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  • Writer's pictureSydney Schatz

How To: Budget for Your Wedding Bar Tab

Shots, shots, shots, everybody!!! No? Just me? Okay, cool. But really… the bar tab for a wedding can feel like one of the hardest parts to budget for. The reason being is because most of the time your bill for the bar will be based on consumption. How are you supposed to know how much guests are going to drink months before they actually drink the alcohol? Honest answer, you give your best guest and estimate. This is where it helps to have an industry professional, like a planner or venue coordinator, in your corner because likely they will have the experience and knowledge you need to create a more accurate estimation.

There are many things to consider before you start calculating the estimated bar cost. Let’s first chat about what the different bar options are…

A fully hosted bar means that all the beverages are to be paid for by the host of the event – typically by consumption. Whether that means beer, wine & spirits/cocktails, or just beer & wine, depending on the restrictions of your wedding venue. Side note… please don’t have shots offered at the wedding unless it is maybe only for one toast – that was just a joke! Shots can make sure the party goes from zero to very not fun, very quickly.

A partially hosted bar means that the hosts of the event are agreeing to pay for a certain number of drinks or up to a certain dollar amount. Then after that limit has been reached, the guests are expected to pay for their own beverages.

A cash bar means that the guests are responsible for paying for all their own alcoholic beverages.

Photo by Lisa Prins Photography

For this blog post, let’s mainly focus on the fully hosted bar and the partially hosted bar, since a cash bar will not take up any of your wedding budget.

With a fully hosted bar that is only beer & wine, I recommend budgeting $30 per adult. If you have a crowd that tends to be heavier drinkers during events, to be on the cautious side you can certainly budget $35 per adult. This allots for 3-4 drinks per person (factoring in tax + gratuity). Some will have more; some will have less or none. Law of averages.

With a fully hosted bar that is serving beer, wine, and cocktails/spirits, you will want to up that budget to $40 per adult. Depending on your drinking crowd AND the caliber of liquor you are serving, budgeting $50 per adult would be on the cautious side. Adults like their cocktails and they tend to disappear from their glasses quicker than beer & wine, thus the increase in cost. Because the increase in number of drinks per adult is likely.

If you are thinking, oh man, that adds up quick… it’s because it does. That is why the option of a partially hosted bar appeals to a lot of couples. This can happen in a lot of ways. Maybe you just decide to host beverages during cocktail hour or through dinner, then the guests pay for any remaining alcoholic beverages they consume. Or maybe you only feel comfortable hosting up to a certain dollar amount then after the cap is reached the bar turns to “no host”.

Google and Total Wine will tell you to calculate 2 beverage per adult during the cocktail hour and 1 beverage per hour per adult thereafter. In my personal experience, I have found that to be slightly excessive. I typically recommend calculating 2 beverages per adult during the cocktail hour and 1 beverage per every 2 hours per adult thereafter. Meaning if you are only intending to pay for alcoholic beverages during cocktail hour, it is best to estimate for 2 drinks per adult. If you would like to host through dinner hour, I would recommend estimating 3 drinks per adult to have your bases covered. To estimate how much that would cost and if you would prefer to simply host up to a certain amount… on average a drink costs $6-7 ($8-9 if you want to factor in tax & gratuity, which most venues will charge on top of the bar tab).

Full disclosure! These estimations are best used when the wedding venue or a licensed bartending service is proving the alcohol and bartender(s). If you are hosting your wedding at a venue that requires you to provide the alcohol and bartender, or at a private residence, that is a whole new ballgame. The budget becomes much more flexible because you tend to have more control of the bar menu & the costs of each type of alcohol served. The game transitions to calculating how much you will need based on a number of beverages. The simple calculations that are pretty industry standard are as follows…

Wine: guests x hours of reception x 0.5 ÷ 5 = number of bottles needed

Beer & Seltzers: guests x hours of reception x 0.3 = number of 12 oz servings needed

Spirits (liquor): guests x hours of reception x 0.2 ÷ 15 = number of bottles needed

Again, calculating these beverage needs using the complete number of hours for your reception (this does not include ceremony time) will typically this will give you a good buffer. Remember, it is more likely that guests will drink 2 beverages during that cocktail hour time and 1 drink per 2 hours after that. For a 5-hour wedding, 3-4 drinks are likely per adult guest. For a 6-hour wedding, 4-5 drinks are more likely per adult guest.

Now that I have made that clear as mud, did you find this article helpful? There are a lot of resources out there to help you create a wedding bar budget, but I always recommend erring on the side of caution as it is more pleasant to receive a bill that is under what you expected versus over. Especially at the very end of your wedding planning journey.

If you feel like additional assistance as you go through this process would be beneficial to you, let’s chat sooner rather than later! Be sure to head over to my contact page and fill out the form so we can get a consultation phone call scheduled ASAP.

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