Liquor guess-timation: How to calculate your wedding alcohol

January 30 |
Photo by Laura Kozlowski
Photo by Laura Kozlowski
We are planning to have a picnic reception starting around one and ending at about five, with a free bar.

But the question is how much drink do you need?

We will have around 150 guests and be serving beer, cider, wine, and perhaps some other odds and ends as well, like cocktails.

How on earth do you work out how many bottles you'll need to order for your wedding?

Any wisdom appreciated. -npsell

We have collected much wisdom from some of our super-savvy Tribesmaids. From how they got their guests to help make the decision, to what an actual wedding order looks like, a simple-to-understand rule, and even some advice as to what to do with the left-overs — we got 'em to dish their cocktail menu details.

If you're looking for answers to this same drinky dilemma, check out these helpful tips, and feel free to leave your own!

One-drink-per-hour-per-guest

If you look around online the consensus seems to be one-drink-per-hour-per-guest. I think you are wise to limit the options because this makes your sums much easier! Depending on where you live or who your guests are will influence how much of each will be drank. The theory is after you count up your one-drink-per-hour-per-guest (so that would be 600 total drinks) you estimate what percentage of people are going to have each drink.

There are online calculators like this one, but I don't know how accurate they would be (as I say, there will be regional variations).

What I've done is basically split my invite list into "people who will only drink cider," drivers, and cocktail drinkers. People I don't know about I have added in both drinking lists. Then I'm getting enough of each to cover these numbers and a bit extra.

And I'm making sure I buy my booze from somewhere that will allow me to return unopened bottles so I'm happy to buy more than I think I will need. -KnittyKitty

Create a survey

My weird, but totally fun way to figure out how much to buy… Go to Survey Monkey and sign up for a free account. Create a simple survey asking:

  1. What would you like to drink most at our wedding? Red wine, White wine, Champagne, Beer on tap, or Beer from the bottle, hard alcohol?
  2. What's your favorite brand?

And a comment section. Then email the survey to a majority of your guest list if you can, and see what they say. -danimonster

A break down from a liquor store

We went through a few calculators, but the best numbers we got were from the liquor store itself. Plus, if you buy in bulk, you get a discount: most of those in our area seemed to give 10% off the total, but a slightly more expensive store gave 20%, which made them the best deal in the end. We adjusted their quantities a bit — more rum and less vodka, because our friends and families prefer rum-based drinks to vodka-based drinks — but this is our final tally, for about 80 drinking adults, with 750mL bottles:

  • 6 bottles rye
  • 6 bottles rum
  • 6 bottles vodka
  • 2 bottles tequila
  • 2 bottles gin
  • 15 cases beer (15 x 12 bottles = 180 bottles)
  • 16 bottles white wine
  • 24 bottles red wine
  • 16 bottles sparkling wine

The final quote is (CDN) $1440, and the prices are about what we expect to pay for decent quality alcohol on sale, so we're pretty happy with that number. We've erred on the high side for the quantities, because according to liquor laws in our province, for a private event like this, the store has to take back any unopened bottles/cases. -purplebutterfly

Any liquor store owners, wine enthusiasts, or wedding survivors out there have any helpful wedding alcohol suggestions?

  1. Ah, yes, this is the ultimate wedding reception conundrum! As a planner, I always tell my clients to keep it simple. Offer 2 kinds of beer (a lager & a darker/brown option, for example), one red wine, one white, plus one sparkling if you're doing a toast thang, and then one or two signature cocktails (one dark booze, one light booze—-and batch make them!). If you start having everything for everyone, it gets costly as well as a pain in the balls to haul around all that stuff afterwards, especially!

    I really like the BevMo calculator for quantities. And, like mentioned above, that's one of those places that offers discounts. BevMo has great wine sales, so be on the lookout for those.

    PARTAYYYY!

    6 agree
    • We are having a WASP – Russian wedding so beer and Vodka are the main alcjhols of the day. the question i have is we know a small brewery that will give us a tap system, delivery and all the fixins if we buy the keg. We are planning to have 150 people with 100 of them most likely to drink beer? how many kegs do we get? and we'll get a Indian Pale Ale but should we also get a red (which is my favourite), should we do three flavours?

      0 agree
      • If you still need some advice….As having experience being a bartender, I would suggest also going with something that its so strong in flavor. Not everyone loves craft beer and bold flavors. You could always just go with a light or domestic beer from your liquor store. All in my area will include a basic tap with the keg that you return with the keg.

        As for how many to get, it depends on the size of the keg.
        a serving for this = 12 oz
        1/2 barrel standard = 165 servings
        1/4 barrel pony = 82 servings

        With your numbers I would go with 1 full size per hour that drinking is allowed. If you have left overs, as long as the keg is kept cold, it will last a few weeks without skunking. You can have a killer bbq or get together and have the left overs there.

        0 agree
  2. I also used the BevMo calculator and bought some extra liquor just in case. Didn't need it, the BevMo calculator was right on the money!

