How To Set Up A DIY Bar For Your Wedding

Remember the bottle openers!


You’ve figured out how much booze to buy for your wedding, and you’ve figured out how to make your signature cocktail, and you and your beloved even agreed on which signature cocktail to serve (after a fun night of tastings, I hope). But how in heaven’s name do you set up a bar? How do you make sure that your bartender has everything they need at the ready? We are here to help you. We’ll be dividing into two categories here: (modified) full bar and beer and wine bar only. If you are doing a true full bar, work with a professional bartending service or your venue. But a modified full bar can keep lots of people happy and you can definitely DIY it.

No matter what kind of bar you’ve got, you’ll need two tables, one for the front of your bar, where guests will line-up, and one in the back for your bartenders to use as a work surface and storage. Many event rental companies rent out taller tables for use as a bar, or actual portable bars designed for just this purpose, but a regular table works fine too. You can always talk to whomever you’ve hired to see if they have a preference. For the table in front, it’s nice to get a long tablecloth to hide any ugly cardboard cases or coolers. In general, though, you can probably figure out how to make it pretty without a lot of coaching from me.

The key to setting up a successful bar is making sure that your bartender has all the supplies they need, and then let them set it up according to their preferences. Communicate with them about what they need to have when they arrive at the venue, and then trust them to set up. That said, you might be having a friend or college student working as your bartender, meaning they’re not sure exactly what they need. That’s where we come in.

The Basics

Wine key: At least two for every bartender, but a couple more never hurts and they are very cheap. Get the kind with the jointed pull; they are by far the easiest to use.

Bottle opener: At least one per bartender. These are simple and classic, and bartenders usually like them.

Small buckets: These are for storing ice on the top of your bar for mixing in with drinks. This kind of thing works well, but you can improvise a little with another sort of bucket or deep plastic pan or tub. You’ll need more for a full bar than for beer and wine only.

An ice scoop: At least one for every ice bucket you’re setting up on top of the bar. More on that later. You can find these at restaurant supply places like Smart & Final, or right here.

Bar rags: One for every hour for each bartender, plus a few more to keep everything tidy. They are sold in packs of 24 at restaurant supply places, or even bigger packages at Costco. Or you can nab some here.

Big buckets: These are for keeping your cans and bottles cold. Get enough to hold half of your bottles at a time, with ice. The big, basic party tubs are great and can be found at WalMart, BevMo, Target, Kmart, and any liquor store for about seven bucks. If you want a cute one or two that will be visible, go for it. It’s nice to have one for each different kind of beer or wine you are serving, so your bartender isn’t digging through the bucket looking for the Pinot or the Hefeweizen.

Big cooler with lid: This is for storing your extra ice. Have enough for storing the ice that is not being used—it needs to stay cold to replenish buckets throughout the wedding.

The Basics: Modified Full Bar Edition

Garnish Containers: Enough containers to store the garnish varieties you’ll need (more on garnishes later).

Shakers: At least one per bartender, and please make sure it doesn’t leak.

Stirrer: You don’t need a mixologist-y one. But something like this is good.

The Basics: Beer and Wine Edition

First, you need to decide if you are serving your beer from bottles or a keg. Bottles are MUCH easier to deal with (and you can keep the leftovers), but some people are stubborn about beer tasting better out of kegs (I might be married to one such person). And yes, they are cheaper per pint, but only if you have enough beer-drinking guests to finish one. If you go the keg route, you will need a party tub to keep it cold (with ice), and a jockey box or tap. The store you buy the keg from can provide this.

Ice Set-Up and Chilling Beverages for Beer and Wine

If your bar has access to a fridge and freezer at your venue, you are a lucky person and don’t need to read this. Keep what little ice you need in the freezer and your bottles and cans in the fridge. Everyone else, keep reading (NOTE: Find out about fridge and freezer access at your venue! It’s easy to forget but a big deal.) Beer and wine are never served with ice in them, or at least they shouldn’t be. So you’ll only need ice for keeping wine and beer chilled, plus some extra for serving sodas. It’s important to keep the ice that’s being used to cool cans and bottles separate from the ice that’s actually going into things for food safety purposes.

So, what you’ll do (well, actually your bartender should do this for you, but now you know), is layer half of your bottles and cans in party buckets with ice to keep cold. If they are not already cold, allow an hour for everything to chill. Then, you’ll put your remaining ice (still in bags) in your cooler with a lid. Ideally, all of these coolers and buckets will be kept in the shade under the tables you’ve provided (if your bar is outside). Your remaining bottles and cans should be stored somewhere cool as well. If you have access to a fridge in another part of your venue or anywhere cooler than your bar area, take advantage of it. Someone can go get it when it’s time. Then, fill a small bucket with ice for the top of the bar, and add a scoop. This is just for sodas, so you shouldn’t need very much.

Ice For A Modified Full Bar

To set up a modified full bar, you need to do all of the above, with minor additions. You’ll need additional ice buckets on the top of your bar, because you’ll have more ice going into actual drinks, as well as some additional space for the extra bottles of booze.


You really only need lemons and limes (cherries are nice), but if you want to provide fancy other things too, go for it. Assemble a team to slice them the day before, and make sure you notch the slices for easy attachment to the glasses, like this.

