Ultimate Guide to Serving Drinks at Your Wedding 

photo of a wooden pallet with pink lemonade and water pitchers on top in the woods for a fancy bar set up

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The wedding bells are ringing, and your big day is approaching. If you’re having a party, the drinks for your guests will be among the top items on your itinerary. And if you don’t get it right, it could ruin your event.

A lot of consideration goes into serving drinks at your wedding—your budget, the number of guests, and their preferences. It would be best to consider these as you plan for your guests at your wedding party.

In this guide, I’ll cover extensively all you need to know concerning drinks for your guests as you prepare for your big day. But first things first, before you even spend a penny on drinks, there are factors you must consider.

Before You Serve: Planning for the Drinks at Your Party

It’s normal to get excited or even overwhelmed as your wedding approaches. You’re likely to miss one or two essential things. However, proper planning will reduce pressure and help you keep track of things.

When you select drinks for your guests, there are some factors to take into account, such as the following:

  • Your budget
  • Your guests
  • Your venue
  • The weather

Your Budget

Finance is the most critical part of your planning because every aspect of your event will cost you money. Everyone wants a successful party, but not everyone will spend the same. 

So decide how much you’re willing to spend on drinks before you plan how you will serve your guests at your wedding.

As much as bar setups differ, their cost implication also differs. An open bar will cost you more than a more controlled arrangement.

Your Guests

The expected number of guests will also help you plan how to serve drinks at your wedding. While this factor will also decide your budget, I put it under a different section here because it has other implications. 

  • The number of guests will decide how many servers or bartenders to hire for your party or whether you’ll need them.
  • Your guests’ preferences will also help you determine the amount of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages available. This process helps if you know many of them personally.

The Venue

Although some people tend to ignore this factor, the venue of your party will also determine how you serve the drinks.

If you have your party at a hotel, the dynamics will not be the same at your private residence, event hall, or garden. You’ll organize, store and serve your drinks differently in these locations.

The Weather

People prefer light beers during hot weather and darker-colored beers or liquor during cold seasons. While your party should have several types of beverages, this factor will help decide the right proportions to provide.

If you’re thinking of catering the wedding as well, check out this article on how to cater your wedding with advice from a real bride who catered her wedding.

I’ve covered the essential parts of the planning, so let’s dive into the service. The first thing is the type of drinks to serve at your party.

wine bottles in a metal bowl with ice

What You Should Serve: A Wide Assortment of Drinks

Due to a limited budget, you may hold back on the number of drinks available, but ensure you go all out on variety. You should have the various types:

  • Non-alcoholic beverages: Juice, soda, carbonated drinks, water, and malt
  • Alcoholic beverages: Champagne, wines (white and red), beer, and liquor

It’s an excellent idea to offer a variety of drinks to your guests, but you must also provide the drinks in proper proportions. It wouldn’t make sense to have more liquor than beer, as people don’t consume them in the same quantity.

Have More Water Than Any Other Drink at Your Wedding

You should have water in abundance, more than any other drink. The average bottled water is about 75 cl (750ml). Offer your guests at least three bottles per guest if you’re serving this size. 

A party is a hyperactive environment: many people will dance, and others will walk around. So your guests will perspire from these activities. If you ever run out of any other drink, never run out of water.

If you’re DIYing it, you can offer tap water. I would fill a number of pitchers of water and place them around the venue to make sure people are staying hydrated. Ask someone or hire a bartender to be your designated water re-filler throughout the night.

These ones from Amazon are nice and won’t set you back too much.

Have Sufficient Soft Drinks To Serve the Non-Alcoholic Crowd

You should provide a sufficient supply of soft drinks. Provide variety, too—carbonated drinks, juice, soda, and malt. However, the number of soft drinks you provide should reflect your guest preferences so that you won’t have an excess supply.

The soft drinks crowd usually comprises non-drinkers and persons below 18 years. Some sick people and people undergoing alcohol rehab will also prefer non-alcoholic drinks. Typically, you will use non-alcoholic beverages like lime juice and carbonated drinks to make cocktails.

Have Enough Sparkling Wine and Champagne for Toasts

You don’t need to account for people to drink champagne all night long but buying enough for 1 serving per guest for a toast is a good idea. You can add a few extra bottles just to make sure you have enough and for any guest that wants to toast you all night long.

Provide an Adequate Amount of Liquor for Your Guests

Liquor includes all distilled alcoholic beverages, namely:

  • Gin
  • Brandy
  • Rum
  • Vodka
  • Tequila
  • Whiskey. 

Because they have high alcohol content, people consume them in smaller quantities. You can also mix them with other drinks to make cocktails.

