Let’s be honest: people are more than ready to celebrate, to dance, and—especially—to drink when it comes to weddings. So, if you’re getting married in the coming months, you’ll want to make sure your bar is stocked. To help you do that, we turned to the experts to find out just how much booze you need, what kinds are best to have on hand, unique ways to let guests imbibe, and even what to do with the leftovers (but we doubt you’ll have any).
So grab a notepad and—why not—a drink, and start planning your pours.
Meet the Expert
- Alex Tornai is the party planner fo Binny’s Beverage Depot, a Chicagoland mainstay for BYO alcohol at events.
- Jessica Robinson is a certified mixologist and the founder of JusTini Cocktails, a New Orleans-based bar service for weddings and events that provides the whole package, from bartenders to glassware to custom menus and more.
Do the Math
It turns out, there is a magic formula when it comes to calculating the amount of drinks you’ll need for your wedding, sort of: Plan for at least one drink per person per hour. (So for a six-hour wedding with 100 guests, you’ll need roughly 600 drinks.) Alex Tornai, party planner for Binny’s Beverage Depot, errs on the side of more drinks per person (and we’re here for it): “Two drinks in the first hour and one drink per hour for the duration of the evening,” he says. “Approximately seven drinks per person for a six-hour reception.” Jessica Robinson, founder of New Orleans-based bar service JusTini Cocktails, also suggests rounding up: For each guest, figure one drink per hour and then add two, she says.
OK, so you’ve got your total number. But how to divvy it up? Beer, wine, and liquor are all common orders at receptions, Tornai says. He recommends the following breakdown for a party of 150:
Wine and Beer
Opt for two types of red and two types of white—one each to serve with dinner and an additional option behind the bar. If you’re a fan of rosé, choose that over a second white option. Also be sure to factor in enough bottles and cans for beer drinkers.
Dinner red: 3 cases (12 bottles per case)
Additional red: 1.5-2 cases
Dinner white: 2-3 cases (depending on the season; more for a summer reception)
Additional white: 1-1.5 cases
Beer: 12-16 cases (24 cans or bottles per case)
If you are serving hard liquor at your event, you need to factor in for the diversity of classic mixed drinks that can be ordered. You should stock up with an emphasis on the more popular spirit choices.
Vodka: 8-12 bottles
Bourbon/whiskey: 6-10 bottles
Gin: 4-6 bottles
Rum: 3-5 bottles
Tequila: 4-8 bottles
Scotch: 1-3 bottles
Choose Your Own Adventure
You can certainly blow your budget on booze, if you so choose. “Some couples want to spend a lot to offer premium brands to guests, while others prefer to keep it casual and simple,” Tornai says. Providing your own alcohol is typically the most cost-effective option, and it allows for that flexibility if you have particular brands you prefer. “The BYOB route”—sourcing through a retailer rather than your caterer—“certainly leaves more wiggle room in any wedding budget, as couples aren’t tied to fixed packages that can’t be adjusted to their specific requests.”
He goes on: “Having the ability to choose what brands to add to an order gives the couple the freedom to prioritize where they want to spend more money and where to select more budget-friendly labels. For example, if a couple knows their guests are big bourbon drinkers, but not so much gin, they can select a premium bourbon and less expensive gin to balance out the overall cost.”
It’s generous to consider the tastes of your guests—you want them to have a good time, after all—but don’t worry about pleasing every palette (spoiler alert, you won’t be able to). What do you want to drink? What does your soon-to-be spouse want to drink? Let that be your baseline.
The good news? “At weddings, people will drink whatever you have,” Robinson says. “I don’t recommend running out of vodka an hour into the wedding,” she laughs, but adds that people will adapt—especially if there’s “an experienced bartender who can recommend another option in a cheerful way.”
Both experts highly recommend doing a signature cocktail or two; Robinson loves a “His” and “Hers” option. Signature cocktails are a fun reflection of the couple, but can also be a way to save some dough. “If you have a full bar and a signature cocktail, most guests will order the signature cocktail, just because they want to be part of the wedding experience,” Robinson says.
