After the ceremony, right as the reception gets started, there’s one thing that wedding couples never want to see: a line at the bar. Having the right number of bartenders and a bar that’s set up for efficiency is key to a reception that goes smoothly. “Service is the number-one priority,” says expert Gina Fasulo-Weinstein. “Actually getting the drinks out fast enough, not having anyone waiting. So it’s critical to have enough bartenders.”
Meet the Expert
Gina Fasulo-Weinstein is the founder of Hospitality Inc. based in New York City and has spent more than 20 years in food and beverage management.
Read on for everything you need to know about wedding bartenders, plus advice and insight from Fasulo-Weinstein.
How Much Does a Wedding Bartender Cost?
“Price depends on some degree to what the bar offerings are going to be,” says Fasulo-Weinstein. “Whether the bartenders are simply pouring wine and beer, or whether they’re going to be making signature cocktails.” A starting point is $35/hour, she says, but you might pay someone with experience in craft cocktails significantly more. Remember that you’re paying multiple bartenders, and not just for the time that they’re pouring wine.
“A lot of people don’t figure in the setup and breakdown time [when pricing out the bar],” according to Fasulo-Weinstein. “They think the bartenders will walk in, pour drinks, and go.” Bartenders are responsible for a lot more than that, including getting your bar set up for a successful event, and breaking down the whole apparatus afterward. “Even for the simplest bar, there’s a lot to set up.” For a four-hour reception, you’re probably looking at seven hours of paid work from your bartenders.
What About Tipping?
Fasulo-Weinstein prices gratuity into the rate for her bartenders, to make it easy for the clients, she says. “And if the client wants to give a little something extra, that’s always nice.” Check with your catering or bar service company to see if a tip is included. Tip jars are definitely not necessary, especially when you're offering an open bar. If your contract doesn't include a service fee and gratuity, you should have a tip ready to share with the bartenders when the evening is over.
If you do choose to put a tip glass on the bar, you might want to stick a dollar or two into it so the other servers don't accidentally clear the glass. You should also let your planner, the catering manager, or the banquet manager know that you were the ones who put the glass there, just to make sure the bartenders don't get in trouble for going against company policy.
How Many Wedding Bartenders Do You Need?
Plan on having one bartender for every 35 guests if you want the bar to run smoothly. So a 150-person wedding will need four or five bartenders. That’s a good starting point, but staffing does depend on the level of service you’re asking for.
Beer and wine can be poured quickly; making craft cocktails from scratch, not so much. So Fasulo-Weinstein tries to prepare as much in advance as possible: “Even in craft cocktails I try to have everything done for the bartender before the event,” she says, batching drinks ahead of time. “You might have different bartender skill levels, based on availability. So I try to simplify as much as possible, without compromising on quality, so everyone gets consistent drinks.”
Questions to Ask Your Catering Company
Along with considering what drinks the bartenders will be pouring, ask about glassware—who’s providing it and how it’s priced into the overall cost. You’ll want to know what exactly they’re serving in, too. Nicer-looking plastic might be perfect for a mojito at a beach wedding, but out of place for a Champagne cocktail in a grand hotel ballroom.
You should also ask what the bartenders will be wearing, so you’re not surprised with uniforms that are too formal for the occasion (or with no uniforms at all).
Make sure you’re clear on who’s providing the various elements of bar gear, from cocktail shakers and strainers, to bar mats to keep the surfaces clean. A full-service catering company will likely provide all of this, and price it into the overall rate whereas if you’re hiring your own bartenders, you’ll want to work with the venue or a rental company to check all the boxes.
Whoever’s providing it, proper equipment is key to a bar that runs smoothly. “What’s behind the bar is essential,” says Fasulo-Weinstein—including an ice bucket for chilling beer and wine, a separate bucket for serving ice, a “dump bucket” for trash, and space on the bartop for the bartender to actually work.
Finally, she recommends that all couples purchase an umbrella insurance package, which covers them for liability around alcohol in the unfortunate event, for instance, that a guest has too much to drink and injures himself. “The catering company will have this liability insurance, the venue will have it; you should have it, too.”