Other Types of Bar Setups Have Different Requirements

The other types of serving arrangements not discussed above – cash bar, self bar, and dry bar also have special needs:

  • Cash Bar: In some cases, guests pay for their drinks. This option also works at a reception venue that offers bar service. Bartenders are needed here, but you won’t need to hire them. The bar owner should take care of this for you.
  • Dry Bar: A dry bar arrangement involves no alcohol. You also don’t need a bartender here. People don’t consume non-alcoholic drinks in the same way drinkers would consume alcohol. So get servers to pass the drinks around.
  • Self Bar: In this arrangement, people come with their drinks. Here, you may not need the services of a server or a bartender. Your guests will fill that role and save you the stress.

How Much Should You Spend on Alcohol at Your Wedding?

How much you spend on alcohol at your wedding depends on your preferences, budget, and guests. Data suggests that the average alcoholic bill for wedding parties in the US is $1,300 and $3,000—depending on the number of guests. 

This cost is based on the average wedding of 115 people, most of whom have their wedding at a venue. Which takes care of the alcohol for them with anything from a full open bar to a less-expensive DIY bar option.

I have described the different bar types in the previous section. Each type has its cost implications—with an open bar setup as the most expensive arrangement. Your guests have the freedom to order anything they want. And because people tend to go the extra mile when there’s free alcohol—be ready to spend a lot of money!

The limited bar keeps service within what you have provided. When essentials like water and wine or champagne (for toasting) are sufficient, you can offer a minimal amount of alcohol. Beers are the cheapest.

A dry bar has no alcohol, so there’s no trouble here. A dry bar is like ground zero on alcohol expenses. The self-bar and cash bar are other cost-effective options.

If you’re planning a more DIY approach, keep reading to see if your costs will match what people spend on venue alcohol costs.

rustic bar set up with a wooden desk as the bar, liquor bottles, water pitcher, decorative wood slabs, candles, and eucalyptus garland

How Much Alcohol to Buy Per Wedding Guest

If you’re DIYing it, I created a chart to help you determine how much of each type of alcohol you will need to buy per hour and the cost. Costs vary widely state-to-state so you may find that buying a case of wine, beer, or liquor in your state is more or less expensive based on how alcohol is taxed in your state.

For the purposes of the chart below, I assumed you could get a bottle of wine for $15 if purchasing a case, $20 for a case of 24 beers, and $17 for a handle of vodka. Things will certainly be more expensive if you want to upgrade to nicer wine or fancier liquor. But since we’re DIY’ing it, I assume you want to buy in bulk on the cheap.

Number of GuestsBottles of Wine Needed 25 oz Cans of Beer Needed Bottles of Liquor Needed Cost Per Hour
How many bottles of alcohol to buy and cost per hour by the number of guests

How to Use This Chart

The chart above gives you the cost for 1 hour based on the amount of guests you have. So you need to take into account how many hours your guests will be drinking. Typically you can assume the cocktail hour and several hours of the reception will be needed. It is definitely acceptable to “close the bar” during dinner and people tend to drink less towards the end of the night so you can err on slightly fewer hours than your actual reception length if you need to.

The great part about buying your own alcohol is that if it is unopened, it won’t go bad. So you can keep any leftovers for some time. Or some stores have a refund policy that allow you to get your money back for any unopened bottles.

How Much Alcohol Do You Need for 100 Wedding Guests?

Now let’s do the math! If you’re curious about how much alcohol you need for the average sized wedding, you’ll want to use the chart above to determine how much alcohol you need for 100 wedding guests for 5 hours (the average length of a cocktail hour + reception.)

For 100 wedding guests, you’ll want to purchase 13 bottles of wine, 150 bottles of beer (about 6 cases), and 19 handles of liquor. That will cover 5 hours of drinking for 100 people.

How Much Does Alcohol Cost for 100 Wedding Guests?

Based on the totals above, you’re looking to spend the following on alcohol for the average wedding of 100 guests.

For 100 wedding guests, alcohol costs $597 if you buy it yourself in bulk. This will cover 5 hours of drinking for 100 people.

As you can see this number is significantly cheaper than what the average couple spends on alcohol for their wedding. DIYing it can save you 50% or more! However there are a few costs that are not included in the alcohol estimates that you should consider. Plastic cups, napkins, straws, ice, mixers, lemons/limes, and water if tap is unavailable to guests to serve themselves, should all be factored into the cost.

From a wedding bartender himself, here’s what you need to buy:

Keep it simple! 2 kinds of beer, 1 white wine, 1 red, 1 bubbly, 2 signature drinks, cola, diet, lemon/lime soda, and soda water, cranberry juice, pineapple juice, margarita mix and limes.

You will need water!!! 

Don’t forget the straws. 

