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Wedding: Stocking the Bar

by Meghann on January 16, 2013

Before Derek and I even got engaged, we knew our future wedding had one BIG requirement: an open bar.

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In the three years that we dated before getting engaged, Derek and I had the honor of attending several friends’ weddings together. In our limited wedding guest experience, we figured something out pretty quickly: the weddings with open bars were so much more fun than the weddings without them. If you put a little alcohol in your wedding guests, they loosen up, and fill the dance floor a little more. Wedding guests LOVE open bars, they flock to them.

Exhibit A:

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Unfortunately open bars are generally on the pricier side, I’ve seen quotes of $30- $50 per head (on top of the price for food). We knew this going into wedding planning and weren’t thrilled with the numbers. We did our research and discovered a tiny loophole to that predicament: we needed to find a venue/caterer that would allow us to bring in our own alcohol. This was a big requirement when we were venue hunting, which was a little limiting, but not all together impossible. We found a few possibilities and eventually signed with Birdsong Barn.

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By the way, we LOVED, LOVED, LOVED our venue. I can not say enough great things about Birdsong Barn! They are basically every bride’s dream come true. Not only could we bring in whatever caterer we wanted (no preferred venue list – yay!!), but we could bring in our own alcohol as long as we had a licensed and insured bartender serving the alcohol to our guests. Woo hoo!!!

The bartender was easy – we were able to contract one through our caterer (A Chef’s Touch) for $150 without a problem – figuring out how much alcohol (+ mixers) to buy was the tricky part. My dad had the good sense to keep the receipt from my sister’s wedding in June, which had a detailed list of all the drinks that were purchased through the night at their open bar. From that list we were able to put together a rough estimate of how much liquor, wine, and beer to purchase. My dad and uncle did a little alcohol research on alcohol prices in the area and discovered Winn-Dixie of all places was the cheapest route (who knew?)).

They had a mini-field trip to the liquor store and came home with quite a haul.

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Here’s what they picked up for our 150 guests:

  • 2 handles Captain Morgan
  • 2 handles Jim Bean
  • 2 handles Jack Daniels
  • 1 handle Flor de Cana (Derek’s favorite rum!)
  • 1 handle gin
  • 3 handles Smirnoff vodka
  • 2 handles tequila
  • 1 handle of Crown Royal
  • 2 cases Miller Light
  • 2 cases Bud
  • 1case Michelob Ultra
  • 1 case Blue Moon
  • 1 case Bud Light
  • 1 case Yuengling
  • 24 bottles champagne
  • 4 bottles Cabernet
  • 6 bottles Pinto Grigio
  • 2 bottles Chardonnay
  • 4 bottles Merlot

I don’t have a full list of mixers but here’s a rough idea of what was picked up at Sam’s Club and Wal-Mart:

  • 6 2-liters Coke
  • 6 2-liters Diet Coke
  • 4 2-liters Sprite
  • 3 2-liters Club Soda
  • 3 2-liter Tonic Water
  • 2 2-liters Diet Tonic Water
  • Cranberry Juice
  • Pineapple Juice
  • Margarita Mix
  • Orange Juice
  • Grapefruit Juice

We also had tubs around the bar that were full of bottles of water and cans of coke, diet coke, and sparkling water. We bought the water and sodas in bulk at Sam’s Club too.

The very, very, very rough total of all the drinks + mixers + ice + bartender was just under $1000, which is still a lot less than we would have been paying for an open bar anywhere else (plus we got to keep all the leftover alcohol at the end of the night – #winning!).

I had planned on purchasing some craft beer for the bar, but ended up running out of time/ other things took precedent. In hindsight, I really wish I had because the only beer we bought that I cared for (Blue Moon) was gone before I made it to the reception. Darn. Luckily my AMAZING bridesmaids ended up storing some leftover Magic Hats behind the bar and told the bartender they were just for the bride (god bless them). I think I had three throughout the night and they were amazing. Seriously, the “special beer” behind the bar was the best idea ever. I owe my girls big time for that!

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*photo credit: Ashley

Blue Moon was the only thing we ran out of. I think our venue encouraged a lot of beer drinking (barns and bonfires tend to bring out the beer drinkers in people) since that’s what I saw a lot of people drinking. The rum was also hit the hardest, while the wine looked like it hadn’t been touched.

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*photo credit: Michael Stinson

(We weren’t drinking straight from all the bottles the whole time! Just “Brother Jack” <– full story HERE. 😉 )

All in all, I’d say we did a great job stocking the bar. Our guests were happy, there were no complaints over drinks, and the only thing we ran out of was Blue Moon. We overestimated on everything (including mixers!), but it’s always better to be over prepared than underprepared. Plus, giving away the remaining alcohol the next day (mainly to our amazing helpers) was easier than giving away leftover desserts. Easy peasy.

