percent off for us. We bought too much (shucks!) and were still enjoying wedding wine 4 months after we said “I do.” :)

        • Jessie

          Thank you for this comment! Due to seeing this while researching what booze to purchase for our wedding (great article) I came across your comment for Ronnie’s and I only live about 20 minutes away. I just placed my order for their next Dollar Days and I’m so excited about the savings!

          We only ordered the exact amount that we thought we’d need per our caterer but we’re going to purchase the difference at Costco so we can return any leftover.

  • KATIES

    Thank you for this post! We are in the middle of wedding planning and we will be getting married at a venue where we provide our own alcohol. Us both being ‘numbers people’ – the ratios and specifics really will help us with what we plan to get. I do have a follow up question though… Our families and friends lean more towards the partying side, so we plan to have our ceremony at about 5:30 and keep the dance floor open til probably 1 am (or later :). Do you recommend closing the bar at say midnight? Do the number of drinks per hr per person get adjusted with a longer time frame? Thank you again for this very useful post!

    • Amy March

      I think closing the bar is typically a sign the night is ending, so if you want people dancing until 1 full blast, I’d keep it open until then. If you want 100% gone at one, I’d introduce coffee around 12:15, close the bar at 12:30, and start bringing up the lights slowly at 12:45.

    • http://lowehousecreative.com/ Elizabeth @ Lowe House

      OK, first I will say this: I have never really seen a wedding go past midnight*, and have seen very very few go past 10:30/11pm. I also come from a crowd that ‘tends towards the partying side’, and even still – in my experience the majority of people are done by 10pm, and you’re going to have a group of about 20 (no matter how big or small the guest list, every single wedding seems to have 20 people who want to keep going late night) who want to keep going after. Starting later will help with this (5-6 hours is the max most guests have in them.)

      Does this mean you have to shut it down early? Nope! Totally keep that dance floor open for the last 20 people. OR, think about moving them to an afterparty somewhere near by. Also – you may be the exception! In which case, rad, I want to hang out with your friends and family.

      But yes, closing the bar is generally the sign that the party is over, so be aware of that.

      *the exception: New Year’s Eve weddings

      • Amy March

        I think this might be another east/west coast thing? I’m in jersey and have never been to a wedding that’s close to done at 10- that’s usually when the cake is getting cut and the real dancing is getting started.

        • Bunny

          Aye, it might also be an international thing. I’m in the UK, and every wedding I’ve gone to, the reception has ended somewhere between midnight and 1am – hasn’t made a difference whether it’s a religious or secular wedding, we like to party!

          I’d probably also increase the rate at which drinks are consumed from, say, 10pm to midnight – I know a lot of people who will be on wine or beer early in the day, but towards the end of the night will switch to shorts (spirits and mixers), which tend to get drunk a little more quickly, especially as I know a lot of people who prefer to have double measures. It all depends on the people you’re having and how they drink.

  • Moe

    You’ve made me so happy, I could invite you to my wedding! I just cut and posted your calculations for 100 guests onto my shopping list. The added advice for spiking the agua frescas is a fabulous idea too! We’re hiring a taco man to cater and his package included 3 agua fresca choices. Now I have 3 signature cocktails!

  • Chalk

    Such an informative post. I’ll be filing this away for future parties (this came too late for my own wedding). Also, very well written, thanks for sharing!

  • Kara

    Nice. We also bought GREAT beer/wine from a local liquor store. They helped us figure out what all was needed (+extra), using about the ratios above and allowed us to return the extra at the end of the night. They even delivered it all to the venue for a whopping $50–and believe me, in the Washington, D.C. area that’s a TOTAL bargain. Our caterer did non-alcoholic drinks and the bar set up, but they were going to charge a blanket cost for an open bar of high-end cocktails and terrible beer/wine. By going with the the alternative beer/wine vendor–since that’s what most of our friends family would want anyway–we estimated that we saved $1000 overall and got much better stuff than we would have using our caterer (like a nice Oregon Pinot Noir from the area my husband grew up).

    • Helen

      Do you mind if I ask what liquor store you used? I’m in the D.C. area, too, and we’re planning to provide our own alcohol.

  • Sara B

    We used a couple of online calculators to figure out our mix of beer, wine, and soda. There was one that took into account heavy, moderate, and light drinkers, so it was kind of fun to go through our invite list and categorize all our attendees. That being said, we still had some leftover. For our 100 person wedding, we had 11 cases (24 bottles/ea) of various types of beer, 26 bottles of wine (even split between white and red), and 30 bottles of soda (12 Coke, 12 Sprite, 6 Diet Coke). We came home with about 5 cases of beer, 8 Cokes, 4 Sprites, 2 Diets, and 10 bottles of wine. But, now we have a great “cellar” where we can pull whatever we need for parties!
    Another thing to think about when providing your own alcohol is the insurance. Our caterer had insurance to pour the drinks, but we needed to have a rider on our homeowners policy to cover providing the drinks. This wasn’t made clear to us by either the caterer or the venue, so we were scrambling the 2 weeks before the wedding to get it all in place. So, my recommendation is to ask lots of insurance questions with plenty of time before the date.