In Conclusion

This is a very bare bones set-up, mind you. If you want to provide fun garnish sticks or customized cocktail napkins, go for it. And of course, if you are offering a signature cocktail that requires something special like a salted rim, be sure to provide a plastic plate and a big thing of kosher salt. Know your crowd, communicate with your bartender, and for goodness’ sakes, make sure you won’t have to be the one lugging ice around on your wedding day.

A word about ice: We could do a whole post just on ice management at weddings, but the best thing to do is research ice providers in your area. They are often experienced, helpful, and deliver to almost anywhere. You can also use this calculator to determine how much ice you’ll need, in pounds (count bottles of wine as ¼ of a bottle, and ignore the eight ounce glasses part). Be sure to calculate how many drinks you’re offering first, using our handy tutorial.

A word about glassware: Glasses should be easy to source from the same place as the rest of your rentals. If not, there are some other alternatives. You can provide them, or use disposables (not so green, but sanity is important). Or both. People will tell you that guests will expect a fresh glass with every trip to the bar. This is true, but you can combat it by leaving a note at your bar, telling people to hold onto their glass (provide cute tags or labels and a pen to help the keep track), and then making sure your bartender has back-up disposables tucked away for guests who can’t keep track.

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  • Dell_Griffith

    This is my first time commenting after many months of lurking (yahoo!), but I just wanted to put in a plug for a jockey box for kegs. I only learned of these magical things last weekend and will be using them in my wedding in a week and a half, so I don’t have any direct personal experience with them. But they are supposed to keep a keg super cold with minimal effort AND you don’t need a tap!

    • Sparkles

      We rented one of those for our wedding and it worked great. We didn’t have to worry about a big enough tub for the keg. Also, just as an FYI, the rental company we used had all of the basic bar equipment for rent, so no need to buy all the tubs and coolers mentioned in the article. Then you don’t have to worry about getting rid of all the extra stuff after you’ve bought it.

      • Emily

        Ha, friends of my parents bought EVERYTHING for their kids backyard wedding like 5 years ago. Now its the traveling beer set-up, and has made an appearance at probably 20 weddings; renting is totally the way to go unless you know a lot of people who will be getting married soon-ish that you can pawn off the extras on.

    • Ellen

      We used one of those for our wedding a week and a half ago and it was fantastic! Couldn’t recommend it more. We lucked out that the place we purchased our keg from supplied the tap handles for the actual beers we had available, which made it really easy for people to know which one they needed to be pouring. Absolutely fantastic, would use again!

  • ElisabethJoanne

    If you’re putting anything cold and/or wet on the floor, be sure to protect the floor. Our venue actually didn’t allow ice chests on the floor, because condensation had once damaged the wood floors.

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  • Hannah

    In addition to asking *whether* there is a fridge/freezer at the venue, you might want to ask about its accessibility. I helped with one wedding where there *was* a fridge available, but it was located on a back porch down a long hallway. It was useful for overnight storage, but not for grabbing drinks in the middle of the reception. Luckily, the couple were over-planners and had plenty of ice on hand anyway. But it can’t hurt to ask!

  • Megera

    THANK YOU for this! Although there’s nothing startling on this list, it’s lovely to see that I haven’t overlooked anything serious… and even better that I can just use this list when I’m collecting what we need for our modified bar :)

  • scrutables

    Super informative. I may also be marrying someone stubborn on the topic of kegs- luckily, there’s a kegerator at the venue. It’s really helpful to think about supplies in terms of per bartender.

  • Katie

    THANK YOU for the “don’t forget the bottle openers” part!!

    • Em(ily)

      Seriously. I would have totally spaced that.

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  • a single sarah

    Tell me more about ice providers. Are they a metropolitan area thing? If not, how do I find them via the Google?

    Growing up my parents would always use the church’s ice machine when I had a birthday party or we made ice cream or whatever. Now that I don’t live in a parsonage, I’m more likely to go by bags at the grocery store. Is there a cheaper version?

    • D. East

      Hi Sarah!

      They often serve large areas, not just metropolitan centers. I’d suggest a Google search like “Ice Delivery *insert your location here*”. Here are a couple of places that popped up when I did that for various regions:
      New England:
      Milwaukee (and beyond):
      Oregon/N. California:
      I can’t speak to any of these companies specifically or their individual services, but you should be able to find similar businesses in your area via a simple search and some phone calls.

      Good luck, and stay cool!

  • mimi

    This is a great post! We DIY-ed our bar for our outdoor wedding and it worked out pretty well. We had keg beer (and lots left over due to unseasonably cold temperatures), wine (ran out of red for the same reason), and some liquor options (ran out of whiskey too). We made our own Maraschino cherries and had some other fruits for garnishes as well. Our rental company provided the tables for the bar, and our caterer provided the bartenders. We gave everyone a mason jar mug as their favor and told them to drink out of it all night, although the caterer also supplied some glassware. We didn’t have any ice issues, again mostly due to the cool temperatures that night.

    • Kat

      any guidelines on how many lemons/limes/other to have for garnishes?

  • ART

    I have to mention our biodegradable disposable cup experience! We couldn’t use glassware at our venue so I opted to get Greenware compostable plastic cups, thinking at least that would be better than regular plastic. The day we got married it was about 87 degrees and very sunny. After the ceremony I went to get some lemonade and the cups had shriveled to about 75% their original size and the bottoms were all wobbly and melty looking. They totally still worked, they just looked bizarre and some didn’t stand up well if you set them down! It was funny, but also a little embarrassing :/

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