The one thing you absolutely do not want to happen at your wedding? Running out of alcohol. This will likely be one of the most costly line items on your wedding budget sheet, but there are some ways to work around that (such as stocking the bar yourself, if your venue allows it). So, how much alcohol do you really need for your wedding? Ultimately, the answer will vary from couple to couple. As a general rule of thumb, assume that each guest will have at least one alcoholic drink per hour.
To help you determine exactly how much alcohol you need for your guest count, as well as what types of alcohol to serve, we consulted with experts Patrick Davila and Juan Castillo. Here, they share the formula to follow and their top tips.
Meet the Expert
- Patrick Davila, now the Director of Operations, has been with Meadowood Napa Valley since 2005.
- Juan Castillo is the Banquet Manager at Gurney’s Montauk Resort, a popular wedding venue in the Hamptons.
Factors to Consider
“One very important thing to consider is that guests outside of the seated meal are always on the move and are notorious to set down their half drank beverages and just get another one after say…dancing for a bit or going to say hello to someone,” says Davila. “I would program the offerings to lower the ABV as the event goes on. Offer cocktails at reception, wine with dinner, lower alcohol specialty cocktails for dancing and the after-party, or stick to wine and beer after the reception.”
The longer your party lasts, the more alcohol you are going to need. “Most of the weddings I run last seven hours and are open-bar for the first five hours, which includes: hospitality, cocktail hour, reception and after-party,” says Castillo. You’re going to want to have a service strategy throughout the whole affair. And if you're planning to have any traditions tied to alcohol during your celebration, such as a champagne toast or libation ceremony, you'll need to factor in the appropriate amounts of alcohol necessary for those, too.
The venue will need to know in advance if you are offering guests champagne at the ceremony as a welcome drink and if you are doing a champagne toast or not.
Time and Season
If it’s a daytime event, you probably won’t need as much alcohol as you would for an evening affair. If it’s the height of summer, you might want to consider ordering more white and rosé than red wine, for example, and the reverse if it’s a winter affair.
Type of Service
Will you have a full open bar, or are you offering just a few different pre-selected cocktail options? “There is a stark difference between having a full bar and allowing guests to select their preferred beverage versus choosing a few specialty cocktails that are dear to the couple,” says Davila. “Avoid shots at all costs. Not only does the volume of alcohol needed go way up but it rarely ends well.”
Also, is it an open bar (the most common and expensive option) where guests can have as much to drink as they want? Or, is it a cash-only bar where guests have to pay for their own drinks? (This is a less popular option and it’s generally not recommended. However, it is a good place to cut down on costs as guests will definitely drink less.) “For cash bars, I will use half of the product that I would use for an open bar,” says Castillo.
Type of Crowd
And, of course, think about your guests: Are they big party animals? Are they mostly beer people or cocktail people? Do you have a lot of non-drinkers and if so, do you want to offer a specialty mocktail? Just because they are non-alcoholic doesn’t mean that mocktails won’t run up the bill, so keep that in mind.
Suggested Alcohol Numbers
It is challenging to accurately calculate exactly how much alcohol is right for your wedding without factoring in all of the key things mentioned above (location, time of year, preferences, service style, etc.). However, as a general, loose guideline, Davila suggests the following ratios:
Beer: .5 beers per guest
Wine: 1 bottle per 2.5 guests
Champagne: 1 bottle per 6 guests (toast only)
Liquor: 1 bottle per 5 guests (based on a 3-hour open bar)
After-party: 1.5 drinks per person per hour
Keep in mind that you will want to have options within those categories, such as a lager and an IPA; at least one varietal of white wine and one varietal of red; plus a mix of liquors and mixers.
- Beer: 25 bottles
- Wine: 20 bottles
- Champagne: 8 bottles
- Liquor: 20 bottles
- Beer: 50 bottles
- Wine: 40 bottles
- Champagne: 16 bottles
- Liquor: 20 bottles
- Beer: 100 bottles
- Wine: 80 bottles
- Champagne: 32 bottles
- Liquor: 40 bottles
- Beer: 150 bottles
- Wine: 120 bottles
- Champagne: 48 bottles
- Liquor: 60 bottles