The first thing most people do at a wedding is make a beeline for the bar. It makes sense on so many levels: For the single folks, nothing takes the edge off nosy relatives curious about their romantic status like a stiff gin and tonic. Those seated at a table with strangers tend to be stricken with a sudden and intense thirst for social lubricants. As for everyone else? Let’s just say it’s generally frowned upon to toast the happy couple with water.
From the bride and groom’s perspective, the anticipation of getting all your guests adequately liquored up without going overboard—or spending all your money—can seem like a tall order. So we asked five experts about some of the most common wedding drink pitfalls, and how to avoid them. We suggest reading this with a double Scotch in hand.
Mistake #1: Wasting money on Champagne.
Turns out the Champagne toast isn’t what it used to be. “We end up throwing two-thirds of it away,” said Kiran Pinto, the managing partner of the Ivy Room, a private events space in Chicago. “People have really strong feelings toward sparkling wine,” she continued. One person’s favorite Champagne might be too sweet or too tart or too effervescent for another guest; it’s impossible to make everyone happy. Instead, “let people toast with what they like drinking,” Pinto said.
If a Champagne toast is high on your priorities list, Pinto suggests passing around a limited number of flutes right before speeches begin and ditching real-deal Champagne for a less expensive sparkling wine like Prosecco or Pet-Nat. Most of your guests won’t notice the difference. Don’t forget to stash the bar with a few more bottles of your favorite white and red wines to make up for the nixed Champagne.
Mistake #2: Going with a self-serve option.
No one likes a big line at the bar, but putting out easy-access drinks isn’t necessarily the answer. Rebecca Shenkman, owner of the NYC-based wedding planning service Pink Bowtie Events, has seen the well-intentioned tactic go wrong firsthand.
“The venue had these tubs built into the side of this old building, which had nooks,” Shenkman recalled. “They said, ‘we’ve had people put ice and beer in them.’” The hope was that the availability of self-serve beer would ease demand at the bar, but ultimately the solution proved thornier than the initial problem. Guests wound up drinking more beer than anticipated—much more—which led to a drunken, very expensive situation.
Mistake #3: Not having a second bar.
A better way to get drinks in people’s hands fast is to have a second bar station. It’s a must for big weddings, said David Mawhinney, the chef at NYC-based catering company and event space Haven’s Kitchen.
“If you can’t get a drink at the bar quickly, you’re going to order a double or a triple [to save you an extra trip],” he said. That’s a one-way ticket to sloppy-drunk guests and wasted booze. “That satellite bar is really helpful. We may not do a full bar there—maybe just wine or beer or a sparkler—but it prevents a backlog and people won’t have to hoard drinks.”
Mistake #4: Not taking the weather into account.
“If you’re hovering between seasons, that’s something you have to think about,” said Nicole Sheppard, who runs the wedding planning company All Who Wander. Fall and spring are popular times to get married, but they’re also more likely than winter and summer to have big temperature swings. That means being nimble when planning your specialty cocktail, even if your heart is set on an rosé-Aperol spritz.
Nicole suggests choosing two drinks—one for warm weather and another for cold—and making the final call a few days out. Of a recent event she helped plan, Nicole recalled that “it was tracking very warm up until the wedding and then we got to the week of, and we realized how cold and windy it was going to be.” What was supposed to be a summery apple martini morphed into a spiked hot apple cider, no problem.
Mistake #5: Stashing a special bottle behind the bar for VIP guests.
It may seem obvious, but if you pour a pricey single-malt whiskey for Uncle Bob, whoever is behind him at the bar is going to want one, too. Saying no is a bad look, said Maureen Larson, the vice president of Chicago-based caterer Lettuce Parties.
“It’s just such a weird vibe and creates a strange kind of feeling,” she said. “If you’re going to do a specialty bottle, you should make sure it’s not only for the bridal party.” If you’re worried about high-end booze driving up your bar tab, a better move is to only provide the pricey stuff for a certain portion of the evening—say the first three hours—before switching to budget options.
Just remember: Despite even the best laid plans, something (hopefully small) inevitably will go wrong on your wedding day. It never hurts to have a drink on hand to help you roll with the punches.