Did you stock your own bar for your wedding? Any tips you can share in the comments for future brides looking to do the same thing?

{ 42 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Hillary January 16, 2013 at 12:38 pm

I have to say, I wish we were getting married at a venue that let us stock our own alcohol. We visited a few venues that would allow this option, but the venue we absolutely fell in love with won’t allow it. We talked about it and, at the end of the day, it was more important for us to pony up a little more $$$ to get married at a place we really love (and save that money elsewhere)!

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2 hannah January 16, 2013 at 12:41 pm

We had a signature cocktail along with champaign passed throughout the cocktail hour and reception.
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3 kalli January 16, 2013 at 12:51 pm

bottles chardonnay? i think i could polish that off myself…..was that enough for all of the guests?

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4 Meghann January 16, 2013 at 1:04 pm

We had more of a beer and liquor crowd, the wine was barely touched.

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5 nicole juderjahn October 7, 2013 at 3:45 pm

how long was your wedding?

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6 Beth January 16, 2013 at 12:54 pm

I wish my reception venue would let us bring our own booze. Our open bar is the biggest part of our wedding budget, I think; $30 a head, which includes 6 hours of drinking. Unfortunately we also have to pay for the open bar for any kids over the age of 10, which seems reallly strange to me. I’m glad you were able to work things out for your wedding!
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7 Lindsay January 16, 2013 at 1:08 pm

I’m pretty sure we go through more beer than that at our annual Super Bowl party! And I live in a tiny two bedroom apartment…so at most we can fit 20 people. No one ever leaves drunk, and only a few people leave tipsy. I’m wondering if any of your guests had more than one drink!

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8 Kristy @ Kristy's Health Revolution January 16, 2013 at 1:20 pm

That’s more than a half keg of beer — you’re telling me 20 people can drink half a keg during a football game….??
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9 Lindsay January 16, 2013 at 1:54 pm

Yup!

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10 Kristy @ Kristy's Health Revolution January 16, 2013 at 1:55 pm

Well, that is truly impressive.
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11 alyssa January 16, 2013 at 10:07 pm

We had a superbowl party for 22 people in my 2 bedroom apartment last year and killed half a keg in no time. And we had champagne, too! Don’t underestimate the liver of a 20-something!

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12 Meghann January 16, 2013 at 1:33 pm

WE had a lot of liquor to balance out the beer consumption.

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13 Lindsay January 16, 2013 at 2:05 pm

So…you had enough for some people to have a beer and a mixed drink?!

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14 Meghann January 16, 2013 at 2:12 pm

There was enough for everyone to have as much as they wanted. We didn’t put a limit on the bar. We had a mix of heavy drinkers, not-so heavy drinkers, and everything in between. There was plenty of alcohol to go around (more than enough!), trust me.

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15 Kristy @ Kristy's Health Revolution January 16, 2013 at 1:14 pm

Thank you, thank you, thank you! This is super helpful.

Can you tell me if you had a lot of “drinkers” at your wedding? I’d say my wedding will be about half and half — some pretty heavy drinkers, some teetotalers and most in-between.
Kristy @ Kristy’s Health Revolution recently posted..“Wild” Wednesday!

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16 Meghann January 16, 2013 at 1:33 pm

We had a mix. Let’s just say that the majority of the folks that were still dancing when the party ended were feeling pretty good, but we also had an older crowd that didn’t drink much.

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17 Kristy @ Kristy's Health Revolution January 16, 2013 at 1:36 pm

Great!! That sounds about like my crowd. Seriously, this is SO helpful for me. I was thinking about doing beer and wine only, but after reading this, I feel like this is totally doable on my budget. I pinned this, I hope it gets passed around Pinterest because as much as I’ve looked, I couldn’t find anything like this. Thanks again!
Kristy @ Kristy’s Health Revolution recently posted..“Wild” Wednesday!

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18 Meghann January 16, 2013 at 1:39 pm

The mixers were honestly the trickiest part. We bought way too much of the fruity stuff, most folks stuck to plain coke and diet coke and whatever. 🙂

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19 NYC Fit GIrl January 16, 2013 at 1:14 pm

Thanks for the breakdown! I think if I ever have a wedding where I bring my own alcohol I will refer back to your post 🙂
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20 N January 16, 2013 at 1:18 pm

Hi Meghann!

OK, so thanks for this post. As I plan my own wedding and plan to bring in my own drinks, this is very helpful. Can you discuss how much you had left over in more detail? We are anticipating about 120 guests, and are doing about the same amount of beer, more wine, but substantially less liquor even though we have a liquor-drinking crowd. It would be helpful to know exactly how much you had left over liquor-wise (seriously, this would be AMAZING to know).

Thanks in advance!! And welcome back from the honeymoon!

