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.
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.
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. 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.