All About the Bar
The bar and drinks at your wedding can be a source of enjoyment, relief, and engagement to keep guests busy. Picking the right bar for your wedding and all of the components will help create an amazing experience for guests and keep it in the budget for you. Here are tips to creating your wedding bar:
First up is choosing the type of bar for your event. Let's go over the different options and estimated cost.
This is usually not an option for most full service/ all inclusive venues. If your venue let's you bring in alcohol for the bar you could throw a stock the bar party where guests bring a bottle or pack of something to drink. This means you end up purchasing less alcohol and mostly mixers. For a more cohesive bar give out a list of suggested drinks to bring ie. Vodka, Spiced Rum, White claws, Corona etc. If you are hosting a backyard wedding this might be the option you choose so everyone gets to have a drink they like!
This is often done in lieu of a wedding/bridal shower.
Estimated Cost: $0-10/pp
If you and your partner don't drink or don't want alcohol at your wedding that is totally fine. Communicate to your guests ahead of time so they don't pay for unneeded Ubers.
Estimated Cost: $7-10/pp
Guests will be responsible for paying for all of their own drinks at the bar. You may choose to cover non-alcoholic options and they pay for liquor only. This is the cheapest way to offer alcohol to your guests without spending a significant portion of your budget on the bar. Guests can choose if they want well or top shelf liquor and are less likely to be wasteful of drinks if they are paying for them.
Couples may choose to put the immediate family or wedding parties bar tab onto their bill as a thank you.
Couple & Non-alcoholic $5-7/pp
Add Covering Immediate Family & Wedding party $15-17/pp
Partial/Limited Open bar (Ticket Bar)
Another option for couples who want to host the bar within their budget. A partial or limited open bar means that drinks are free to guests and paid for by the couple for either a set duration (ex. during cocktail hour) or up to a preset amount (ex. $3k, two drinks per guest using tickets). Once that limit is reached guests are responsible for paying for their drinks the rest of the night.
Couples may choose to pay for non-alcoholic drinks and/or pay for their immediate families and wedding parties drinks all night.
Cocktail hour, non-alcoholic & Couples drinks $19-22/pp
Add Covering Immediate Family & Wedding party $30-34/pp
Beer & Wine
Usually the most cost effective way to host an open bar for your guests as more variety equals higher cost. Have a couple options of wines - whites/reds, a sparkling, and beers - lager and pale ale. Ensure to include non-alcoholic options. Using boxed wine and kegs can make this even more budget friendly.
Cans & Bottles $20-25/pp
Boxed & Kegs $18-22/pp
A toonie is a 2 dollar Canadian coin, a loonie is a 1 dollar coin. This is a variation of a cash or partial open bar where guests pay $2 for a drink. The rest of the cost is put onto the tab the couple pays at the end of the night. This type of bar can help offset the cost of alcohol and allow couples to host guests within their budget.
Estimated Cost: $35-45/pp
The couple hosts the entire bar for the duration of the wedding. You may still choose to limit the options to exclude top shelf liquor or certain bottles of wine etc to have a better reign on the overall cost. Additionally you may choose to include or exclude cocktails (margaritas, mojitos etc) from the bar and only offer simple mixed drinks for spirits (rum & coke, Vodka & soda etc). If your venue is providing the bar they have may a set price per person and that includes all drinks and liquors.
Estimated Cost: $60-65/pp
Including cocktails & top shelf $85+/pp
Info for Guests:
Giving your guests info about the bar ahead of time allows them to plan accordingly. They may want to take an uber or get cash ahead of time etc. Communicate on your website what the bar type is and if guests need to be prepared/bring cash to buy drinks.
Estimating Bar Quantities:
Having enough alcohol and drinks to last the entirety of your event ensures guests can have the drink of their choice all night and the party doesn't have to stop.
In your workbook on google sheets there is a tab with a drink calculator. Input your guest count, number of hours the bar is open and number of non-drinkers & kids. You may also adjust the percentage of each type of alcohol being consumed based on your offerings and guest preference. The calculator will provided needed quantities for beer, wine, spirits and mixers/non-alcoholic beverages. An estimate for the quantity of ice needed is also provided.
The formula used is that each guest will have one drink per hour the bar is open, expect during cocktail hour when guests usually have two drinks per hour. Over the entirety of your guests this number usually holds true as some may drink less or slow down as the night progresses.
