How Much Alcohol Should You Buy for Your Wedding?
By Wedding Spot
Not sure how much alcohol to buy for your wedding? Wedding alcohol calculators can be generic and confusing, which is why Wedding Spot advocates for crunching the numbers yourself. We spoke to wedding experts from a broad range of specialties including bartenders and wine distributors, to get the full picture of what you should include when buying your alcohol. Keep reading to discover a breakdown of the math (psst, we did some of it for you) and some insider tips on how to save cash on your wedding alcohol that you won’t find anywhere else.
Figure out how much alcohol to buy for a wedding
Ask the right questions to perfect your wedding alcohol calculation
According to a recent interview WeddingSpot conducted with Lauren Schaefer of The Get Together Events Co, Schaefer said that “to determine how much alcohol for your wedding you first need to ask:
● Is this a full open bar?
● A semi-open bar?
● Just beer/wine?
● Are you having a specialty cocktail(s)?
● Do you plan to do a champagne toast with your guests or do you plan to have wine poured at the table?”
It’s a lot to consider. But your budget will help narrow down your selection.
Schaefer claims, “these questions influence the amount of alcohol and the type of alcohol you purchase. Outside of these questions, the standard calculation is one drink per guest per hour, plus an additional drink during cocktail hour. From there, you can start your math!”
Here’s an example:
Let’s say you have 100 wedding guests who RSVP’d for the reception. The reception will last a total of four hours including one cocktail hour. Based on the equation Schaefer provided, you can reasonably assume that each guest will have four drinks each.
So for a party of this size given this time frame, couples can expect their guests to consume 400 drinks throughout the night.
While that may seem like a lot to some, that number is quite small for others. That’s why it represents the average each guest will consume. Some may drink less but your other guests may make up for that.
Remember, it’s better to have some leftover than to run out before the night is over. You can always take it home, give it away as gifts in the future, or resell unopened bottles to friends and family.
You’ll also want to consider what type of drinkers your wedding party are. “The type of alcohol you provide will really vary depending on your preferences,” says Striegler. “The most common is beer and wine. Some couples will choose to include hard alcohol as well, and this is usually the wilder, partying crew.”
The size of your wedding will affect how much alcohol you need to buy
According to Luna Nuda, figuring out how much alcohol to buy for a wedding is really quite simple: all you need to know is the number of guests and how long your wedding reception will go on for. On their blog, they shared this equation: “two drinks x number of guests x hours for the event = total number of drinks”.
If you plan to include a sit-down dinner, you can expect your wedding reception to run as long as five hours depending on the venue and local noise restrictions. We’ve used this number to create the cheat sheet below.
The average wedding has 167 guests but we went ahead and did the math for a wide range of wedding sizes for quick reference:
● under 50 = 2 drinks x 50 guests x 5 hours = 500 total drinks
● 50-75 = 2 drinks x 75 guests x 5 hours = 750 total drinks
● 75-100 = 2 drinks x 100 guests x 5 hours = 1,000 total drinks
● 100-125 = 2 drinks x 125 guests x 5 hours = 1,250 total drinks
● 125-150 = 2 drinks x 150 guests x 5 hours = 1,500 total drinks
● 150-175 = 2 drinks x 175 guests x 5 hours = 1,750 total drinks
● 175-200 = 2 drinks x 200 guests x 5 hours = 2,000 total drinks
Noticing a pattern? You can essentially add a zero to the end of your guest count to get a rough idea of how many beverages each guest will consume over the course of a five hour reception.
Keeping that ballpark number in mind, let’s dive deeper into what it really takes to make your final wedding alcohol purchase decision.
Two ways to buy alcohol for a wedding
Each has its pros and cons. We spoke with several event planning experts and experienced bartenders to get the inside scoop on things you might not expect when it comes to choosing between the two. Here’s the breakdown:
Working with a venue or caterer that provides alcohol
Some venues and caterers offer packages for alcohol like they do for food. These packages include details such as quantity, services provided, equipment, staff, and purchasing. They’ll do all the calculations for you and transport and store your alcohol ahead of time.
For those already overwhelmed by wedding prep (we don’t blame you) this is music to your ears. But before you put that deposit down, it’s worth considering this from alternative angles.
An email Dave Foreman of Pour Masters Bartending Service sent to Wedding Spot outlined the upsides and downsides to this kind of package.
● Less hassle of shopping.
● Built into the final cost.
● If there is a license on-premise, then you can have a cash bar which will keep the final cost down.
● If they don't have a license, you may be able to choose the brands you like.
● You can have the location provide less quantity to keep the drinking to a safe level.
● Less brands of alcohol available.
● More expensive if choosing a package.
● Don't get to keep the product that wasn't used.
● If using a cash bar at the location, it may be seen as cheap.
● If the venue calculated your quantity wrong, you could run out mid-reception.
● You could pay for alcohol not consumed.”
