Joni Whitworth is the co-founder of Mint & Mirth — “the West Coast's best-loved bartenders.” She's also full of tips about bartending, drink serving, and making.
Let's talk about when you should hire professional bartenders for your wedding, when you shouldn't, and how to cut costs on the bar area in general.
The good news is that professional bartenders are not always necessary. There are two main variables at play here: the laws of your state, and the rules of your venue.
State laws vary widely and can change often, so I won't try to go into detail about the laws of each individual liquor control commission. You can usually visit your state's .gov website and find a section that details laws regarding drinking and serving alcohol, when and where it's allowed, and who is allowed to serve it.
The basics are these:
- Some states have licences for people who serve alcohol (somewhat similar to a ServSafe® test).
- These may be voluntary licences, i.e. to gain credibility and demonstrate professionalism, or mandatory licences, i.e. the server can't work without one.
- Bar licences are not just for the person behind the bar mixing the drinks. In states that require one, anyone who serves an alcoholic beverage of any kind must have one, so that can include a barback, a server, etc.
- Your city may also have its own custom alcohol laws, so check into that as well.
Venues set their own terms in accordance with their business plans and insurance, but the basics are these:
- Most venues allow some form of drinking, although parks often don't — be sure to be clear on your venue's policies!
- Some venues only allow beer and wine, but not to worry. We will have a whole other post on how to make “cocktails” with beer, wine, and champagne, and you can also check out our article on mocktails.
- Most venues require around one million dollars of insurance coverage using something called Host Liquor Liability Insurance. This is basically a special insurance policy for the night that lists you, as the host, or your bartending company, as the server, as the responsible party for the night in the event of property damage, an accident, or (heaven forbid) death. Host Liquor Liability Insurance will name the venue as additionally insured. This insurance should cost you around $100 to $200 depending on the size of your wedding. Your bar catering company can purchase this for you, and if you don't have a bar caterer, your venue can probably recommend a company. Once you have it, make copies or email a PDF to your caterers, planner, venue, etc. so everyone is on the up and up.
- If you want to have a cash bar, insurance gets much more complicated. I do not recommend it.
- Some venues require that you select a caterer from their “approved list.” This is your cue to run! Nine times out of ten they're getting a payout from the catering company. They are not referring you to the best fit for your needs, but to whomever gives them the biggest kickback.
- If your venue is someone's home or property, great! Just make sure you take the time to look up the homeowner's insurance policy, read it, and call the insurance company to ask questions.
How do you choose a reputable bar caterer?
Just like any other wedding vendor, they should have a nice web presence, good reviews, a standard contract, and a list of references you can contact. Tell them what you envision for the night and ask how they can make it happen.
How much should you pay?
Take into account the cost of living in your area, how much experience the bartender has, and the level of service you are getting.
- If you want someone to design a bar menu to match your catering menu, plan with you in the months preceding the wedding, buy and bring all of the alcohol and ingredients, you should expect to pay around $50 to $100 per hour.
- If you only need someone to show up on the day-of and pour beer and wine, you can get someone for around $20 to $50 per hour.
Now let's talk about times when you DON'T need to hire a professional bartender
If you've determined that neither your state nor your venue require one, you are in the clear. Work your social networks and find someone in your friends or family who might be willing to volunteer. They should be responsible, fun, gracious, and willing to attend your wedding as a sober guest, meaning no alcohol and no drugs of any kind. This is important — they should not be under the influence of anything during the wedding. I know this stipulation is no fun, but keep in mind that this is a big day. You don't want to be left with the unpleasant memory of something that went wrong.
Next, draw up some sort of contract or agreement that outlines when you'd like them to arrive and what you'd like to serve. Go over the bar menu and get an idea of how much of each ingredient you'll need (we will have another article that goes into pricing breakdowns and estimations of how much to buy). If you have any expectations about how they should dress, tell them that as well. Figure out who will set up the bar area, who will ice the kegs, and who will be in charge of cleanup afterwards.
This is a general outline of how licensing and insurance works in the world of wedding bartending, so please don't take any of this as legal advice. Now, what else would you like to know about this subject? Any specific things you've come up against during your planning process?
cakes: Mint & Mirth