Typically guests will have 1-2 waters during the event, bottled or sparkling. If your event is during the day or during warm weather you may need 2-3 bottles per person.
Ice needs largely depend on your bar type, with cocktail bars needing the most. Additionally if you are DIY'ing the bar and using coolers to store and chill drinks you will need extra ice. If you are using ice just for chilling drinks 2lbs/pp should suffice. If the bar will be using ice for serving drinks too plan for 3-5lbs/pp.
Bar set up and logistics:
Having a well timed and efficient set up ensures the bar is ready for guests with perfectly chilled drinks and low wait times.
Set up & Timing
Have staff set up the bar and getting drinks into coolers and on ice a minimum of 1 hour before guests will be at the bar, ideally 2 hours on ice or in the fridge will ensure your drinks are thoroughly chilled. Getting drinks chilling is the first step in setting up the bar.
If you are DIY'ing the bar look into having ice delivered to your venue the morning of the wedding and pre-cut garnishes as much as possible to save time during set-up. Limes, lemons, orange slices etc can be cut and placed into containers with a damp paper towel to keep them moist.
If you are planning signature cocktails or are limited on bar staff having pre-batched cocktails can speed up the service process as guests enter cocktail hour and flock to the bar. Cocktails can be pre-batched ahead of time to save on set up time the day of and can be placed into large drink dispensers to be poured over ice.
A staff ratio of one bartender per 30-50 guests will limit guests wait times to get a drink, especially during cocktail hour when the bar is busiest. One staff member per 30 guests is ideal for bars involving mixed cocktails, while 1:50 is better suited for bars with smaller offerings such as beer & wine only.
Additionally, this staff ratio must also take into account the need for bar backs that restock the bar for the duration of the event and walk around the venue collecting empty glassware to be cleaned and returned to the bar. They are essential for ensuring smooth service, glassware and drink availability, as well as a clean environment for guests.
If you are DIY'ing the bar and will be renting the majority of your glassware and bar equipment you will need to ensure everything is planned for. Most rental companies allow you to make changes to the order up until 1-2 weeks out from the event; however, they may have clauses or limitations on the amount you can alter the order by without incurring a fee.
I suggest planning for your full guest count to attend and then cut back from there as needed. Typically the fee for decreasing your order is only if the quantity is 50% or more of the original quote quantity.
Glassware - I suggest ordering 5-10 extras as some may come broken/cracked or with marks. Additionally, this will allow for the bar to still have glassware once everyone has a glass if guests leave them around the venue - let guests know to keep their glass when given their first drink to help limit this.
1 Water goblet for every guest
Wine glasses for 70-100% of your guests (If you have wine on tables for dinner one for each guest)
Highball and cocktail glassware for 50-70% of your guests (Up to 1 per guest if doing signature/welcome cocktails)
Beer glasses for 40-60% of your guests ** Skip beer glasses unless you are set on not having bottles/cans in photos. Most guests won't care.**
Shot glasses (in you want shots) for 30-40% of your guests
1 Champagne glass per guest if doing a toast or welcome champagne. Otherwise 40-50% of your guest count.
The Physical bar - A bar height serving table makes for a better service experience for guests and a better drink building space for bartenders rather than seating height tables. Most rental companies have bars for rent that have a tiered set up, one lower for making drinks and storage of items & garnish, and a bar height service area to place drinks for guests.
Coolers can often be rented if needed to store cold drinks behind the bar. You will need several coolers each with a different item - beers, wines, waters & non-alcoholic beverages, coolers, and drinking ice.
In addition to the bar you may need to rent bar equipment & accessories if you don't have access to them. This includes items such as:
Cocktail shakers, strainers & spoons
Menus & frames
Galvanized tubs for guest self service
Drink dispensers for self serve water & pre-batched cocktails
You will also need to provide items not from rentals such as:
Straws or Stirrers
Fruit & Garnish
Cash till & Tickets
Candles & Candle holders
If the bar alcohol isn't provided for you, when purchasing alcohol for your event ask about their return policy and bulk buying options.
If you are purchasing several cases of wine and flats of beer they may do a discount or bulk pricing. Additionally, many liquor stores will allow you to return unopened and sealed bottles of alcohol.
Below is bar checklist to use for DIY bars to ensure you have everything you need for a well run bar all night long. Use the Drink Calculator in the workbook to find out quantities for drinks and ice needed.