Budgeting for alcohol got you feeling tipsy?

Check out these tips for saving money while still throwing a great party!

Tiarra Sorte

You want everyone at your wedding to have a good time and celebrate in style.  Glasses will be raised, and toasts will be made, but depending on your family and friends, things can get quickly out of hand.  You’ve planned your budget to the cent. You know exactly how much the florist, DJ, cake, photographer, photo booth and maybe even the caterer will cost. But you may not know how to calculate how much you’re your guests are going to consume in alcohol.  

Let’s first talk about bartenders.

The only thing worse than waiting in line for the bathroom is waiting in line for a drink.  You should know your staffing costs prior to your big day. Start with a minimum of two bartenders for 100 guests.  For each additional 50 guests, plan on two more bartenders. In your budget planning, consider the service/gratuity charge and what total that is based on – whether it is staffing hours, total alcohol sales or both.

If you are on a budget, variable costs are the scariest, so prepare yourself for a worst-case scenario.  An average event assumes 1 drink/person/hour, but for weddings, that assumption goes up to 1.5 drinks/person/hour that the bar is open.  That sounds ridiculous because it is hard to believe that people will drink five to six beverages, but your guests will be there for an extended period, plan on partying, and unfortunately lose their drinks.  That bar tab can start tallying as soon as your guests arrive. Since your guests are supposed to arrive 30 minutes prior to the service, it is gracious to offer them refreshments. Typically, right after the ceremony the cocktail hour ensues and from there, guests move directly to dinner where they expect to enjoy their meal with another beverage.  You’ll then have the toasts which will require everyone to have a top-off – it is bad luck to toast with water! The dancing and socializing will have your guests hopping from one spot to another and this is where that misplaced drink happens.  

Break out the Calculator!

Let’s assume that your 150 guests arrive like they are supposed to for a 4 pm wedding and your evening goes until 10 pm.  The bar would open at 3:30 pm and close at 9:30 pm – six hours of beverage service. Going back to the formula 1.5 drinks * 150 guests * 6 hours = 1350 drinks.  At $5/drink that is $6,750 and more if your alcohol costs are higher or have an especially exuberant bunch.   

Please resist the urge to have a no-host bar.  You’ve invited these guests to your wedding, so be prepared to host them.  If you invited them to your house for dinner, you wouldn’t charge them for their drinks.  If are looking for clever budgeting solutions, there are several ways to limit your exposure.  

  1. Welcome, drinks:  It doesn’t necessarily have to be a signature cocktail or a glass of champagne, even a glass of lemonade or beautifully presented spa water will make your guests feel welcome.  Do be prepared to offer children non-flavored water.  
  2. Cocktails:  Cocktails are extremely trendy right now, so reserve spirits for just cocktail hour or after dinner for an hour.  Offering just one or two signature cocktails is usually less expensive and it is a way to share your personality with your guests.
  3. Toasts:  A champagne toast may seem traditional, but not everyone loves bubbly.  Don’t want to commit to over two cases of champagne for 150 guests? You can make sparklingly available to those that want it and have servers go around to tables to top off your guests’ glasses.  That will save you another full round of drinks.
  4. Selection:  To find delicious wines at a bargain from the beverage list, look for wines from other countries.  Italy, France and even Australia have been making wines for centuries longer than the US, so they’ve mastered the craft.  The bottles are usually beautiful, and they won’t be something that your guests will have seen at their local grocery store.  

By following some of these suggestions, your tab will most likely be less than 1.5/drinks/person and you’ll have some extra flash cash for your honeymoon.  Cheers to you both!