You should also be aware of your venue or catering contract. According to our interview with Bryan Striegler of Striegler Photography, he’s seen firsthand how contract obligations have caused couples to spend more money on their wedding alcohol than they needed to.
“A few years ago, a couple picked a venue that required [them] to use [the venue] for alcohol,” recounts Striegler. “The funny thing is the groom worked for a beer company and could have gotten it all for free, but ended up paying the venue's prices.”
This brings us to our other option:
Going the BYOB route
It all boils down to time versus money.
“BYOB requires time and energy from you- is that something you are okay with?,” asks Schaefer, “Or would you rather pay a little extra to have it taken off your hands? You have to remember that with BYOB you also have to source not only the alcohol, but also often any mixers, garnishes, et cetera.”
All of those little costs can add up. You’ll also need a bar stand to house glassware and accessories if the venue doesn’t already have one. You’ll also want to hire at least one bartender to help set up, pour, mix, and clean up.
Still, if you plan it right you can save on your alcohol budget and customize the entire experience to your liking.
Here’s a breakdown of the pros and cons of doing a BYOB wedding.
● Can save you money
● Easier to customize
● You can always change your menu
● If you run out someone can run to the store
● Order as much variety as you want
● Personalize your orders to your guests’ tastes
● Time-consuming to plan
● Risk of running out of alcohol early
● Hidden fees and expenses
● Might need to hire additional help
● Might not be allowed according to the contract with the venue
Now that you have an idea of what you might like to do, let’s talk numbers.
If you’re still not sure, skip the wedding alcohol calculator
Foreman let us in on a little secret: “Using a store’s calculator is set up to buy more alcohol than normal.” Instead, he says it’s best to talk to a professional.
“Consult with a bartending service for quantities”, says Foreman. Do this as you call around for quotes and see if you get similar numbers across the board. After, base your alcohol estimation on these details.”
You can also use Striegler’s rule of thumb: “For beer, I would suggest three to four beers per person. For wine, aim for a bottle for every two people.”
Or, if you’re limiting your alcohol purchase to just cocktail hour, Leah Keggi from Blue Ridge Spirits told Wedding Spot that “no more than two cocktails and two types of beer keeps options straight forward and prevents too much of a line from forming at your bar”.
Save money on your wedding alcohol
In addition to figuring out what type of alcohol service you’ll provide and how much of it you need, you should also consider the quality of your menu.
“How much to spend on alcohol is determined by what you'd like to offer and what shelf those alcohols are on!” Schaefer reminds us.
“Are you okay with house wines and Tito's? Or do you need to go up to more expensive alcohol? Perhaps if you are particular about your vodka but not your gin, [they] can balance each other out.”
Depending on your preferences, you may be able to serve everyone the correct amount of alcohol at a lower price point.
You can even participate in an alcohol buyback program. That’s what Schaeffer advises at least.
“Find a distributor that will do a buy-back program,” says Schaeffer. “Some distributors will buy back any unopened, unchilled wine and alcohol at the end of the event, so when you over-purchase to make sure you don't run out, you can take comfort in that you can sell it back! It requires some hauling back to the distributor, but [it’s] definitely a money saver!”
Shopping sales is another great way to save money on wedding liquor if you’re doing BYOB. According to Foreman, “it will be ok to sit for a while. Buy on holidays if possible.”
This is only applicable to the hard stuff though. “Beer and wine is always inexpensive. […] Beer shouldn't be sitting for a long time,” warns Foreman.
He also says “A bottle of wine yields four glasses, so don't go crazy since most guests drink
vodka, whiskey, and beer. Look at various brands to save money. If your guests drink a specific type, i.e.: whiskey [or] vodka, then buy the 1.75ml bottles.”
And don’t forget to do your research!
“Because you are buying a larger quantity, you can possibly get a discount for buying in bulk,” says Striegler. “Do you know anyone with a connection to a beer company? They might be able to get it for you at cost and save you hundreds.” We also suggest comparison shopping and negotiating discounts with everyone who quotes you until you get the best bang for your wedding buck.
If all else fails and you’re a couple dollars over your budget, here’s what Keggi suggests: “Skip the champagne!”
“Rather than spend $20 a bottle on traditional Champagne, consider using Prosecco,” says Keggi. “High-quality Prosecco (like Luna Nuda) is often more cost-effective than true Champagne, and Prosecco's floral and fruity notes can be a bit more accessible to a wider audience. Most people won't notice that it's not Champagne, they're just excited to celebrate with you!”
Enjoy your wedding day alcohol safely an responsibly
Foreman also told us that at the end of the day, it’s not worth stressing over. “Remember that in 20 years, you only have the ring, pictures and videos left. Most of your budget should be on those three things,” says Foreman. “You don't have to have the best alcohol, as it is complimentary. You want your guests to enjoy your day, but they don't need to get overly intoxicated.” Cheers to that and drink responsibly!
Next up, read more about everything you need to know about having an open bar wedding.