How Much Alcohol Should We Serve at the Wedding Reception?

Make sure you order the right amount of beer, wine, and liquor for your celebration.

Photo: Katie Stoops Photography

Providing alcoholic beverages for your entire wedding guest list can be a big drain on the wedding budget, so many brides and grooms opt to save a little money by stocking the bar themselves (if their venue or caterer allows, of course). This cost-effective solution raises a vital question: How much beer, wine, and liquor should we serve? We've broken down the calculations.

Choose a Bar Type

When it comes to reception bars, brides and grooms have a few different set-up choices: open bar, beer and wine bar, and cash-only bar. An open bar, which is the most common and priciest option, allows guests to drink anything they want without limit. To save money, some brides and grooms opt instead for a beer and wine bar—sometimes adding signature cocktails or select liquors to the mix. Finally, a couple can have a cash-only bar, which is typically fully stocked but requires guests to pay for their own beverages. We don't recommend the latter, as many guests will see this as rude. It's better to provide a limited bar than to ask your attendees to pay per drink.

Understand Your Crowd

Before buying alcohol, estimate how many people will drink at your reception and whether they're light, moderate, or heavy drinkers. Then consider your guests' beverage preferences. If you've invited many wine enthusiasts, for example, offer plenty of reds and whites. On the other hand, if your relatives prefer rum, make sure to have sufficient amounts of liquor (as well as appropriate mixers) on hand.

Consider the Timing

The reception time also affects how much alcohol to serve. If you're tying the knot in the morning or early afternoon, guests will be less inclined to drink than at a nighttime celebration. Similarly, expect guests to indulge more on the weekends than during the week.

Breaking Down the Calculations

As a general rule of thumb, plan to serve one drink per guest per hour of the reception. In other words, if you're having a four-hour reception with 100 guests, provide 400 servings of alcohol. Full bars typically offer beer, wine, and liquor. The exact ratio to supply of each type will depend upon your guests' preferences and your budget, but you can follow a standard guideline when determining the amount to serve: 50% wine, 20% beer, and 30% liquor. If you're having 100 guests and a four-hour reception, for example, you'd purchase 200 servings of wine, 80 servings of beer, and 60 servings of liquor. In addition, you'll want to provide plenty of options; this means at least one type of red and one type of white wine, a few varieties of beer, and a handful of liquors and mixers.

If you're only serving beer and wine, the exact amount to serve again depends on your guests' preferences, the reception time, and the season. A safe estimate would be 75% wine and 25% beer. Say, for example, you're having 100 guests at a four-hour reception, then you'd buy enough for 300 servings of wine and 100 servings of beer.

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