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Wedding Tips - Bar & Alcohol Service

Next on my blog series is some tips and ideas when it comes to planning the bar or alcohol service for your wedding. On all these tip posts, these are things I have noticed or come across in my decade of being a wedding planner. Things can change so make sure you are always discussing this with those you hired to provide your bartending needs for your big day. They will always know more than me!

Please note that if you are getting married at a hotel or something similar, places like these tend to have a bar package you select. That package usually handles all of your needs. This post is for those who are working at a venue where you hire your own bartender and and provide all of the alcohol yourself. When you are determining the booze and level of service, the options are numerous.

What to Serve?

Deciding what to serve is usually the first step. If you are trying to save costs, it is usually recommended to serve just beer and wine. If you want to incorporate some liquor, consider one or two signature drinks.

I think 3-4 types of each alcohol works well. That means 3-4 different variety's of beer or wine. When I saw varieties I mean variety in the type of alcohol. Don't serve all IPA's or Stouts as beer, mix it up with a variety. Also some plan to get a keg and serve draft beer, while others do bottles or cans. Please check with your venue on any policy regarding bottles. I have worked at venues that don't allow glass bottles to be served.

For wine a red, white, and a blush are usually standard. Not to discredit those fussy about wine, but sweeter wine always goes faster than the drier stuff at weddings. For liquor, rum and vodka are usually a must and the most versatile.

This couple opted for signature drinks and displayed them in a beautiful sign. Image from Amanda Nichols Photography.

Champagne Toast

For a long time it was a tradition to have a glass of champagne at each guests seat they can use to toast the couple as speeches are given. Though this is done still a many weddings, however the trend seems to be moving away from this. The reason; so much champagne goes to waste. I've seen weddings were probably a good case of champagne was tossed as people didn't drink it. Most couples are moving to guests just toasting with that they have. A good compromise is to offer champagne at the bar and guests who may want it can grab a glass ahead of time.

For those who do champagne toasts, some opt to put a piece of fruit like a raspberry in their glass as pictured below.

Feature Local

I always believe in highlighting the local area of your wedding, especially if you have a lot of out of town guests. Craft beers have really taken off in this country and it seems like every area has a local brew pub or two. In the State College area alone I can think of at least 6 within an hour drive. Craft beers are all the rage, so consider serving some. Local wines are always a hit at a wedding as well. Don't forget distilleries and cideries, both which seem to be on the rise across the country (and we have those also in the State College area).

Picture below shows of a couple who served local wines to guests.

30 Day Rule

If your wedding is being held in Pennsylvania, you can purchase all but beer through the state liquor stores called Fine Wine and Good Spirits. They do have a 30 day return on unopened bottles of alcohol. Which is great if you don't want to be stuck with a bunch of alcohol you may never drink. You can also purchase local wines in these stores as well. Talk to your bartender about not opening new bottles of alcohol if its close to the end of the night. That way you could return something and not be stuck with an almost full bottle of something.

Picture from Tera Nelson and a bride enjoying her signature drink. The unopened liquor to make this could be returned within 30days to the PA state stores.

Skip the Shots

Most venues actually wont allow shots and some bartenders won't serve them. I feel like an old fuddy-duddy saying this, but I am strongly against shots at weddings. First you will need to purchase more liquor and you will go through it quicker. Second, people get drunk fast on shots. Its a wedding, not a college party. Most drunk guests will be cut off at the bar, which may cause a scene. Plus they can do something stupid that could lead to property damages that you could be held liable. I once had a wedding where a super drunk guest was visibly sick, and the shuttle bus driver refused to allow them on the bus in case they threw up. It was in the shuttle company's contract they could do that. Luckily a sober guest stayed with them and called and Uber. If you really want to hit the drinking hard, plan an after party at a bar.

Note: I have two rules to this where I think shots are fine. The first is if you are doing a dollar dance and want to offer one to guests. Some places will break their no shots rule for this. The other is I have had people do a celebratory shot with their bridal party members before the ceremony.

Who Provides What

Make sure you go through a detailed list of what all your bartender provides and what you provide. Most couple have to purchase the alcohol, that is a given. However, don't forget the mixers if you are providing mixed drinks. Some bartenders have packages where they can provide the mixers and garnishes. Same thing with cups. Do they provide? If they do provide its usually disposable and some couples opt in those cases to rent glassware instead. I've had some couples split it meaning they start with rented glassware and then switch to disposable in the final hour.

Ice is the big one. Everyone always forgets about ice and assumes someone else is bringing it. Make sure this is clear who needs to provide it. Also note that sometimes the caterer will provide ice and some couple's assume this means bar as well. Never assume this, especially if the bartender is from a different company than the caterer. The caterer usually only factors in what they need and not the bar service, again unless they are providing both services.

Finally, just have a clear outline from your bartender what they are providing and what you need to provide. Go over it all down to the beverage napkins and bottle openers.

This couple I worked with provided the wine glasses and they did double duty as a guest favor.

Also Serve Non-Alcoholic Drinks

Please don't forget these as well when planning your beverage service; especially water. Usually this is done through the caterer but if the caterer is not also doing bar, chances are they are gone after dessert. Some bartending services can also provide non-alcoholic drink stations, and have bottles of water handy if there is not a water source at the bar.

Misc. Items

Finally, these are a list of a few other random items to confirm or check on when talking to your bartender. They have come up for me and are worth mentioning:

  • Tip jar. Most bartenders will put one out for the guests to leave a tip but some couple's don't like this and prefer to handle gratuity themselves.

  • If using a keg, make sure you have a tap or kegerator.

  • Chilling the alcohol. If the venue doesn't have a fridge find out how they want things chilled or if they plan to handle it when they arrive that day.

Again please go through all of this with your bartender. Have a clear idea of what they are providing and what you are to purchase. Don't just assume. Most out there are great and can give a detailed list. They are also awesome at guiding you on the amounts to purchase.


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