At Wedding Pioneer, we love offering plenty of helpful info to our couples, especially if you’re a busy modern bride planning your entire wedding—from your ceremony location, reception venue, food, and drinks.
Today, we’re focusing on the bar!
We’ve designed a handy wedding alcohol calculator, along with some considerations to create your perfect wedding bar:
- Number of guests and reception length
- Customizing your bar selection based on guests and venue (how many beer drinkers, wine drinkers, and mixed drinkers)
- Where you’re holding your reception (for example, formal indoors versus “casual” outdoors)
- Personalizing your wedding bar with a specialty drink during the cocktail hour
- How to save with a full host bar and a limited bar later in the night
- How to save by selecting mid-priced spirits or wines, and what kinds of beer to serve
I’m already getting a little thirsty, so let’s get into this!
Wedding Pioneer Drink Calculator
Our calculator is pretty comprehensive but easy to understand.
Use this handy tool to figure out how much alcohol to have for your party by entering the number of hours and guests.
Number of Bottles
Number of 7 lb. Bags
Number of Bottles
Number of 2 liter Bottles
Number of Bottles
Number of 1 liter bottles
We’ve made it customizable for your reception venue because what’s served at a formal indoor event is often different than a backyard wedding on a hot summer day!
Take some time and have some fun with our calculator! Here’s how to start:
Number of Guests
A good time to finalize your wedding bar is within a week to 10 days of the RSVP date on your wedding invitations.
You’ll have as close to your final numbers as possible, and you can plan accordingly.
Some brides worry about running out of drinks. While it’s generally tough to guestimate how much your guests will drink, you can add +5 to your totals—but don’t feel pressured to do so if you’re on a budget.
Step one: enter your expected number of guests (plus extras) into the wedding calculator. We used 100 guests (confirmed) plus five extras for our examples.
A traditional indoor wedding reception lasts around six hours.
But since you can hold a wedding reception in many places these days, our wedding calculator contains a dropdown selection.
Step two: choose how long you anticipate your reception to last in the dropdown menu.
Customizing Individual Drink Selections on Your Wedding Bar
I’ve been to a formal wedding in a restored castle at Christmas, and I’ve been to a laidback backyard ceremony with a funky wedding singer on ukelele.
The formal wedding I attended offered three varieties of bottled beers and a full selection of spirits and mixers. There was also a selection of liquors served with dessert.
At the funky beach wedding, we kicked back on cans of beer and wines from a box set on each picnic table!
Step three: Some outdoor weddings have more wine and beer, and more formal events call for 50% liquor, 25% wine, and 25% beer mix. Keep the wedding alcohol total at 100% to stay within budget.
Don’t Forget Mixers, Ice, and Garnishes
The most popular sodas for your mixed drinks are cola, ginger ale (or clear soda), and a diet cola. For juice mixes, tomato, orange, and lemonade are preferred.
Step four: using 100 guests as a number, buy 17 2L bottles of soda and 31 bottles of juice.
If your venue doesn’t have an ice machine, here’s what to do.
Step five: using 100 guests as a number, you’ll need 43 bags of 7 lb. ice for an indoor wedding and 57 bags of 7 lb. ice for an outdoor wedding.
Some couples buy bottled water cases for behind the bar.
Our calculator doesn’t include a water option, but it’s easy to determine case costs depending on your guest tallies. Most venues also include filtered water and jugs as part of the location rental fee, and some venues also include the usage of ice machines.
|Don’t forget garnishes like lime wedges, olives, celery sticks, and maraschino cherries!|
Wine With Dinner, Dessert Liquor, and Champagne
Most events I attend offer two types of wines with dinner (red selection and white selection), and more formal events include one glass of champagne to toast and a selection of dessert liquors.
Wedding Alcohol Calculator Tip:
- Some couples keep their wine counts separate from their host or limited bar tallies because wine is served at tables during dinner.