  • Sarah

    For our outdoor Labor Day reception, we had Riesling and Pinot Noir, beer, and sangria. The beer and sangria were really the only things that ‘moved’–some white, but very little red (which we had expected, and we used most of the Pinot to make sangria). For beer, Yuengling was the popular favorite–we got that as well as Miller and Bud Light, doing about 1/3 per type, and we ran out of the Yuengling early and restocked, then ran out again. If we were doing it again, we would have followed our instincts instead of his dad’s, and done 1-2 cases Miller and Bud Light, 2-3 cases PBR, and the rest Yuengling. We had 4 or 5 bottles of sparkling, and just announced before the toast that it was available at the bar. The wedding party and older family members were really the only ones who went to get some though!

    • http://lowehousecreative.com/ Elizabeth @ Lowe House

      Yeungling is my favorite beer (from college days in Baltimore), and it never ceases to pain me that it’s not distributed West of the Mississippi.

      • http://www.snippetsof.blogspot.com Sarah E

        Same! I’m a PA native living in NE, and whenever we travel to see the fam, we usually bring multiple cases back for friends. I’ve heard that the current owner absolutely won’t distribute past the Mississippi, but if/when his daughter (or next owner) takes over, that may change. Fingers crossed!!]

  • Erika

    What a helpful guide. Our big mistake was totally underestimating the non-alcoholic beverages (probably because I can’t imagine going to a wedding with alcohol and not drinking….). We ran out of soft drinks and bottled water in the first hour, and my stepdad and brother had to run out to buy some. On the flip side, we had a full two extra cases of wine when it was all over. Don’t make my mistake!

    • Kara

      Erika, I don’t drink so if the wedding I was at had run out of soft drinks or water, I bet the bride would be a pretty mortified bride when she found out. (My husband likes a good beer or wine so he gets my share of the alcoholic drinks when we go out. I’ve never liked or desired to get to liking booze so I’m quite a happy camper if there’s diet coke on ice.)

      If you over buy on the soft drinks and water, have them taken to your home. Boom, you’ve got some drinks for your house warming party! ;)

    • ElisabethJoanne

      We used a very modified BevMo calculator in buying our wine and sodas. BevMo said 2 drinks the first hour, then 1 drink each hour after that, for each guest.

      Well, for a 6-hour party (4pm to 10pm), that’s 7 drinks, more than a full bottle of wine. We knew we had maybe 2 guests (out of 100) who could get anywhere close to that, plus lots of kids, plus lots of people we knew were leaving early (It was a Monday night.). So, we bought half the recommended amount of wine, and maybe 1/2-2/3 the recommended soda. We had a couple cases of wine left, and maybe 50 servings of soda. (We bought regular soda cans, imported sparkling water, and specialty sodas in bottles, so it’s hard to count.)

  • Anonymous

    “Think about it—does red wine sound good to you at 1:00pm on a warm summer day?”

    Yes. Sorry. That sounds great to me..this is a good general starting point but every crowd varies. It wasn’t like this for me at all – my crowd is full of red wine drinkers, not many white. We went through almost all our red and still had lots of white left over, and we had more than half red wine! (But no champagne because…eh. also couldnt afford any champagne we’d actually want to drink). We also ran out of whiskey long before vodka despite assurances that “people prefer vodka especially at weddings”. Not with us! It all turned out fine, of course, all booze is good booze.

    • Karen

      I agree. I drink red wine all year. I didn’t know it was seasonal!

      • http://lowehousecreative.com/ Elizabeth @ Lowe House

        Not seasonal as much a temperature dependent. I’m actually a dedicated red wine drinker, but if it’s 85+ degrees and I’m outside in the sun? I’m going beer or champagne.
        (the last daytime reception I did was outside, in full sun and it was close to 90 degrees. The bartender poured literally one glass of red wine the entire reception.)
        As with all of this, adjust for your crowd!

    • http://laorencha.blogspot.com channamasala

      See, for me I picture red wine on a warm summer day as sitting somewhere in southern Europe on a cafe terrace with a bottle of good red, some bread to dip in herbed olive oil, a big bowl of olives to eat…maybe something to spread on the bread like a tapenade, red pepper dip, hummus or muhammara as I bask in the Mediterranean sun.

      That sounds fantastic to me, frankly.

      • Sarah

        Red wine on terrace, while sipping and people watching, is great any weather. I’ve never been to a wedding that relaxed though–even when it’s not a dancey crowd, it still tends to be a lot of people you don’t see that often and want to catch up with! I think summer weddings bring together the warmth and lighter foods that make reds less of a match, and then add that it’s not a leisurely sipping atmosphere and that rules out the red atmosphere!

