Buying the wedding drinks - what you need to know

Photo by  Joshua Chun  on  Unsplash

Photo by Joshua Chun on Unsplash

Your wedding is almost certainly the biggest party you are going to throw in your entire lifetime – and that means organising, and paying for, large quantities of alcohol.  Running out of booze is not going to go down well.  But by the same token you don’t want to go overboard and give yourself a nasty financial hangover.  In this post we share a few tips you might find helpful.

Who is providing the bar?

If you are booking a venue like Clevedon Hall then things are much simpler – there’s a bar already set up and there’s will be a team who can advise you on how best to play things.  However, if you are holding your celebration in a marquee in the middle of a field, a collection of yurts way off the beaten track or you’re lucky enough to have parents with an enormous garden, then there’s a lot more you need to think about and organise.  Either way you are almost certainly going to have some kind of bar arrangement, probably with a bartender or two to run the show, mix cocktails and generally make things run smoothly.  

Whose round is it anyway?

Inviting guests to your wedding then asking them to pay for all the drinks is an absolute no-no!   But you have, broadly speaking, three options as far as the bar is concerned.

Open Bar

This means the drinks are all free, all day and all night.  It’s a simple arrangement, but the most expensive one.  There’s no money changing hands which makes everything much quicker and easier.  Plus, if you holding your wedding in a venue or setting that does not have a drinks licence, you won’t have to apply for a Temporary Events Notice.

Cash Bar

You provide some of the drinks (champagne for toasts and wine with the meal) but have a bar, with staff, and ask guests to pay for their drinks as the consume them.  This is going to save you a lot of money, but will may lead to a few grumbles.  Some people consider that a cash bar at a wedding is acceptable, but others feel it’s a bit stingy and tacky.  If you do gown this route warn people in advance.  Saving money is not the only positive – guests are less likely to get legless and spoil the proceedings!

Limited Bar

The bride and groom pay for all of the alcohol but there’s only a limited selection on offer.  For instance, champagne for the toasts, beer and wine throughout and a signature cocktail or two.

Another variation is to have a fully stocked bar but the bride and groom put a sum of money on a tab.   Once that pre-paid amount has been consumed guests are asked to pay – a kind of “happy hour” approach. 



If you book a wedding venue they will almost certainly provide all the drinks.  However, another option is to buy the drinks in bulk and ask the venue to serve it.  Although this looks like a cheaper option they will charge you what’s known as “corkage”.  This is a service charge for opening and serving bottles of wine, sparkling wine, champagne and even spirits that are bought externally by customers with the intention of consuming them on site.  These charges vary from venue to venue so make sure you check this in advance.  You’ll then need to do plenty of research, and get your calculator out, to decide whether there’s enough of a saving to go to all the effort of sourcing your own champagne, wines, beers and spirits. 


If you are having a marquee wedding, or decide to buy your own and pay the corkage corkage, you are going to have to make some decisions regarding quantities.  First of all you need to know the number of guests.  Then you need to guesstimate how many are heavy drinkers, how many are light drinkers and how many are teetotal. 

It also helps to know how many glasses you get from different bottles and kegs:

1 bottle of 75cl wine              = 6 x 125ml glasses or 3 x 250ml

1 bottle of champagne           = 6 x flute glasses

11 gallon keg                           = 88 pints

4.4 gallon polypin                     = 35 pints

1 litre bottle of spirit             = 40 x 25ml measures

1 litre pimms                           = 20 x 50ml measures (mix with 100ml lemonade)

2 litre lemonade                      = 20 x 100ml measures (ideal for pimms)

When making your final calculations it probably helps to divide the day up into sections. 


Allow three drinks per guest for a drinks reception lasting 1.5 hours.  Use the table above and do the maths! 


For the meal you’ll need Champagne/Prosecco Toasts, 6 flutes to a bottle.  You’ll need wine to drink with the food and usually a 50/50 split between red and white works.  You get approximately 6 small glasses per bottle and work on the average guest consuming half a bottle.  If you are offering bottled water, assume guests will want 1 x 250ml glass each, which means1 bottle will serve about 3 guests.  Best to have a mix between still and sparkling.

Evening bar

You can safely assume your bar will be open for four hours and that not everyone will be drinking the whole time – some will be dancing, eating or leave early with kids or elderly relatives.  Also, you need to factor in your guests and whether they’ll be predominantly on beer, wine or spirits.  An estimate of 6-8 drinks per guests won’t be far off the mark (some will drink more, some less, but that’s a fair average).   It’s also reasonable to assume men will predominantly drink beer/lager/cider and the women wine (that may sound a bit sexist but it’s also probably quite accurate).   

If you are serving beer and wine only, and you have 100 guests then the following estimate is not unreasonable:

50 x 6 glasses of wine           =          50 bottles, have a mix between red/white/rose

25 x 6 bottles of lager/beer/cider           =          150 bottles of beer

25 x 6 pints of lager/beer/cider               =          2 x 11 gallon (88 pints) of

If you offer a full bar selection it’s more complicated.  This is a guesstimated based on 100 guests.

Vodka                        6 litres

Gin                             5 litres

Whiskey                    2 litres

Scotch                        2 litres

Real ale                      1 keg (88 pints)

Lager                          150 bottles

Cola                            10 x 2 litre bottles

Diet-cola                    10 x 2 litre bottles

Lemonade                  10 x 2 litre bottles

Tonic                            1 case

Apple/Orange Juice 15 cartons of each

Photo by  Nik MacMillan  on  Unsplash

 We’re here to help

 As you can see from this post the whole subject of drinks can get pretty complicated. It’s definitely one area where it pays to get some sober advice from people who cater from weddings on a regular basis. We’ve got more than our fair share of experience in this department and are happy to share our knowledge for free - get in touch and save yourself the headache!




Jim O'ConnorComment