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21 Meghann January 16, 2013 at 1:37 pm

I wasn’t there when they closed the bar down after the reception, so I’m not 100% positive what was left in detail. From what I gathered guests favored the rum and whisky for liquor (maybe 1/2 a handle left of each? maybe less?) and were lighter on the vodka and tequila (almost a full handle left?).

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22 N January 16, 2013 at 1:40 pm

Thank you so much for your response! This is helpful to know 🙂

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23 Maureen January 16, 2013 at 1:27 pm

I had an afternoon wedding, so we just supplied wine on each table. Anyone who wanted the hard stuff at 1pm was going to have to pay for it themself. LOL
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24 Sloane @ Life Food and Beer January 16, 2013 at 2:47 pm

We had a small wedding (60 guest) and we had 22 bottles of wine and a 2 small kegs of craft beer plus a couple cases of bud light. I only had one bottle of wine left and a little beer in one of the kegs. I was so sure we had way to much!!
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25 Chelsea @ CardioandCocktails January 16, 2013 at 2:58 pm

My fiance and I definitely had the same open bar convo even before we got engaged, we have always wanted our wedding to be a big party! At our venue, we decided to go with beer and wine, with cash bar for liquor. The after party will be at one of the hotel bars and we are considering drink tickets for people then. Your guests looked like they had a great time!
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26 The Many Thoughts of a Reader January 16, 2013 at 3:00 pm

We had almost double the amount of people at our wedding and the majority are huge drinkers. My husband’s family has their own drinking song. Family weddings get a tad out of control. Thankfully, when we got married almost 6 years ago!!!, for an open bar at our venue it was only 10 dollars a person which was a steal in my opinion based on our heavy drinking crowd.
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27 [email protected] January 16, 2013 at 3:04 pm

Nice job on the bar. It can really break the bank!

The Kidless Kronicles
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28 Katie @ A Full Plate January 16, 2013 at 3:17 pm

Such a great idea. When the time comes for me to get married I definitely want to go this route! I’ve organized fundraisers before where we’ve had to buy our own alcohol and we got cases of beer and wine at Total Wine. Not sure what the price would be compared to WinnDixie, but they also let us return any unopened bottles. Of course for a wedding I can see where it’d be nice to keep some, but if you wanted to save some more money it’s nice to know you can return it!
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29 Katie @ Peace Love and Oats January 16, 2013 at 3:31 pm

I definitely think an open bar is necessary for a wedding. I have a friend planning her wedding and she’s not having any alcohol… I’m trying to keep my mouth shut. Not my wedding!
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30 Dione January 16, 2013 at 3:54 pm

We didn’t stock our own bar and ended up going with the venue’s bar. If you made it out with everything under $1000…you did AMAZING!! We had a day wedding and our tab was just over $2000 (for only 100 guests!). Hmm…come to think of it…maybe my family/friends are just big drinkers. 😉

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31 Amber @ Busy, Bold, Blessed January 16, 2013 at 4:03 pm

I’m dreaming of a venue where we can bring in our own alcohol! I’m also dreaming of getting a ring soon 😉 Must remember this post for the future!
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32 Morgan January 16, 2013 at 6:18 pm

Thank you so much for posting this list! My fiance and I are in the (very) early stages of planning and this list is super helpful. Now that we have the most important reception item figured out (lol!) it’s on to the menu! Oh yeah, the food… so daunting!
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33 LMM January 16, 2013 at 6:30 pm

In Oz, most weddings/events I go to do half and half – they put on beer, wine, sparkling wine and soft drink, but any spirits (what we call liquor) is usually paid for by the person who wants it. Aussies are big beer and wine drinkers, most will only hit the spirits towards the end of the night after they have had their fill of beer/wine.
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34 Danielle @ itsaharleyyylife January 16, 2013 at 7:04 pm

thanks for this post! at my venue I have to bring my own alcohol and I had no idea how much it would cost! This gives me a great idea!

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35 cindy January 16, 2013 at 7:10 pm

I think this would help other couples stocking an open bar:
How many hours was your reception?
Total guests and percentage of drinkers (e.g, any kids/minors in attendance?)
Did the caterer supply any non alcoholic drinks?
How many bartenders did you hire? (That line looks long)

For any other brides looking to stock an open bar: Buy alcohol at a place that allows returns for unopened wine. Keep an eye out for BevMo!’s twice a year buy one/get one for 1 cent sale.

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36 Angela January 16, 2013 at 8:32 pm

We stocked our own bar, it saves so much money! We also just had beer and wine which made it pretty easy too. 🙂
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37 Army Amy* January 17, 2013 at 6:53 am

I think stocking your own bar (if your venue allows it) is a great option. It can be cheaper and you can tailor it to your guests.