Make sure the bar has their own trash can. 

3 pounds of ice per person is suggested plus ice to chill your beers and wines. 

Everyone will loose their glass at least 3 times so triple the amount of plastic cups.

Kimber Thomas, Wedding Bartender

Loud Bride Wedding Alcohol Cost Calculator

Did you find the chart above useful? I have a free alcohol calculator in my budget guide that will help you figure out the costs and number of bottles to buy by the number of guests and hours of your wedding. You can type in your budget and it will let you know if you’re going to be over or under budget based on the number of guests and hours you enter.

With those savings you may consider hiring a few bartenders to help you mix drinks and serve your guests throughout the night in a responsible manner. Let’s get into bartender costs and how many you need next.

Should You Hire Bartenders or Servers?

Getting drinks available is the first step. But it doesn’t end there. Serving drinks is equally as important. Drinks must flow in an organized manner. One recurring question is, should you hire bartenders or servers? The answer depends on how you set up your party, whether you have an open or a limited bar selection.

Hire Bartenders if You Have an Open Bar

This setup is ideal if you choose a reception venue with bar service. Alternatively, you can buy the drinks and set up a bar at a perfect location, preferably at the back or a corner of your reception venue.

This arrangement allows your guests to order drinks while you settle the bill. You’ll need bartenders for an open bar. 

So if you’re using a venue with a bar, it’s best to allow the management to handle that aspect since you’re patronizing them. However, you’ll have to hire bartenders if you set up your bar.

Servers Are Perfect for a Limited Bar

A bar with set limits is a more controlled arrangement. Instead of allowing your guests to leave their seats to get drinks, servers pass the drinks from table to table, ensuring every table has enough variety to serve different preferences.

You don’t need bartenders for a limited bar arrangement. Servers are ideal for this setup. Some people would drink more than others, whether in an open bar or a bar with limits. However, a bar with limits would cost less and reduce potential overindulgence.

How Much Does It Cost To Have a Bartender at Your Wedding?

You’ll pay between $30 – $50 per hour for a bartender’s services at your wedding. If your reception is 5 hours, you’ll spend at least $150 for a bartender. You’ll pay more if your bartenders do more than pour drinks for your guests.

Make sure you add a tip for your bartenders and leave a tip jar out for them to earn tips from guests throughout the night.

Number of GuestsBartenders NeededCost per Hour
Chart showing the number of bartenders needed and cost per hour by the number of wedding guests

As you can see from the chart above, adding on bartenders for five hours can easily cost $500 for 100 guests. Which puts you right in that four figure range for the cost of alcohol at a wedding.

My recommendation would be if you’re having a smaller wedding, it’s probably not as necessary to have bartenders but you can certainly splurge if you have the extra budget. Once you get to 100 guests or more, having a bartender improves the flow and service of the bar exponentially. So even though it’s an added expense, you should highly consider it.

How Many Bartenders Should You Have for 100 People?

You’ll need two bartenders for 100 guests for excellent service. One hundred guests will overwhelm a bartender and result in poor service. More than two bartenders per hundred guests might be necessary if you have a larger space with multiple bar locations.

If you have an indoor/outdoor reception, you might want to spread out the bars a bit and then you’ll need more than two bartenders. Having two per bar area might seem excessive but you don’t want the bar to be unattended when the bartender has to go grab more ice, restock the bar or take a well-deserved break!

Don’t Forget These Items

Once you have done your homework, provided enough drinks for your guests, and sorted out the waiter/bartender question. You could still have poor service if some items are missing or insufficient.

  • Glasses: Rental glasses are available for a small fee. However, I recommend disposable cups instead. They’re cheaper and take away the concern of paying for lost, broken glassware. Get more than enough, as your guests will likely use more than one cup. Three disposable cups per guest should suffice.
  • Ice: If you’re offering a limited bar, you’ll probably store your drinks in coolers. Don’t forget the ice, and make it sufficient. A cold beer is an unnecessary inconvenience.
  • Garnishes: These decorative fruits are a perfect addition to your beer and liquor supply. For a full bar, garnishes such as slices of oranges and limes will give your service an extra punch.

Final Thoughts

Your wedding party is an opportunity to celebrate your new status with your friends and family. Many factors make your party successful, and drinks are at the top of the list.

While you don’t have to break the bank, ensure you give your guests—and yourself—a memorable day—providing you have a bar that meets a wide range of preferences with the perfect service. I have covered all the essential considerations in this article.



Jaime is the owner of Loud Bride and Coast Designs LLC. She got married in 2017 in Geneseo, NY and designed her own wedding invitations and programs for the occasion. Now, she designs bespoke wedding stationery and affordable templates for other couples. She lives in New York city with her husband and two children.

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