- The wedding alcohol calculator still shows how many bottles of wine you’ll need and include this number in the total number of drinks you’ll need for your reception.
Adding More Personality to Your Wedding Bar
While it’s great to customize your wedding bar for venue, season, and what your guests prefer to drink, you can add more of your personality with a hot new trend: a signature specialty drink!
Signature cocktails work for any venue or time of year. What makes it special is choosing your favorite cocktail, or even better, a bride’s and groom’s cocktail.
For instance, you could offer trays of yummy, creamy shooters during the reception hour before your sitdown formal dinner or punchbowls of sangria at a casual affair.
Including mocktail options for moms-to-be and underage guests is also a great idea. The classic Shirley Temple is one of our faves!
Step six: if you add a bride’s and groom’s specialty premade shooter, you can deduct 1/2 drink per guest from your overall bar total if you’re sticking to a budget.
Serving Great Drinks and Saving Money Too!
Sure, most wedding guests enjoy a few drinks “on the house,” and it’s a great way to thank them for being a particular part of your big day.
But if your wedding budget doesn’t allow for a fully stocked bar all night long… never fear!
Or maybe your budget calls for a choice between more food or drinks all night. If so, it’s always best to go with food options like a midnight buffet.
Some of the best weddings I’ve been to include a fully stocked host bar during the cocktail hour, wine with dinner, and a time-limited host bar during the reception.
Let’s assume your wedding reception is six hours long in this scenario. You could calculate a full host bar for the first four hours, with a higher percentage of beer and hard liquor (over 33% each).
For the final two hours of your reception, limit your bar offerings to light beers and cocktails with a higher concentration of soda or juice mixes.
This is an excellent idea for two reasons: first, it’s budget-friendly when you need to be mindful of costs, and second, it lets people enjoy some buzziness without anyone getting too out of hand!
Go Mid-Range With Your Wine
Most guests are not wine connoisseurs! But you can still serve wines to be proud of at your reception dinner while saving money.
Keep reading because I’ve got a fantastic tip for saving on your champagne toast!
For your wines, choose one type of white and one type of red from this list (or similar varieties):
Cost-saving tip: check out big box retailers like Walmart+ for savings and delivery offers on bulk purchases of wine.
Make Your Champagne Toast Sparkling
I love a good champagne toast at a wedding reception… but that doesn’t mean I like the cost of a typical bottle of bubbly!
You’ve got options today, including very decent prosecco and American sparkling wines. Champagne costs in the $40 range, but a perfect prosecco or snazzy sparkling go for between $12-13 a bottle.
Best Beers for Wedding Receptions
Domestic beers are the most popular to serve, and that’s great news because they can be cost-effective to buy in cases. You can’t go wrong with Bud Light, Miller High Life, and Yuengling, and check out Pabst Blue Ribbon as your late-night, low-cost option for a limited bar offering.
While some people prefer imported beer, you should also check out local craft brewers in your area. Many local breweries offer tastings to couples like you planning a wedding reception. You can have fun picking your favorites between the different beer categories of ales, lagers, or stouts.
Liquors that Wedding Guests Love
Clear liquor options like rum, vodka, and gin are suitable alcohol bases for various mixed drinks, and rye is a favorite for mixing with colas.
Instead of imported beers, you can choose a good mid-range tequila for guests to enjoy.
A good midrange rum selection is Plantation 3 Stars. This rum brand gets high marks for its pleasing taste and budget-friendly price!
You’ve got even more choices for a midrange vodka. We like Smirnoff Red Label Vodka the best.
Gin may not be the most popular hard liquor, but gin and tonic is a refreshing choice for a summertime wedding—and who can forget a martini shaken, not stirred?
Check out this fun article for inexpensive gin brands.
Rittenhouse Rye offers many cocktail possibilities for a reasonable price regarding darker liquor.
Tequila is another crowd-pleaser, and Agavales Blanco is a great mix of affordability and taste, whether your guests like to do shots or mix this into their margaritas!