Your bar tab can vary wildly based on where you’re tying the knot, the number of guests at your wedding and how much those guests like to drink. Venues typically charge for alcohol in one of two ways: by consumption (so you won’t know how much you owe until after the wedding) or a flat fee per person, determined in advance of the wedding (usually based on the cost of one drink an hour per person). We’ve seen bar tabs under $1,000 (for smaller weddings) and over $4,000 (for larger weddings and couples who choose top-shelf liquor). If you’re looking to save a few bucks on your big-day tab and think you might want to plan a DIY wedding bar, consider our advice below!
1. Figure out how much alcohol you’ll need
You know your friends and family better than anyone, so if you’re hosting serious drinkers, account for that when purchasing alcohol for your wedding. On the flip side, if you know your guests won’t be hitting the bar too hard, you can feel comfortable ordering a smaller quantity of booze. To estimate the amount of alcohol you’ll need to purchase, you’ll need to know: roughly how many people will be attending your wedding, what types of alcohol you want to serve, when and where you’re marrying and how many hours you’ll be serving alcohol. These calculations over at A Practical Wedding will help you figure out exactly how much booze to purchase.
2. Serve one or two signature drinks or just your favorite liquor with mixers
You can certainly offer a full open bar (that includes: beer, wine, champagne or sparkling wine, rum, vodka, whiskey, gin, tequila and mixers), but that will set you back a pretty penny. Instead, serve one or two cocktails you love (for example a Moscow Mule or a Manhattan) or, if you don’t have a favorite drink, just serve one type of liquor you love and a couple of different mixers. You could even fill large glass dispensers with lemonade or another non-alcoholic beverage and let guests add shots of liquor to their own drinks.
3. Hire a bartending student to serve
Instead of paying a professional bartender through your catering company or venue, hire a bartending student to serve up cocktails. If you’re offering just one cocktail or beer and wine, a younger family member or friend of the family could do the job, too.
4. Buy from a brewery or vineyard and serve beer and wine only
If you’re lucky enough to live near a brewery or vineyard, head on over and talk to the owner or manager about buying in bulk. It’s often cheaper to buy a case of wine directly from the supplier than from a retailer, so do your homework and you can save yourself some cash. By serving beer and wine only, you’ll save money on hard liquor, plus, you can offer up beer and wine self-serve style more easily than you can with mixed drinks, which saves you the cost of a bartender.
5. If you can’t get to a brewery or vineyard, head to the biggest booze sale in your area
Bigger grocery and liquor stores oten offer promotions on alcohol throughout the year, so keep an eye on sale dates and score big on cases of wine at any time during your wedding year.
One final note: It may seemf like a good idea to buy a keg for your wedding, but know that if your guests don’t finish its contents, you’ll likely have to pour any remaining beer down the drain. For weddings under 100 guests, it’s easier to purchase 12-packs or cases of beer — you can always give away leftovers or take extra beer home without fear that it will spoil. And don’t forget to buy ice!