  • Anonymous

    We also skipped the bud light and its fizzy yellow ilk ( sorry, I hate the stuff and I won’t serve something I find too gross to drink to my guests, nor will I buy something I wouldn’t want to have left over). We went mostly local beer of various types – 12 packs of each. Some local stout, IPA and pilsner and a few trappist-type ales (Browns, Keegan and Ommegang), plus Yuengling and Sam Adams. We figured the fizzy yellow beer drinkers would be fine with a good local pilsner or the Sam Adams or Yuengling, and they were.

    • Moe

      I’m a beer snob too, the thought of touching a bud light or even a corona is gross. I won’t buy either for my wedding.

    • http://www.foreveryoungadult.com Erin

      Ugh, this is me, right now. My family from Mississippi love Bud Light, but I find it absolutely abhorrent and want to do craft beers from my friend’s brewery. But I know they’ll dislike the craft beer and aren’t wine drinkers (luckily, all are bourbon drinkers). So I’m thinking of getting a couple of cases of something like Shiner or Dos Equis – lighter beer that the Bud Light crowd will drink, but that doesn’t make me want to vomit.

  • Kara

    Our ceremony venue and our reception venue were the same room. The sanctuary of my childhood church! As such, no booze on church property. Totally fine with me as the vast majority of our wedding guests are not heavy drinkers. Plus, we didn’t have to shell out the money for booze, nor deal with guests who had had too much, nor clean up from said guests getting sick. (Dry weddings ftw!)

    For our rehearsal dinner we had a couple cases of Stella Artois (from Costco, to which my Dad said “Bless you my son!” when he found out my husband had chosen it) and I think some wines. As I don’t imbibe alcohol beyond the occasional shot of Bailey’s in my iced coffee, having a dry wedding was a breeze. If guests want a drink, then damn it, they can get one elsewhere after my big day. :p

    The last wedding I went to (Dec 2, 2012), the toasts were done with either a wine or a champagne, or whatever you wanted. I more than certainly helped out with the soft drinks portion of the bill that night!

    • Amy March

      I don’t mind a dry wedding, but I do mind the implication that people drinking –> cleaning up vom on your wedding day.

      • KC

        I ended up with a dry wedding (no alcohol allowed on premises), but was not too sad about that, since not all wedding attendees were “responsible drinkers” yet (ahem), and while *I* would not have been cleaning up the vomit, *someone* would have. If I was getting married now, I think that really wouldn’t be a problem – I don’t currently know anyone who’s still super-proud of “getting smashed enough to puke, man!”. That’s something most people grow out of, if they ever go through that stage at all. I think. I hope, anyway?

        It’s probably all about knowing your crowd, really.

  • Other Katelyn

    Do the numbers change if you’re not serving a meal? Doing desserts and cheese in the later evening… We’re getting ready to purchase in the next week or so, this post is crazy timely.

    • http://youlovelucy.tumblr.com youlovelucy

      From a food service perspective (former server/bartender) I think it will probably depend on if they’re eating dinner before your event. If so, they’ll probably be inclined to drink just as much as they would after a sit down/buffet dinner because they’re full. If someone knows they’ll need to get a meal afterwards, they’re typically a bit more wary of drinking heavily.

      Also, if guests don’t need to drive somewhere else under their own power and have eaten a meal recently, they’re more likely to drink more.

      That sort of comes from an old bartender trick to identifying higher paying tabs – if someone isn’t ordering a second drink, offer them food. They’ll usually accept (and will be more receptive to buying another later), or say no and give a reason why – typically because they’re going to have one drink and move on to somewhere else, home or otherwise.

      • http://lowehousecreative.com/ Elizabeth @ Lowe House

        I agree with Lucy. In general I’d say dessert and cheese reception will still follow the general 1 drink per guest per hour rule, but by the way you say “later in the evening” my guess is that they’ll be there for less hours? So just make sure to take that into account!

        • Other Katelyn

          Thank you! We’re having a three-hour reception, so I’m using your equations but multiplying by 3 instead of 5. It comes out to almost exactly what we planned on for the 250ish (including kids) we’re inviting– 100 bottles of wine and a keg that we probably won’t finish but will go to an afterparty.

  • http://youlovelucy.tumblr.com youlovelucy

    A note on kegs – I would always look into whether you have the option of buying a pony keg (a quarter barrel) which will serve about 80 beers. Bottles are great, but they add cleanup and can be a bit difficult to deal with if you’re going to be running your own trash in a DIY/DIT scenario.

    Also, don’t wave off boxed wine! Some of them can be really good (and cheaper by volume, typically) and if someone is serving it, who’s going to know?

    • Laurel

      Bottles have some real advantages: you can have more types of beer, it’s easy for people to serve themselves, and the left-overs don’t spoil. We were going to do kegs but ended up deciding even pony kegs were too much trouble.

