The last thing a couple wants to see at their wedding is a line at the bar. That’s why having the right number of bartenders—as well as a bar that’s set up efficiently—is key to making sure your reception runs smoothly. “Service is the number-one priority,” says Gina Fasulo-Weinstein, founder of Hospitality Inc. “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 New York City-based Hospitality Inc. She has spent more than 20 years in food and beverage management.
Not sure where to start? Fasulo-Weinstein is sharing her expert tips on everything from costs, how many bartenders to hire, and what the bar area needs to make sure your event is a success.
How Much Does a Wedding Bartender Cost?
“Price depends to some degree on what the bar offerings are going to be,” explains 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.
Another thing couples often forget about when setting their bartending budget: The work that happens before and after the event. “They think the bartenders will walk in, pour drinks, and go," says Fasulo-Weinstein. Bartenders, however, are responsible for a lot more than that, including getting your bar set up and breaking down the whole apparatus afterward. 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 in order to make it easy for the clients. “And if the client wants to give a little something extra, that’s always nice,” she notes. 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 event is over.
If you do decide 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 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: “You might have different bartender skill levels, based on availability," she explains. "So I try to simplify as much as possible, without compromising on quality, so everyone gets consistent drinks.”
Questions to Ask Your Catering Company
In addition to deciding 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 exactly what 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.
Don't forget to find out what the bartenders will be wearing. You don't want to be 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 bar gear, from cocktail shakers and strainers to bar mats. You'll also want to make sure there is an ice bucket for chilling beer and wine, a separate bucket for serving ice, a “dump bucket” for trash, and space on the bar top for the bartender to actually work. A full-service catering company will likely provide all of this, as well as price it into the overall rate. But 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.
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, and you should have it, too.”