She recommends making it personal, incorporating the wedding theme, the couple’s heritage, or hometown, for example. Tornai agrees that the cocktail should reflect personalities and be sentimental, but also needs to appeal to a variety of people. An Aperol Spritz, Negroni, or Sangria will always be a crowd-pleaser, and he’s seeing espresso martinis and mezcal margaritas trending now.
As for serving style, batched is best. “For bigger weddings, I definitely would batch the cocktail,” Robinson says. “For small intimate weddings, it can be part of the experience creating that cocktail onsite. But for bigger weddings, I always bring a batch—that way you’re not holding up the bar line.”
Don’t Forget the Bubbles
Thinking of doing a Champagne toast? Or, how about passing out Prosecco for guests to sip during a summer ceremony? You’ll need one glass per guest—but typically these ceremonial sips aren’t full pours. You can do a half pour—three ounces versus a full five-ounce pour—and your Champs will go nearly twice as far.
“Dessert liqueurs such as Baileys or Grand Marnier aren’t super popular, but some people do like the idea of letting guests spike their coffee,” Tornai says. “The more booze, the better!” Consider adding these to your alcohol checklist if you want something boozy to serve alongside slices of that delicious wedding cake.
White Claw, Canned Cocktails, and More
We all know canned cocktails and malt liquor options are trending. But Robinson recommends keeping these options limited: Serve a cold canned cocktail as a welcome drink or to sip during the ceremony—one per guest at most, rather than offering them unlimited at the bar.
Non-Alcoholic Things To Remember
Mixers: What would a gin and tonic be without the tonic? A rum and coke without the coke? Most caterers offer or even require a mixers package, even if they aren’t providing the booze. But double check what’s included. You’ll need specialty items like ginger beer if you want to serve Moscow Mules—and who doesn’t love a mule?—so create a checklist in advance and tick off the ingredients.
Ice: Crucial but often forgotten!
Options for non-drinkers: Have plenty of bottled water but make sure to get the small bottles; people will waste the larger size. Four non-alcoholic options is plenty—Robinson recommends Coke, Diet Coke, Sprite, and lemonade—and you don’t have to serve full cans. Served in a glass with ice, one can will make three drinks. For a wedding of 100 guests, two cases of soda should be plenty, she says.
Glassware: If you’re purchasing your own bottles from a liquor store rather than enlisting a bar service, you may need to provide the drinking vessels. Your caterer may provide these. You can rent a haul of rocks glasses, coupes, flutes, and more in a style that fits the vibe or your wedding—think colorful tinted glassware or vintage mix-and-match vessels. Plan to have five or six times the guest count in cups, Robinson says.
Bartenders: Again, consulting with your caterer is key—they may provide bartenders in addition to waitstaff. How many to book depends on the size of your venue, Tornai says. “We usually suggest no fewer than two per bar if there are multiple stations.”
Especially if you’re rounding up on the above suggested numbers, you may end up with some leftovers (it’s better than running out, trust us). So what to do with the extras? Well, you can always save them: Stock your home bar or refrigerator, chill that extra bottle of Champagne to pop on your one-month anniversary, or even host an intimate party to reminisce on the big day and drink through what’s left.
Alternatively, you may be able to get some of your investment back. Some retailers—Chicago-based Binny’s among them—accept returns. “You can return leftover items so long as the wine has not been chilled and the labels and seals remain intact,” Tornai says. “We accept single bottles of wine, spirits, and Champagne; beer can be returned in its original packaging but not in single-bottle format.” Inquire with the liquor store you’re shopping at before you decide which way to round.
The all-important question—and one there’s no correct answer to—is how much to spend on booze. Budget depends on the size and scope of your event, how long you’ll be serving alcohol and what types you select. “Your alcohol cost definitely should be a good amount of the budget, because the bar is one of the most important parts of the wedding,” Robinson says. “The line at the bar never stops.” That said, there are a few ways couples can save. Her top suggestion? Offering just a signature cocktail, just Champagne, or just wine and beer for the first hour, or until the first dance is over. “Sometimes I start a full bar when the dance floor is opening,” she says. “That can save you at least 45 minutes of the full bar.”