      If you’re going for boxed wine, Big House Red comes in 3-liter (4 bottle equivalent) boxes for $21ish and is plenty tasty.

    • Lindsay

      I completely agree with the boxed wine comment here. We supplied everything for our wedding (DIY food with a self-service bar) and *even though* you can spot a few Trader Joe’s box wines in the backgrounds of some of the later evening photos from the day, saving cost by foregoing fancy labeling with drinkers who wouldn’t know the difference anyway was absolutely the way to go for us.

      At the risk of sounding really unforgivably cheap I’d like to share one more tip: if you’re planning a wedding on the shoulder seasons, when seasonal beers typically start being changed out in stores, you can get really ridiculous prices on bottled beers if you are willing to search around in your local liquor store’s old stock. We decided to go with a stock of cans of domestic– for my grandad– and scored some great bargains on local summer ales just because we were buying in September.

      (side-note, neither my husband nor I were all that concerned with our beer offerings, so our flexibility worked in our favor here)

  • http://www.piercedwonderings.com Lynn

    Our wedding was a DIT bbq for 200 people. Most of those people were beer drinkers, so we planned for 2 kegs…knowing it would be a little too much. We also had 5 gallons each of two signature cocktails. Because it was so cold for our late April wedding, it wound up that no one really drank the beer. The cocktails – containing warming bourbon ;) – disappeared quickly, but when everything was said and done, including all the groomsmen trying their damnedest after the wedding to consume as much beer as possible, we still had most of a keg left.

  • http://buffalowrites.com Laura

    Another thing to consider – SOMETIMES buying your own beer/wine isn’t the cheapest route to go. Many venues require corkage fees if you bring your own wine, which can add up. Plus, you then have to deal with clearing up/taking away the empty wine bottles.

    For us, it ended up being the cheapest/easiest option to have the venue provide the wine. We provided two half-kegs of beer (and one of root beer). Win win.

    • Katelyn

      Root beer comes in kegs?!?!

      Best news ever.

      • http://buffalowrites.com Laura

        It does! It can be a bit tricky to track down, but was totally worth it for us. BIG hit at our wedding (in fact, we ran out! Should’ve gotten more).

  • http://twitter.com/irisira irisira

    This is a great post, however I want to caution you to check the alcohol serving laws in your state. (Your venue will typically know this, by the way.) In New York, for example, it is illegal for you to serve alcohol in a location that is not licensed to sell/serve alcohol. And, for a location to be licensed to serve/sell, they are required to purchase from a distributor. This (I believe) is because it is taxed differently. There are sometimes ways around this, but overall it is pretty strict. We got around it by getting married at a vineyard, where they (obviously) are licensed to serve, and (obviously) don’t have to go through a distributor.

    So, my advice in these situations:
    1. Hosted bar.
    This is where, instead of paying a flat rate per person for an open bar, you pay per drink. It’s essentially a cash bar that the bride and groom pay the tab on at the end of the night (plus gratuity). We had this, because it was how our venue did beer and wine (they did not have a liquor license), and I was really nervous that it was going to cost a small fortune, and it cost a lot less than most open bar (or even beer/wine) packages I’ve seen at other venues. And my guests drank a LOT.
    2. Talk to your venue about ordering specific things for the bar.
    If you do a hosted bar, you have more flexibility with this. My husband and I are really fussy about alcohol, and while we would never complain about hospitality at someone else’s wedding, we wanted what WE liked to drink at our wedding. So, flexibility about what the bar/venue will secure for us and serve was really important to us. The standard package they give you may be fine and suit your needs perfectly, but if it is not, don’t be afraid to ask what you need to do to get amendments to this.

  • Emmy

    Thank-you so much for this article! My fiance and I are in the process of planning at at-home wedding reception for July and we have no idea what to do with regards to alcohol (his side of the family don’t really drink – my family, me, him and his friends like a good drink, like really like..)
    We are doing a DIY bar because there are only going to be around 40-45 guests. I cannot wait to go shopping for wine (sparkling, white, red, rose…. I am not fussy ;) )

  • Hannah

    This is so helpful!! It is also making me worried that we will have waaaay too much alcohol! We are homebrewing mead for our wedding and were planning on making 75 bottles…that would be almost the whole “wine” allotment for 100 people, except we will also want to serve red wine for people who don’t like mead. This is definitely making me consider only brewing 50 bottles, which saves us a ton! Thanks for the info!

    • Caroline

      I would consider too, whether your guests are familiar with and normally drink mead. If they don’t, they are likely to drink less mead and more wine. We have made 10 gallons of mead (5g of sweet braggot and 5g of dry peach melomel) for our wedding, but I don’t really expect to go through more than 10 or 20 bottles for 60ish guests. Mostly, I just decided to save two years of annual mead for the wedding and we’ll enjoy with friends what doesn’t get drunk at the wedding. (We will also be making a few 5 gallon batches of beer, and providing wine. I suspect we will be providing hugely too much alcohol for our daytime wedding. Since other than wine it is homebrew and costs very little, I really don’t mind having tons of leftovers. We’ll just have some parties. The wine estimates are super helpful though, because we will be buying that, so it is expensive.

