Planning your reception beverages
Words by Rebecca Mitchell + PHOTOGRAPHY BY Jamye Chrisman

Drink up!” Risky words if you have an open bar at your wedding reception. Did you buy enough booze? Is your selection what your guests will want to drink? Did you budget for an endless supply? And, most importantly, will your guests get home safely?

To successfully plan your reception beverages, you need to estimate consumption, provide options, determine your budget, and have a transportation plan.

Estimate Consumption
Before figuring out your budget, estimate how many cases of wine, beer, and liquor you’ll need for the event. A good rule of thumb is to assume each guest will consume about two drinks during the cocktail hour and one drink per hour every hour after that.

For wine, count on pouring four glasses from one bottle, with twelve bottles in a case. For beer, a full keg translates to roughly fifteen and a half gallons or 165 twelve-ounce servings. Single-serving bottled beer is typically sold in cases of twenty-four. And for liquor, estimate eighteen mixed drinks per bottle. Don’t forget the mixers and extras, like tonic, orange juice, club soda, cranberry juice, drink mixes (pina colada, daiquiri, margarita), limes, olives, etc.

Photo by Cody Downard

The time and length of your reception, plus the availability of beverages, will contribute to how many drinks guests will consume. Alcohol consumption rises the later an event begins. Guests will likely drink less at early-afternoon events compared with late-afternoon or evening events. For morning or early-afternoon events, have plenty of non-alcoholic options available.

The length of your reception is a critical variable to consider: The longer your reception, the more beverages your guests will enjoy. If a fully stocked bar is available, experts predict forty-five percent of your guests will drink mixed cocktails or hard liquor, thirty-five percent will drink wine, and twenty percent will drink beer. Obviously, if you narrow the choices, the demand for each will increase.

Provide Options
Great parties have great drink (and food) options, so for best results, give your guests several choices. Create a few signature cocktails that reflect your personalities or wedding theme. The choices are endless, so get creative! Find inspiration on Pinterest or by Googling “signature wedding cocktails.” (If you offer a couple signature cocktails, you can cut down on your mixed drink options.)

For your beer, wine, and mixed drink selection, consider a variety that will appeal to many people. Keep it simple, as trying to please too many tastes with too many options can backfire. Go with the crowd-pleasers.

Photo by Hannah Hardaway

Depending on the season and time of day, you may want to feature a hot chocolate bar and/or coffee and espresso bar with loads of extras like whipped cream, peppermint sticks, cinnamon sticks, and marshmallows. When it’s frosty in the Tetons, a customized hot beverage will hit the spot!

And no matter the season, don’t forget non-alcoholic drinks. Stock up on lemonade, tea, soft drinks, and water. For extra credit, offer non-alcoholic mixed drinks, old-time root beet or cream soda, and sparkling seltzers with fresh fruit garnishes.

Determine a Budget
For a modified full bar, experts broadly estimate that for every twenty-five guests you will need seventeen bottles of beer, four bottles of wine, one bottle of liquor, and fourteen non-alcoholic beverages per hour. Based on your guest list numbers (and the factors mentioned in “Estimate Consumption”), calculate a rough figure.

Include an allowance for bartending staff and tips (a nice tip is twenty percent of bar costs). For quick and adequate service, hire one bartender for every fifty guests. Your caterer, venue, or wedding planner can help you find experienced bartenders. Be sure to use experienced ones as inexperience can lead to “large pours” and might throw off your estimates.

Not to be Debbie Downer, but you might want to consider budgeting for event insurance that will cover any alcohol-related liability. If you are providing your own alcohol—outside of a catering company—you’re likely not going to be covered by your caterer’s liquor liability policy. Check with your insurance carrier and determine if it’s something you want to purchase.

Don’t forget to factor in the cost of your transportation plan. It can be part of your wedding beverage budget or a separate line item in your overall wedding budget.

Have a Transportation Plan
If you’re serving alcohol at your reception, consider providing guests transportation to and from your reception. Use a couple of options on an hourly basis: an Uber-like service that can drive local guests to their homes, and a hotel shuttle-type service to drive guests to a few pre-determined hotels. Don’t forget to budget in driver tips, which should be about fifteen to twenty percent of the bill (often conveniently added to your total in advance). There are many experienced transportation companies in the Jackson and Teton Valley areas that can help with the logistics. See our Resource Guide on jacksonholewedding.com for suggestions.

Photo by Katy Gray
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