• Wendy VanWagoner

5 Ways to Save Money When Buying Alcohol for Your Wedding

Most people plan a big party only once or twice in their lifetime, so it's understandable why most have no clue as to how much alcohol to buy or how much it'll cost. There are a number of alcohol calculators online, but a good bartending service can take this a step further and create a shopping list for you based on calculators, details of your event and their experience in your area. Knowing a good 'guesstimate' will go a long way in helping you to not over or underbuy. Yes, I say 'guesstimate' because no one can perfectly predict how guests will drink, but it will at least get you in the ballpark.

Let's talk overall budget for a minute. In my opinion, the most important ingredients of a party are the setting, bar service, music, and food. I'd suggest reserving the biggest chunks of your budget for those four categories. Something else to keep in mind, the bar will be the most repeatedly visited spot of the event from the moment your guests arrive for Cocktail Hour until Last Call. Hiring bartenders that are friendly, engaging and are super focused on making it fun for your guests is key! And don't forget the bar itself! The cool and fun experience factor of the evening goes off the charts when drinks are served from a charming mobile bar, or at the very least, a bar that's decorated with florals, fun signs or candles.

How to Get the Most Value From Your Bar Service

First off, don't wait until 3 months before your date to book your bartenders, do it early so you can budget accordingly, have the best options for a great bartending company and have time to plan a great menu. Honestly, guests WILL notice if you totally skimp on the bar budget, but understandably, you don't want to go to crazy spending money either. Fear not, there is a middle ground and there are ways to save money while still offering your crowd some tasty spiked beverages.

PRO TIP: When sending your invitations, also ask your guests to indicate what they like to drink on your RSVP form, i.e. wine, beer, cocktails., along with their entree choice. This will really help your bartender to create a better estimate of quantities.

So how much will it cost for alcohol at your wedding? I tell clients to budget $5-10 per person because there are a plethora of choices and price points out there and you want some flexibility in the early stages of planning. Also with a five-dollar spread in that estimate, there are opportunities to save some cash; a couple of dollars saved per person on a 150+ person wedding adds up! So here are five ways to save money and provide a bar service you can be proud of.

1. Beer & Wine

There is no shame in only serving beer and wine at your event, especially in our neck of the woods (aka Beer City) where the quality and variety of beer selections are outstanding. Beer and wine are a solid choice and will definitely save you money. I would suggest that you invest in one craft beer and go with well-loved and less expensive lagers such as Bud Light or Coors Light for your other choice(s). Another go-to that you might think of to save some money is kegged beer, but I'd caution you to thoroughly check this out before deciding. Kegged beer requires special handling (pick up, deposit, & return) and effort (a half barrel is 200 pounds!), will require a significant number of hours to settle before serving, need to be kept COLD (34-38 degrees) via tub, kegerator, keg jackets and will need a tap system to dispense it. All of these items will need to be rented and will add a lot of extra planning and manual labor. (If you'd like to know more about the pros and cons of kegs, Happy Camper Cocktail Co. wrote a great blog post about it here.) My recommendation is to go with cans and/or bottled beer. Since our clients provide the alcohol for us to serve, that means they get to take home any leftovers to enjoy later.

PRO TIP: Consider all the equipment and handling that beer kegs require when comparing the costs of canned/bottled beer. Remember, if you buy kegs, you won't be able to enjoy the leftover beer later and you'll need to wrangle those heavy buggers into vehicles big enough to transport them at the end of the night to when you will likely be exhausted.

Wine is a great opportunity to save some money unless you know your guests are avid wine consumers. Personally, I have been noticing a decline in wine drinkers at weddings, so I have started to suggest scaling back on the number of bottles purchased. People typically sip wine for cocktail hour, have a glass with dinner and then taper off. Keep your choices to one variety of red, one white, and one sweet wine.

2. A Simple and Festive Signature Drink Or Two

This is my favorite option. It's really fun to create and feature a special cocktail that looks gorgeous and is delicious. Your guests will be talking about it all night. Signature cocktails can be something out of the ordinary that includes interesting garnishes and ingredients that heighten the experience of the party! For example, serving a taco bar? There are hundreds of delicious and creative Margarita or Sangria recipes that would be perfect.

Sounds expensive right? Well in most cases, it can be less expensive than offering a full open bar. Because you're buying fewer varieties and quantities of spirits, you will save money while still offering an elegant cocktail! But be warned, if you choose a recipe that is super exotic, the price tag can go up. To keep costs in check for your signatures, choose recipes that have 4 ingredients or less, and garnishes that are in season and easy to find in your area. A good bartending service can help you decide on or even craft a custom cocktail for you. Our clients get a signature cocktail consultation and tasting to help them choose something that's awesome and still fits within the budget.

3. Keep The Menu Simple & Stick to Your Shopping List

I get it, you want to please everyone and you're trying to choose everyone's favorites, but a menu with too many options will overwhelm your guests, the bartenders and slow the drink line. Think simple.

Choose 2-3 varieties of beer and wine and 4-5 categories of liquor, if going with a full bar. You need to resist that 6 pack of hard cider that suddenly sounds good, the random case of Whiteclaw, and puh-leaze leave the odd bottle of Fireball on the shelf (most bartenders won't serve shots anyway). All of these impulse-buys add up quickly! And because these last-minute items are not on your bar menu, they won't likely get requested or served and it's money that shouldn't have been spent. Here's the bottom line, your guests are getting FREE booze, they will be happy with whatever you have to offer. End of story.

4. Serving Mixed Drinks? Don't Buy Top-Shelf Liquor

Well, you can buy top-shelf brands if you'd like, they are awesome, but we're talking about saving money here. Most guests will not be able to tell the difference between Jim Beam Bourbon or Maker's Mark when it's mixed with lemonade, coke or ginger ale. If you have a premium spirit that you or your partner enjoy or want to make sure Uncle Jim gets his Grey Goose, then it's totally fine to buy a bottle or two and let the bartenders know that it's reserved for select people. This way you're springing for a couple of bottles of top-shelf liquor, but don't need to break the bank for the entire crowd. We do this all the time and are discreet about it so that others don't feel slighted.

5. Toasts Don't Require Champagne

The popularity of champagne seems to be trending up currently, and if you love it then you should add definitely it to the menu, but there are additional costs that come with the bubbly. Most bartending companies will charge extra to chill and pour champagne, especially if it's poured tableside, or if you want a champagne tower. You'll also need to buy champagne flutes in addition to the other beverageware. If you're neutral about or don't like champagne, skip it. I'm here to tell you that toasts can be made with any beverage, non-alcoholic ones included.

PRO TIP: Make sure you and your wedding party actually have a drink in hand for the toasts! Surprisingly, this detail is overlooked and results in an awkward scramble to the bar. I recommend closing the bar for the wedding party entrance and the following speeches/toasts. This clears the bar, allows your wedding party to grab a drink as they enter or shortly thereafter, slows the consumption, and lets the bartenders restock after the initial mad rush to the bar.

A great bar service is essential to a big party and with some planning and a great bartending company to guide you, it can be accomplished within a reasonable budget. Cheers to a great party with tasty drinks and a little extra change in your pocket!