      • Hannah

        Yeah, I am a bit worried that people who have never had mead before won’t drink much of it. But we are serving sparkling mead instead of champagne, and I can’t imagine liking champagne but not liking tasty tasty mead. I figure the people who don’t enjoy the mead will likely be people who are more red wine or beer drinkers no matter what.

        Of course if there is left over mead I won’t be sad. Isn’t that where the term “honeymoon” comes from – the newlyweds are given a month’s worth of mead to celebrate their marriage? Sounds good to me!

  • Laurel

    Things I learned from our bar:

    – Running out of hard liquor is ok. Our friends can DRINK. Everyone started before the ceremony, so the liquor was gone before dinner was over. I’m actually fine with that. We had lots and lots of beer and wine, and it made it less likely that people would accidentally overdo it.

    – Low-alcohol wines are great for parties. People could keep drinking the vinho verde (9% ABV) all night and feel celebratory without getting totally wrecked.

    – Spike-your-own drinks work surprisingly well. We had two 2.5-gallon jars of non-alcoholic drinks (Arnold Palmer and watermelon agua fresca), each with a handle of hard liquor for mixing. I’d make the Arnold Palmer again — bonus: the slight dose of caffeine helps keep the party going — but would have been thrilled to buy the agua fresca from someone if we possibly could have.

    – Kegs: not as useful as they seem. They’re slow, you have to know how to deal with them, if they’re half-empty you waste a lot of beer, and even with pony kegs it’s hard to have a variety of beers if you’re buying kegs. We ended up with cases.

    –If you want specific things served at specific times you need a plan. I assumed people would get their own drinks, but my dad wanted people to drink champagne with appetizers and a particular wine with dinner. We recruited some family friends to serve champagne while people mingled and ate appetizers, put the dinner wine on the tables, and let people help themselves to cocktails and beer. After dinner people just got whatever they wanted. In retrospect he was totally right.

    – Dealing with set up, ice, hauling, etc was more work than I expected. We had a LOT of booze and ended up renting a trailer to haul it up to our venue, then needing the trailer to haul the left-overs back. Even just figuring out where to put the beer so it would stay cold and be accessible but not in the way took some time. Weddings are mostly about hauling anyway, but bars are almost entirely about hauling (boxes and ice and buckets and empties and kegs and glassware and and and).

    • ElisabethJoanne

      In the weeks leading up to it, I tried to think hard about what it would mean to run out at my wedding. On the one hand, as a church girl having a church wedding with explicit reference to Jesus’ turning water to wine when (egads!) the family ran out, it would be kind of ironic. Clearly, Jesus wants you to have lots of wine at your wedding.

      On the other, our wedding was a holiday Monday evening. I couldn’t imagine anyone wanting wine after the cake cutting being too disappointed to find we were out. It would probably be his third or fourth glass, which is twice to four times as much as most of our guests consume on a usual evening. And various health issues in my family mean it takes us years to get through a case of wine. Lots of leftovers would be another kind of disaster.

      As it turned out, lots of people left even before the 7pm cake-cutting, and we didn’t run out of anything.

      • Laurel

        Just to clarify, we only ran out of hard liquor. We’re still drinking the leftover wine.

  • Saskia

    Wish we’d had this a year and a half ago! Perhaps it would have helped prevent one of the few pre-wedding meltdowns that still make me half cringe/half laugh. I may or may not have totally lost it over beer. But we can all (at least half) laugh about it now. So I’m going to put it in the lesson box-which is much better than the still too embarrassed to share box.

    Two months before our wedding, I ended up in the stairwell of my office, crying into the phone. Despite clear instructions (bud and yuengling only please–as a fun nod to our Missouri and PA roots), my non-beer drinking parents had purchased six or so random cases of beer, based solely on price!

    This spiraled into a shamefully loud debate about boundaries (my rant) and craziness (my mom’s). Suffice it to say, we were probably both right.

    And the weird assortment of beers turned out to be just fine. As did our later, and much calmer discussion about communication!

  • Nora

    Just a note on kegs vs. bottles: we did wine, gin and tonics and two kegs (Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale and Summer Shandy) at our August Minnesota 165 person wedding. Yes, we had leftovers and didn’t finish one of the kegs. But it was less expensive than doing bottles once we added it all up. The kegs, with our crowd who we mostly knew their beer preferences, worked out great.

    • http://www.snippetsof.blogspot.com Sarah E

      Ooh, good beer choices. Love Bell’s :-)

  • Kelly

    Yes to Pony Kegs – but check to see how many taps your place can have at one time (i.e. don’t buy four different kegs if you can only have two tapped at a time). We wanted to serve three beers (one plain and two that were more Colorado specialty-ish beers) but our caterer only had two taps.

