Raise a glass to having a well-thought-out bar (translation: happy guests) at your wedding reception.
Credit: Joe Goger

People may say that what they love most about weddings are the vows or the hymns or the pure joy on the bride and groom's faces. But, truth be told, what many really enjoy most is the bar. Whether stocked to the hilt with high-end brands or set with only a modest selection of beer and wine, the bar is the place you'll find guests chatting and laughing all night long. Here are tips to make yours everyone's happy place.

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Set up more than one bar

Unless your guest list is under 50 people, have a main bar, plus one or two additional bars at opposite corners of the room for wine, beer, and soda only. On average, each guest will have about two drinks during the cocktail hour, and you don't want a line forming.

Keep it sophisticated

Nothing says "frat party" like a keg. To avoid that vibe, serve beer in bottles instead. It'll cost more, but it's worth the extra expense. Have several varieties on hand-imported, light, and domestic, plus any local microbrews, which is a tasty introduction to your wedding's locale for out-of-town guests.

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Avoid a cash bar

As tempting as it to have guests pay for their own drinks, everything should be on your tab since it's your party. You'd never expect your guests to pay for hors d'oeuvres, so why are drinks on them? If a full, premium-label bar is too pricey, scale down to house brands. Or instead of an open bar, where drinks are available the entire reception and paid for by the hosts, limit the bar to wine, beer, and soda-no hard liquor, mixers, or a fleet of specialty glasses to rent.

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Pick winning wines

For the cocktail hour, keep the wines simple. Get one or two whites (favorites include sauvignon blanc and pinot grigio) and one red (merlot is popular). Lesser-known labels can save you money, and it can be fun for guests to try something different.

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Cut costs by going shopping

Ask your caterer if you can buy the alcohol yourself-it will be a tremendous savings. You can stock up on bottles and cases whenever you see a sale over the course of your engagement. If your venue or caterer charges a corkage fee (often $10 or more) to open each bottle, figure that into the cost.

Know how much alcohol to buy

To figure out how much you need, look at the liquor, beer and wine, and mixer quantity suggestions from Professional Bartenders & Servers Inc., a Washington, D.C., staffing firm. Keep in mind that these numbers are based on the average event and should be used as a guideline only. If your reception is during the day, for example, you'll need less alcohol, or if your guests are more of a beer-and-wine crowd than a mixed-drinks mob, you'll need fewer bottles of liquor.

Customize a cocktail

Create a signature drink that contains four elements or fewer. For the best-tasting drinks, use juices (opt for fresh-squeezed), herbs that are seasonal, and syrups that are homemade. Wondering which spirits to use? Try gin, vodka, or tequila.

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