How to Stock the Bar for Your Wedding Reception

How can you keep your guests happy at the reception without breaking the bank?

When it comes to coordinating a wedding, stocking the bar may be one of the more puzzling aspects. How much booze should you buy? Is it OK to serve only beer and wine? It's a time-honored tradition to celebrate your wedding day with spirits, and if money is no object, open the bar, hire a couple of bartenders and party into the night.

What's that? You're on a budget? Well, don't worry. With a little planning and creativity, your guests will never know.


While the thought may be tempting, it's bad manners to have a cash bar. You don't invite people to a party and expect them to pay for their refreshments. If beer and wine are all you can afford, then make them the only options. No one will think the less of you for that, but your guests probably won't enjoy themselves if you try to charge for a drink.

How Much Do You Need?

How many guests will you have at your wedding reception?

If you're doing your own catering, you need to know how much alcohol to buy. Keep in mind that you'll need less for a morning reception than an evening one. Think of who your guests are. A more genteel crowd may be content with some good wine, but the groom's college buddies may prefer beer. When you factor in the guests who won't be drinking alcohol, the average consumption will be about one drink per hour. In general, count on two cases of beer, three cases of wine and a case and a half of champagne for 100 guests. Two fifths of the more popular liquors -- vodka, scotch, bourbon, whiskey and rum -- should be plenty. Don't forget to purchase mixers such as fruit juice, soda and water, too.


Put a Personal Stamp on It

Make your drink choices personal.

Who says you even have to have a real bar? At an informal reception, fill metal tubs with ice and chill bottles of beer and wine and let guests can serve themselves. A waiter can pass champagne for toasting. How about serving just beer and wine and maybe one signature drink -- something that has special meaning for the couple? Did you meet over apple martinis at the neighborhood watering hole? You can also reflect your heritage in your choice of drinks. Is the family from Tennessee? Jack Daniel's can be your choice. Getting married at the beach? A fruity cocktail is in order. Guests will always remember those drinks and how much fun they were. They won't realize that you saved time and money at the liquor store.


Bar on a Budget

See if the liquor store you get your alcohol from will take back unopened bottles.

You don't have to break the bank to have a good time at your wedding reception. By having your wedding early in the day and focusing on less-expensive beverages, you can make the bar at your wedding reception another customized part of your special day. Another way to keep costs under control is by having the bar open only prior to dinner. Pass champagne after the meal for toasting.

Ask the liquor store if they'll take back any unopened bottles after the reception. Many times, they'll agree in order to make a big sale. If you're holding the reception at a hotel, club, restaurant or reception hall, talk to the manager or the caterer. Ask if you can bring your own wine. Beware of corkage fees, which the venue may tack on for serving -- they can cause the tab to balloon considerably.


Lots More Information

Related Articles


  • Cheap Wedding Solutions. "How to stock a wedding bar." (June 17, 2010)
  • Chowhound. "Stocking the bar for a wedding reception." (June 17, 2010)
  • The Knot. "DIY Reception Ideas: How to Stock the Bar at Your Wedding Reception." (June 17, 2010)
  • Wedding Channel. "A Guide to Wedding Wine and Spirits." (June 17, 2010)