    And we went with hard cider for our toasts – partially because I’m not a huge Champagne fan and because it was another way to add a bit of ‘us’ into the celebration. Unfortunately the stuff we made didn’t work out (despite the test batch being oh so delicious and alcoholic), so we had to buy some at the last minute, but we still found some great local Colorado cider to serve!

  • http://www.sarahhoppes.com SarahHoppes

    I don’t know if this would effect anyone else, ever, but I shot a wedding where the venue ran out of glasses.

    The brides’ father owned a restaurant, so he provided the reception with a lot of alcohol, and kept encouraging people to go drink it. However, the bar was turning everyone away because they didn’t have any more glasses (and for some reason they didn’t have the ability to wash the glasses that had already been distributed.) This was a good 2 hours before the wedding was over. They couldn’t even offer water to anyone.

    He was very sad that all that booze he’d provided (and hauled!) was not being used. I never would have thought that running out of glasses could be an issue, but it might make sense to ask the venue/caterers what their backup plan is for something like this.

  • Audrey

    Oh man, that 20% beer 80% wine thing was *so* accurate for my wedding and I wasn’t prepared at all! All the wine but 3 or 4 bottles went but we had a few HUNDRED cans/bottles of beers left over. Wish I had known about that ratio before!

    Fortunately, the beer was much cheaper than the wine, so it’s a lot cheaper to overbuy beer.

  • Rowany

    Sort of related question: how do you deal with underaged guests if you are DIYing your alcohol?

    • ElisabethJoanne

      Your first step is to check with your venue and your insurance company. Both may have requirements and/or suggestions. Also your caterer.

      If you’re not paying for the venue, special insurance, or catering, study your jurisdiction’s social host laws carefully. [Everyone should study their state's social host laws before offering alcohol, but it goes double for people with no professional help from venue staff, insurance agents, caterers, etc.]

      Will the kids be attending with their parents? If so, I honestly wouldn’t do anything. If they’ll be attending “unchaperoned” (and if they’re 18-20, they’re adults even if they can’t drink), and this is an issue for you*, some ideas:
      1. If you’re having a bar area, ask friends to keep an eye on it, even tend it. Work out a schedule so each friend is only “on duty” for 30-60 minutes.
      2. If you’re having wine at tables, seat the underage people with adults who won’t let them drink.
      3. Skip alcohol.*

      *This is where the social host laws come in. In my state, while people 18-21 can’t buy alcohol, if they’re given alcohol, the consequences are on them. Under 18 is a different story, but the younger the guest, the more likely the parents will also be there. You should also consider your own attitude in light of the laws. Are you just trying to meet what the laws and your insurance require? Or is this also a moral issue for you? Among my friends and family, those people most likely to see underage drinking as a moral issue are also those least likely to miss alcohol at a wedding.

    • http://lowehousecreative.com/ Elizabeth @ Lowe House

      my general policy is that their parents should be in charge of policing them (I mean, I assume you probably don’t have underage guests who are there without their parents?)

      • Sarah

        I think this depends on the age of the people getting married! When my HS friend got married at 20, all of the bridesmaids, half the groomsman, and quite a few of the ‘friend’ guests were underage and drinking (because the venue didn’t card us), and we definitely didn’t have parents present. When I got married at 25, the only underage people there were cousins, who did have parental supervision. I think it’s safe to assume if one/both of the people getting married are under 21, many of the guests will be too.

  • Elizabeth

    I’m trying to determine whether or not a signature cocktail is a good idea. I would love to hear from couples who had a signature cocktail – do guests drink them? We’re having a restaurant reception (restaurant provides the alcohol) and I’ve wondered if a mixed batch drink like white sangria could be an affordable way to offer guests some variety. Otherwise, we’re sticking with beer and wine!

    • Amy March

      The most successful way I’ve seen this done is to have the signature cocktail pre-poured and waiting on the bar, and passed around the room. That way the staff can offer the signature cocktail or direct guests to the bar, if you’re doing waiters, or guests can skip the bar line and just grab one if you’re not.

      And white sangria sounds like a yummy start to the night!

    • Laurel

      Our cocktails went like wildfire; so have the cocktails at other weddings I’ve been to. You don’t need to serve one, but they definitely work.

    • Lucy

      We made Peach Bellini – it is super easy (Champagne + Peach Schnapps) with a fresh piece of peach in the glass also. It meant we only bought 2 bottles of peach schnapps (for 85ppl wedding and we didn’t use much of the second bottle) in addition to our beer and wine.
      It was perfect between the ceremony and reception as people were hanging around in the garden.

      We drank an 7 cases of wine, a 50L keg of locally brewed beer, and 20x 1.5L bottles of home made ginger beer in addition to a few bottles of whiskey which came out after dinner… I think we/our friends might drink more than the average based on the calculations above!!!