I don’t think weddings need to have alcohol to be fun, though! I think it depends on the crowd. If you are party people and your friends are too, it makes sense to offer drinks. But it can be so, so expensive, so I don’t expect alcohol to be served when I attend a wedding.*
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38 Samantha January 17, 2013 at 10:03 am

This is a GREAT idea and such a money saver!! Definitely going to look into this option for my own wedding someday. Thanks for including posts like this, and not being shy about mentioning pricing – so helpful!
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39 Katie January 17, 2013 at 1:27 pm

It definitely is nice that when you stock your own bar you get the leftovers if there are any! Definitely a plus.

Our venue supplied the bar for us and they said they’d allow us to bring in our own special items if we had them (like, if we wanted to serve a certain type of wine that they didn’t have there), but we just went with what they had. To keep the price down on the open bar, we had them display the “lower shelf” (which really wasn’t bottom shelf) liquor behind the bar instead of the high price bottles. If someone ASKED for something pricier (like, say…Crown Royal or Grey Goose, etc.) they were served that, but we put the lower priced options in everyone’s faces in the hopes that they would go for them instead. Most people did I think!

Also another way to cut back on the open bar price is to not do a champagne toast. I know a few friends who paid for everyone to get a glass of champagne to toast with, and I’ve witnessed SO many glasses go untouched because not everyone wanted it! A shame!!!
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40 Sam March 14, 2014 at 4:53 pm

This post is a godsend!!!!! Planning a wedding for next august and we’re stocking our own open bar. I’m happy the cost isn’t as much as I had calculated out! We have 120 people and I calculated 1 drink for every person (including children (no children aren’t drinking! I just mean it gave some wiggle room in the budget)) and I nearly died of a heart attack. Your number is much more reasonable. Another bonus is that most liquor store near where I live allow you to return unopened bottles. So that’s a plus 🙂

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41 Lindsay September 4, 2014 at 5:58 pm

I just wanted to add my 2 cents, because when I was stocking my bar for our wedding, it was hard to find any good info on how much to get… We had around 45 people from 3-7 pm and another 30 people showed up for the rest of the night — 7-1 am. We bought waaaay too much booze and ended up returning about $550 to the LCBO. Here’s what we used and had left over (open bottles);

Bacardi White – 1750 mL – 2/3 remaining
Capt Morgan Spiced – 1750 mL – 3/4 remaining
Appleton’s – 1750 mL – 1/2 remaining
Wiser’s – 1750 mL – GONE
Smirnoff – 1750 mL – GONE
Sauza (Tequila) – 1140 mL – 3/4 remaining
Bombay – 1750 and 1140 mL – GONE
Crown Royale – 1140 mL – 1/2 remaining
Assorted liqueurs were opened by barely touched! (Jager/Disaronna/Blk Sambuca/Southern Comfort)

I also had 16 cases of assorted beer (Coors/Corona/Keith’s/rickard’s White/Bud Lime, etc) and we have about 8 cases left.

I also had 120 bottle of wine and was giving them out by the handful by the end of the night (probably only used 20 bottles for drinks).

The pop (mix) was waaay too much as well! We had about 16 cases assorted and still have about 12 that we didn’t use! Biggest sellers were Tonic, Pepsi/Coke and ginger ale. I had bought 6 bottle of Clamato and only opened one.

Hopefully this helps someone while stocking their bar! Email me for more info

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42 Lindsay September 4, 2014 at 7:28 pm

I just wanted to add my 2 cents, because when I was stocking my bar for our wedding, it was hard to find any good info on how much to get… We had around 45 people from 3-7 pm and another 30 people showed up for the rest of the night — 7-1 am. We bought waaaay too much booze and ended up returning about $550 to the LCBO. Here’s what we used and had left over (open bottles);

Bacardi White – 1750 mL – 2/3 remaining
Capt Morgan Spiced – 1750 mL – 3/4 remaining
Appleton’s -2 X 1750 mL – 1/2 remaining and 1 GONE
Wiser’s – 1750 mL – GONE
Smirnoff – 1750 mL – GONE
Sauza (Tequila) – 1140 mL – 3/4 remaining
Bombay – 1750 and 1140 mL – GONE
Crown Royal – 1140 mL – 1/2 remaining
Assorted liqueurs were opened by barely touched! (Jager/Disaronna/Blk Sambuca/Southern Comfort)

I also had 16 cases of assorted beer (Coors/Corona/Keith’s/rickard’s White/Bud Lime, etc) and we have about 8 cases left.

I also had 120 bottle of wine and was giving them out by the handful by the end of the night (probably only used 20 bottles for drinks).

The pop (mix) was waaay too much as well! We had about 16 cases assorted and still have about 12 that we didn’t use! Biggest sellers were Tonic, Pepsi/Coke and ginger ale. I had bought 6 bottle of Clamato and only opened one.

Hopefully this helps someone while stocking their bar! Email me for more info

Reply

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