    4 agree
  3. I'll be polling to get better preference-counts, which will determine how much Mead vs Wine vs dark beer vs light beer we will be having. Right now, pre-rsvp/poll plan is: all the wine my mum is willing to bring (at least one 6gal batch of her black raspberry wine), 1 sm keg sparkling mead, 1 keg dark beer and 1 keg lighter beer for 100 people for a good 6hrs of buffet, game playing and merriment. WOO FEASTS. I will also be warning people to drink LESS than they usually do because a huge chunk of our families won't be used to the 7000ft altitude of the Rockies reception site.

    1 agrees
  4. You can always simplify this issue by hiring a bar caterer and letting them figure it out! They are the professionals after all! My advice is to hire a bar caterer separate from your food caterer. We saved a lot of money that way on the open bar at our wedding. Our open bar for four and a half hours for 65 people with beer, wine, various liquors, mixers, a specialty "cocktail" designed just for the wedding, glassware, and one bartender cost us less than $900.

    2 agree
  5. We used a guide from A Practical Wedding and ended up way over-buying. But I don't regret it because our family and friends are boozehounds and we didn't want to risk running out. And we only bought stuff we like, so it wasn't bad to have a couple of extra cases lying around. :)

    So my biggest tip would be to buy what you like, or see if your liquor store will let you return unopened cases or bottles.

    2 agree
    • Here in PA, you have to buy from the state-run "Wine & Spirits" stores (not beer, though). Nice thing is that, as long as you have your receipt, you can return unopened bottles for a full refund.

      We hedged our bets and over purchased wine, and saved leftover beer for a party later that summer. Worked out nicely for us!

      0 agree
  6. Another thing to consider – weather. We were having a 3 day wedding weekend in the woods of New Hampshire for about 90 guests, mostly younguns who liked to drink. Since no one was driving, we figured about 10 drinks per weekend based on the fact that most of us bring a 6 pack to a party, and 2 nights = 2 sixpacks. However, the weather took a freak turn for the wintry the night of our wedding and temps went down into the low 40s. Turns out when all anyone wants to do is huddle by fires or relax indoors, they drink less. We were giving away cases to guests on the way home. Still and all, we had a liquor tab under $1000 since we did all beer and wine, so I'm not complaining too much.

    1 agrees
    • Weather made a difference for our alcohol decisions too. We asked our caterer her opinion on the split between white & red wine, and her reply was – skip the red wine entirely! The wedding is outdoors in July in 90+ degree heat…even the most enthusiastic red wine drinkers will likely opt for a chilled beer or white wine.

      Other than that, we're following the 1-drink-per-adult-guest-per-hour rule. We're offering a light beer, dark beer, and white wine. Rather than buy sparkling wine for toasts, we're having our DJ give a shout-out for guests to refill their drinks with their beverage of choice before the toasts begin.

      0 agree
  7. I can't help with the calculations, but I wanted to throw in a plug for water. If you have access to faucets and you can pick up a couple of cheap tap filters, that's a great way to get "unlimited" filtered water for your guests. No need to worry about buying enough bottles or trash/recycling. If you're giving guests booze, make sure there is tons of water available. And make sure to drink it yourself! No one like hang overs.

    8 agree
    • YES. Awesome point. I often tell my peeps to get or rent those tabletop dispensers & fancy tap water up with citrus & herbs. OOOOOOOOOOHHHH.

      1 agrees
    • We had lots of self-serve water and iced tea during cocktail hour, and saved money by only serving beer and wine for alcoholic drinks. We bought one bottle of champagne (for us, naturally) and just had people toast with whatever they had in their hand at the end of cocktail hour. We had several members of my husband's family that don't drink for religious reasons, so we didn't want to make an environment that would make them feel uncomfortable. In essence, the alcohol was there for the rest of the party that wanted to drink, but it wasn't being broadcast in their faces.

      0 agree
  8. Hi there! We are really struggling with this because we are renting a house and providing liquor for all the guests for the entire weekend. The only planned activities will be a welcome dinner Friday night, all meals Saturday, with the wedding/reception that evening, and a brunch with bloody mary / mimosa bar on Sunday. That makes it hard to determine the "number of drinking hours"… any suggestions?

    0 agree
    • Signage at your bar will help. Something like "Friday-Bar Opens at 5pm, Last Call at 9pm" Same thing for Saturday & Sunday. But, you'll want to have reserves on hand, but HIDE THEM. If you can get kegs, I would recommend that such a lengthy weekend event. Just be sure they are properly tapped/dispensed so they stay fresh. Rent a jockey box & that will help. MMMMMM. BEER.

      1 agrees
  9. My crowd hardly drinks, but with bigger drinkers, I would simply send out a survey. I mean many people send out meal options 6 months before the wedding, I would ask what would you like to drink and how much, add a little extra just in case and stick to that… Maybe I'm over simplifying but I hate to make decisions for other people so that would be my idea of simple

    0 agree
  10. We followed one of those online calculators (I think APW's) and ended up running out of beer (well, nearly – we sent someone out on a last minute beer run and got more, just in time!) What I hadn't considered is that lots of people who'd drink wine at a country club wedding switched to beer for our weird campground wedding weekend.