  • http://peachyringsaredead.blogspot.com Ceej

    A note on self bar tending: glass rentals can be even harder to figure than what types and quantities of drinks to get. Red wine goblet, white wine glass, pint glass, champagne flute, etc. omg. We decided to get stemless wine glasses because they’re sort of in between enough for all drinks. BUT couldn’t find anywhere to them to rent affordably. Wound up buying them in bulk from an online restaurant supplier. 300 for 150 guests at our beer and wine receptions, cost about $400 after shipping. WAY cheaper than renting a zillion kinds of glasses. And now we have super classy solo cupgrades for parties.

    We also had to do a lot of work figuring out soft drink types and quantities. Cheaper but still a pain in the ass. Got drinks in glass bottles as often as possible to be grab and go and all that packaging adds up. Might be nice to have a breakdown of those ratios too.

    • Sarah

      Agreed on the glasses–we searched and were never able to find cheaper than a dollar a glass or so. We ended up getting the short, hard, clear plastic cups they use at events for the wine, and had no complaints.
      Agreed on the nonalcoholic beverage calculation–we had sweet tea and lemonade, plus water, in amounts we were told would serve our guests plus at least 50 more. Nope, ran out in the first hour.

  • Nora

    Thanks so much for the incredibly helpful article. It’s easy to get so distracted by the pretty, sparkly things in wedding planning. When it comes down to the nitty-gritty details (arguably the most important pieces to make a wedding run smoothly) there seems to be little guidance, even in the endless world of the internet.

    We’re hoping to DIT our own wine/beer/cider supply for an at-home evening dinner and a backyard mid-day reception. Seems easy in theory (just a bigger-than-normal dinner party and family picnic, right?)… but reality is always more complicated. Now at least I feel like I have a jumping-off point for alcohol planning!

  • http://www.foreveryoungadult.com Erin

    Awesome and super helpful post!

    Like others said, I’d love a follow-up about non-alcoholic drinks (I feel like even people who drink supplement with water or tea or a soda at some point in the night, to avoid overdoing it) and how many glasses to order. Wisdom says just to buy those clear plastic 9 oz cups and call it a day, but we’re getting married in a National Park, and I just can’t ethically okay that amount of landfill waste.

    Oh, also, something I’d suggest- if you are hosting at a DIY-type venue, check your state or region’s open-carry laws. For instance, in my venue, we can have alcohol, but it can’t be in an alcoholic container (which basically means beer has to be in glasses and can’t be consumed by the bottle or can). This is mostly because Texas is stupid, but it’s something to check out!

    • Laurel

      If you look at the photo (which weirdly is from my wedding) you’ll see little cards that say ‘good with whiskey’ and ‘good with gin’. We had about 5 gallons of agua fresca that people could mix with liquor or drink on their own, plus pitchers of water on the tables. There might also have been bottles of sparkling water somewhere. I can’t remember if they ever made it out.

      Glassware: we had grease pencils out for people to write their names on the glasses and I think we had something in the neighborhood of 100 glasses for 85ish people. The real challenge with glassware is clean-up: I really recommend going for disposables unless you’ve hired people to wash up afterwards. They make clear compostables now — might be a decent ethics/hassle compromise?

  • Aubry

    Something to consider if it applies to your area is getting the beer/wine direct from the brewer/winery. Lucky me liking in Vancouver, canada, we have about 100 breweries close by and are super close to the okanagan wine country. You can usually save money buying direct, as well as discounts for buying cases etc.

    Also, as an aside, I am SO jealous of the fact that you americans can buy liquor at the grocery store. Man, that would be nice :)

    • Samantha

      Oh we definitely can’t do that everywhere. Some states you can’t even buy wine in a grocery.

      • Aubry

        I didn’t know about differing state laws, but that makes sence. I only know washington state and Florida, the only two states I go to! I was quite impressed by people drinking beer in the food court in Florida, it seemed so civilized! In Canada (all of it, as far as I know) you cannot by any beer, wine, liquor, etc anywhere but a liquor store.

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  • http://flawlessexecutionevents.com/ Heather

    I’m in Pennsylvania, which has some impressively idiotic rules in regards to purchasing alcohol. (To those of you who can buy booze at Trader Joe’s, I envy you.) However, my husband and I did benefit from PA’s archaic liquor laws when planning our wedding. The Pittsburgh-based venue we chose allowed us to bring our own alcohol, and we were able to return any unopened bottles of wine or liquor. The key: Emphatically instruct the bartender(s) to NOT open any bottles until needed. If you have this awesome option, but the bartender opens all [x] bottles of vodka at the beginning of the event to save time as the bar gets busy, you’re stuck with lord knows how many bottles of booze. But with a properly informed bartender, you can (1) not run out of booze and (2) return whatever your guests don’t drink. Winning.

