Updated: Aug 21, 2019
If you are hosting a birthday party, wedding, or social event you may be considering providing a bar for your guests. If you are planning to host an event like this, my first recommendation is to bring in an Event Planner (like us!) to provide experienced help to plan all the details that compose such an event. But if you are set on diving in and doing it all yourself, here are a few things to consider when it comes to the bar setup at your event.
What to do When Your Venue Doesn't Provide a Bar
Obviously, many venues provide a bar on site (i.e. restaurants, hotels, banquet halls), and you may just choose from a bar package (i.e. beer and wine only, mid-range, top shelf). However, if you are working with a venue that does not supply these amenities, you will need to consider bringing the alcohol as well as tools to make the drinks. We highly suggest bringing in staffing to assist with the bar (also tip your staff because they work so hard!), especially if you are providing more than beer and wine.
Self Serve Bar: Good or Bad Idea?
At a self-serve bar, most guests would stick to something simple and unintimidating, so if you did provide a full bar, you’ll have a lot of unused alcohol. Also, most guests are not trained in the proper proportions of mixing drinks, and you can end up with some seriously overserved guests! You also really don’t want to have to worry about replenishing alcohol, keeping things chilled, cleaning up the area, etc.
What You Need for a DIY Bar
Regardless of the type of event and guest count, you’ll want/need to consider bringing in the following:
A physical bar
this can range from a simple folding table with a linen, to a large/extravagant bar set up with bars and back bars. You’ll need to make sure you have enough standing space for as many staffing as you plan to bring in.
For an upscale event, you’ll want actual glassware in several different varieties. At most basic, you’ll likely want a wine glass and a rocks glass for mixed drinks and non-alcoholic drinks. For larger events with a full bar, you’ll want red and white wine glasses, pint and/or pilsner glasses, martini glasses, champagne glasses, along with any specialty drinks you may be serving such as margarita glasses, brandy snifters, irish coffee, etc. For a more casual event, you can consider high end plastic cups (we just urge you to leave a note and marker for guests to reuse their cup!).
Such as cocktail shakers, bar spoons, pourers, jiggers/shot glasses, ice scoops, strainers, ice buckets, bottle openers, etc.
Not only will you want cocktail napkins and straws or stirrers, but you may need paper towels, bar towels, cleaning materials, etc. for straightening the area.
To dress up the bar, bring in a flower arrangement, balloons, bar menu, pictures of the couple/guest of honor, etc. Depending on your venue or if you are having bartenders, you may want to bring in some non-slip mats for the bar area.
You’ll need plenty of water (bring in liter bottles or gallons), and probably some additional non-alcoholic options and mixers (sodas, juices, sparkling water). For a more casual event, it may be nice to provide some large beverage dispensers filled with water with a stack of cups for guests that don’t need to wait in line for a glass of water.
Depending on your bar menu, you’ll want to consider lemons, limes, cherries, olives, and any other garnishes that make sense for your drinks (maybe some edible flowers, orange peels, strawberries, etc.). You may also need to provide a cutting board and knife, and potentially a garnish tray.
Here in NY and NJ, we bring in ice via ice delivery companies. That may not be available everywhere, so you may need to bring in coolers and purchase bagged ice (just time it so that it is close enough to the event that it doesn’t melt!). You may want some ice tubs (for the drinking and mixing ice) and some beverage tubs (for some self-serve waters/beers).
I’ll expand on this below.
How Much Alcohol do you Need?
The complexity of DIY bars can range extensively, from simple with some beverage tubs with beer and water to full, open bars. Figuring out the quantity of each kind of alcohol and mixer to bring in can be SO DAUNTING! We often assist our clients in helping out with this, but the truth is that you probably know your guests better than we do! If you’ve attended several events with most of your guests and see them on a regular basis, you can probably estimate the percentage of the crowd that will drink beer, wine, mixed drinks, or non-alcoholic. But if you are hosting a fundraiser or other event that you don’t know the guests, the basic ratio out there is: 50% wine 30% beer 20% mixed drinks.
From my experience at our events, it’s probably more like 50% wine/champagne 30% mixed drinks, 20% beer. Going with our ratio, let’s say we are planning a 2 hour event with 100 guests. I’d estimate each guest will have an average maximum of 3 beverages, and I’d also estimate 2 of those will be alcoholic. So I need 100 glasses of wine (50 guests will drink 2 glasses of wine), 40 bottles of beer (20 guests will drink 2 beers), and 60 options of mixed drinks (30 guests will have 2 cocktails). Then I’d also need at least 1 glass of water per guest, and I’d probably provide 1 additional non-alcoholic beverage (soda/juice) per guest.
Planning a Bar Menu
I’d base the bar menu off of the season (white and rosé wine will go over red in the summer but not as much in the winter, iced cocktails will be a big hit in the summer, darker beers, red wine, and scotches are nice for winter events, etc.). I suggest giving 1 or 2 choices of each type of alcohol you’re providing. You will want 1 or 2 red wines, 1 or 2 whites, 1 rosé, 1 or 2 beers, and 1 or more cocktails. If you provide 5 different white wines, you’ll want to get plenty of bottles of each option so that you don’t run out.
Plan Ahead and Ask for Help!
My biggest piece of advice is to be okay with having some leftover alcohol. Some states allow you to sell your alcohol back to the liquor stores, and most grocery stores will take back non-alcoholic beverages. But if you just plan on overproviding and using the leftovers at another event/holiday/gifting to friends, you’ll be much more relaxed on the day of the event knowing that you have plenty of supplies! If you are confused on what to provide, reach out to us for event help!