Expert advice: Planning and budgeting for your wedding bar

When it comes to planning a wedding, there are so many factors to consider. Today we’re giving you advice on one factor that could make or break the mood and groove of your wedding reception - your wedding bar. Drinks please!

So many brides and grooms wonder what it takes to plan a bar for their wedding when they're supplying their own alcohol. “What questions do I even ask?” Luckily, we were able to get expert recommendations and tips from one of our very own Northeast Ohio vendors, Corkscrew Johnny's. This industry expert has over five years of experience and knows all about the determining factors in planning a wedding bar. We got the chance to pick his brain on some of the key questions we get from most wedding couples. How much alcohol do I need? What should the bar budget be?

Here’s what Johnny has to say.

Wine Bottles and Cases on Shelf

Understanding How It Works

To be honest, the process for planning and budgeting for a wedding bar can be complicated. I often get requests from overwhelmed wedding parties that do not know where to begin.  It’s not as simple as walking into the liquor store and picking up a few bottles of this and that. However, when you rely on qualified professionals, your bar can be well-planned and within your budget.

It Doesn't Pay to Shop Around

Liquor laws are controlled by the individual states, which means pricing varies by state too.  For instance, the Ohio liquor law specifies a state minimum price point all permit holders must adhere to.  Most liquor and grocery stores follow this price point and the only price variance you may see is in tax, which varies by county. The bottom line is you can get cheap wine and beer in any store that sells wine and beer. The decision you have to make is what price point meets the standard of what you want to serve to your guests.

Buy in Bulk to Save

You can usually get a disount when you buy wine in bulk, so if you know how many bottles you need, buy them all together.  Again, this varies by state.  Ohio liquor laws allow for discounts on purchases of 6 or more bottles.  The standard discount amount is ten percent, though often times the discount percentage is also decided based on how far the delivery is going.  Travel time within 30 minutes will still qualify for an 8 or 9 percent discount.

Don't Believe the Hype about the Next State Over

I have seen people swear by driving to Kentucky or Michigan to save money on hard alcohol.  Nothing is more baffling to me than the idea of driving several hours to save maybe a dollar or two per bottle. People have claimed price differences of 50 to 60 percent! This is frankly impossible and probably the outcome of exaggerated third hand anecdotes and misunderstandings. By my calculation you would need to purchase 4 to 5 cases of liquor just to break even on gas mileage. If you were planning on buying beer and wine locally, then driving to a different state requires more time than you probably have to spare.

Self Serve Cocktails

Determining How Much is Enough

Trying to nail the quantities is by far the biggest area of apprehension when attempting to arrange a bar. Balancing overspending vs. under buying is a universal problem that can be mitigated with good planning. I generally renounce wedding calculators as the be all, only using them to get just the very basic impressions of the quantities in mind. I find that wedding bars are so unique. You are throwing so many different possibilities and combinations of people together, that it cannot be treated like a mathematical formula. I like to say it is sometimes more art than science, and formulas are definitely not a magic bullet that will tell you what you need.

Start with a Rough Estimate

Start by estimating how many people will actually attend the wedding. You will then want to revisit this after RSVPs are due. You should give that to the bartender or liquor manager and ask for their input. Lean on their experience but it is ultimately your event, your decision. You know your people better than anyone.

Want to get a ballpark idea of how much alcohol you'll need and what it might cost if you're supplying your own?  We put together this free bar planning worksheet to get you headed in the right direction.

As Johnny says, calculating the amount of alcohol you'll need is part art.  Remember to consult with a qualified professional to factor in the bar needs for your situation, including season, day of the week, and your unique wedding bar vision.

Get the Flutter Social Wedding Bar Planner

JOHNNY’S BAR PLANNING CONSIDERATIONS:

  • Sunday or weekday weddings consume far less than Saturday weddings
  • The average reception is 4 to 5 hours (This doesn't include pre-ceremony drinks, so adjust accordingly if you'll be serving pre-ceremony)
  • Outdoor bars tend to consume higher levels of beer
  • Winter wedding guests consume more cocktails and red wine
Wine Bottles and Wine on Table

Get it delivered. You'll thank yourself.

Pick a store that takes returns and delivers. I cannot emphasis the delivery aspect enough! Why pick it up when you can have it delivered? Delivery saves you time, energy, and money.  I never charge delivery fees for an event within an hour of our location.

If you are going to pick it up on your own, the quickest way to burn away at your budget is to burn gas going to 2 to 3 different stores or going out of state to look for deals. Try to buy everything you need from the same location.

Overbuy if you can return it

Check your state laws regarding returns. Ohio is a control state for liquor, meaning hard liquor cannot be returned once purchased. Any store that takes liquor returns could have their permit revoked. However, it is perfectly legal to take back wine, beer, and low alcohol mixers. I encourage clients to overbuy beer and wine, and plan to return what they don’t use at their convenience.

For example, if my prediction is 10 cases of beer, 36 bottles of wine, and 10 bottles of liquor; I would propose to buy 13 cases of beer, 42 bottles of wine, and 13 bottles of liquor respectively. Be more conservative with hard liquor and understand that if it runs out your guest will be content to switch to something else for the last hour of the event.

Flutter Planning Tip

Have unopened bottles you can't return?  Save them to give as gifts, to drink on special occasions, or to serve at your next party 🥂

Glasses and Bottles of Rose

Planning a wedding or event bar can seem intimidating at first glance. Every wedding has its own unique flair, and the bar will be no exception. Come up with an overall objective and budget then break the planning down using the factors listed in this article. Remember that you have hired professional bartenders, planners, or a liquor store with hundreds of event experiences and lean on their input when necessary.

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