  • http://fotografies-gamou.tumblr.com/ Fotografia gamou

    This is my lucky day!
    As we have already booked the hotel for the reception of our wedding we need to choose between tow different ways of pricing:
    the one is the “open bar” option were you need to pay a price / person and they offer all kind of drinks during the whole night. This is good but it is too expensive.
    The second option is to “pay as you go” which is quite risky. With this article we can have an idea of how much alcohol we need to estimate!
    Thank you!

  • Christine

    so this is my next adventure in wedding planning! DRINKS! Here is what I have been thinking…

    I would ask the catering service to make our punch and when it arrives we have our own “bartender” serving it. I haven’t talked with the catering service yet, but do you think thats an okay thing to propose? They are a bakery and I’m not sure they have a liquor licence… I guess I just need to ask them.

    But I just love that photo at the top! I want to do something similar, you know? a non-alcoholic punch or two and then the appropriate liquor to mix if thats what the guests wish to do. We have a shuttle service arranged (a group of local boys who want to make a few extra bucks driving drunk people over the mountain to their camp grounds!) so we aren’t too concerned about people drinking too much. I mean its a pretty mature crowd.

    any-who, how do you go about serving punch with an alcoholic additive? can you set it up so that the guests can add the appropriate amount themselves, or is it best to have a bartender of some kind?

  • Stephanie

    This is incredibly helpful! I’m planning a mid-September wedding, and our venue (a B&B) allows us to hire a bartender and we provide whatever alcohol we want to offer our guests. My parents have already started buying cases of wine and champagne, but I want to be able to give them an estimate of what to buy so that they don’t over-buy or under-buy by a large margin.

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  • Lizzie

    So I actually read this post in time for my April wedding reception in Seattle, and followed the formulas to the letter. After I went shopping I looked at my cart and was all, “This doesn’t look like very much booze.” But then I figured, hey, we only have a couple of raging lushes in the crowd, so this should be fine. We also had water and cans of soda.

    Oh, whoops. Once dinner started we ran out of beer right away, and white wine shortly after that, and my hubs and I took home a full case (CASE!) of Merlot and two cases of soda. (Neither of which we drink at all.) Turns out our assumptions that a) old people prefer red wine b) beer is shunned at evening weddings and c) our guests were lightweights were all wrong.

    That said, if you know your guests well and can tweak the formulas to fit them, you’ll probably do better than we did.

  • Arielle

    im a bit of a wine-o and plan on having beer and wine served at my wedding. At trader joes you can buy a case of wine for under $40 and its not bad wine at all!!! it is probably what im going to end up buy for my wedding!

  • Rosemary

    Does the “full bar” ratio of 20% liquor, 15% beer, 65% wine still apply to the combination “beer, wine and 2 signature drinks”?

  • Kerstin

    This post was exactly what I needed to successfully calculate the amount of alcohol we needed. That said, a note about daytime weddings: I would definitely heed the warning about looking at your guest list’s drinking habits. Also, look at your venue: if you’re having an afternoon wedding more than a ten-minute drive away from hotels (or people’s homes, in my case, as we had no hotels) without taxis in the vicinity, your guests are likely going to drink far less than they would if you had an evening party within walking distance of people’s beds. Just something to think about, as we’re still sipping the (awesomely delicious) craft brews we bought last summer. On the plus side, we’ve had some fantastic parties and gatherings since with our leftovers! :)

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  • Ari

    THANK YOU FOR THIS. I will probably alter the ratios to fit my beer-loving guest list, but this gave me a great place to start. I had no idea about how to calculate servings.

  • Savannah

    Anyone have any suggestions on where to keep ice? We are DIYing our alcohol with a bartender friend serving for us. Our venue does not have a kitchen available, ie no fridge! Ideas?

    • Kate S.

      What about a galvanized trash can? The ice should stay relatively cold in there for several hours at least.

  • Mini

    That is SO true about champagne toasts! I’ve always thought it bizarre how much is wasted. Brilliant post, thanks so much!

  • Dana

    This might be right where you are located… But these ratios are absolute madness in the Mid-West. We love our beer and kegs are definitely the most economical for our bride & grooms. Brides, I would recommend basing your totals on more than just this article. Please keep your area in mind when planning!

  • Dolph ziggler

    Keep it up!! You have done the nice job having provided the latest information.bubblegum casting

  • Meagen Montgomery

    I think this is the MOST helpful article I have ever read in my life. I was completely lost before I stumbled upon this. You are making a bride’s life so much easier!

  • Jessica S.

    I would also keep in mind the age of the wedding reception attendees… The 20-15-65 rule would definitely not work in my case. Most of the people attending the reception are my age, in their young 20s (20-25) and I am definitely the ONLY one who drinks wine. Thinking more like 40-40-20 around here!

  • Ginger

    I Am having beer and wine at my reception ..but will have soft drinks also. Planning on 500. Need to know how much to buy in the soft drink area