    So my suggestion is: consider the environment, and what people tend to drink in that environment – if it'd thought about it at all, I'd have remembered everyone loves beer when they go camping!

    2 agree
  11. Here's a basic question: if you went to a party where pizza is served, would you be sad if there wasn't wine? We were just planning on doing hard cider (my fiance and I prefer this to beer), beer, and a couple pre-mixed cocktails as we didn't think wine would really 'go' and we're not big wine drinkers.

    Also, I'll be living in one of the best microbrew areas in the US (western Michigan) and was thinking about getting some of the (cheaper) craft beer. Would that be wasted? (I hate beer, but I want things to be nice for people who like it) I don't anticipate many people to get too drunk.

    0 agree
    • Really just depends on your crowd. Ask some of your friends and family who you know drink wine whether they'd be bothered about it not being offered. My guess is that they'll be totally happy with the other options but if nothing else it'll help your anxiety levels to confirm that.

      With the beer, why not find out if there's somewhere that offers sale or return?

      0 agree
    • I'm a pretty big wine drinker, but I wouldn't be disappointed. I've never really been big on wine with my pizza though as I prefer something with carbonation when I'm eating pizza. However, if you know you have someone who only drinks wine, that might make a difference. Personally, I wouldn't worry about it too much. Most of the time people are just happy to drink what is on hand and enjoy that it is free.

      0 agree
      • I would (and do) totally drink wine with pizza, but I have most certainly been to events where wine wasn't offered and I was fine. As mentioned above, it's all your crowd, and most people will be awesome with whatever's free. Having an alternative to beer is nice, though (cider sounds perfect). My crowning moment of wine-drinker awesome was going to a bar in Sioux Falls and, figuring that they probably didn't have my default beer (blue moon) asking what was on tap. The bartender paused, looked me up and down, and said "Miller. Miller Light. Buuuuuud Light." I had a rum and coke.

        0 agree
  12. I'm just going to chip in with a downer here: check your local licensing laws before shopping around if you're expecting to be able to find bulk discounts! I found out very recently that, despite it not being a well known fact, bulk alcohol discounts are now illegal where I live (Scotland) – admittedly I did frown a bit at reading the "one drink per guest per hour" rule above, which may indicate slightly as to why this is the case. Worth looking into though. ;)

    1 agrees
  13. I've been struggling with this a bit myself. My dad is big into west coast wines, my fiance's parents are all about French wines, my future BIL is French and I think he is horrified at the idea of sparkling wine. On top of that, if we get married in my home state there is a very big microbrew culture there and many of our friends take their beer as seriously as the wine people. It's hard to decide what type of beer and wine to serve and from what region while trying to keep costs down since so many of our important people have expensive taste!

    0 agree
  14. Be sure to ask about that return policy. In Kansas any liquor sold in store can not be returned as soon as it leaves the store. This causes a few misunderstandings at the store I work.

    A good tip would be about buying beer.
    A keg sounds cool. However, there is deposits, finding a vehicle to transport the full keg(s) to venue and then empty ones back to the store. Also, hopefully you know someone that can tap into the golden deliciousness.
    As an alternative, five 30-pack cases of beer is the same amount in volume as a keg. Bonus points go to the ability to mix up your selection, instead of one keg of one type, you can get up to five different types of beer (and ciders) pleasing a wide variety of guests. Set up a recycling bin, take all empty cans to your local recycler and earn a free twenty bucks or so! Speaking of cost with no initial deposit the cost is comparable to the keg without deposit, and if you recycle its ends up being cheaper!
    If you are not a beer drinker, but your guests are, send leftover cans of beer as a parting gift. With a keg you might have to have a second party just to finish off the keg and get your deposit back!

    0 agree
  15. We got very luck and actually are going through a place called Martin's Wine Cellar in New Orleans. You pay a deposit for what they deliver to you and then get a refund on anything that was not open! They won't take back damaged goods (wet labels) so we purchased all the bottled beers, white wine, and champagne outright. It's not like we couldn't use it for later or even give a few out as "tips" for the planner and bartenders etc. If we over estimate it's no biggie. All of our friends are heavy drinkers (Welcome to NOLA) so we ended up getting a case of everything!

    1 agrees
  16. I'm finding myself suddenly grateful that I know so many people at both weddings who will be capable of being in charge of my kegs. One wedding will be a little more difficult as far as equipment, but the other one… well, my brother is a homebrewer. If I have to pay for the beer, I will be surprised.

    0 agree
  17. This is great advice. I hope I can find a venue that allows me to bring my own alcohol, because the all inclusive packages at hotels make it VERY expensive!

    0 agree
  18. 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/Disaronno/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

    1 agrees

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