Saturday, January 11, 2014

20 Things To Consider When Budgeting for Beverages at Your Reception

How much do people like to drink - of what?  It depends.........
Season or Time of year
Time of day
Activity level....a dancing fool needs to re-hydrate!

An example of a full bar and suggested serving quantities will be listed at the end of this posting.  But first let's look at the most popular options.

The first must have drink is water!  
Lots of water.  The warmer the weather the more water.  If you plan on dancing the night away, having cold water available could cut down on the amount of beer or liquor the guests consume.  Granted some serious drinkers won't touch the stuff....but oh well.   If you are having a DIY reception you basically have two options; bottled water or carafes of water on each table.  I costed renting pitchers for each table compared to purchasing bottled water.  Both will require ice. The cost difference wasn't that great.  But the deal breaker is that you need someone to replenish the ice and water on each table from time to time.  You will be amazed at how much water a table of eight to ten people will drink over a several hour period - especially if they are dancing.  I can't remember any of my clients opting to rent water pitchers; they picked up multiple 24 packs of water over a period of time, usually when they were on sale, and tucked them away for the big day.  How much water do you need?  Figure on 1 bottle per guest.  True, not everyone will drink it it.  But those who do may drink several bottles.   If your event takes place during the hot season figure on 1.25 bottles per guest.

Flavored Waters
I am retired and live most of the year in Mexico.  A big favorite here, served both  in the home, and at parties, is Aqua Fresca...a fruit water with very little sugar. The fruit flavor is very subtle, while being very refreshing   Unfortunately the fruit has to be pureed and then strained.  Part of this could be done before the reception set-up and then mixed with water on-site.  This drink looks very appealing in a fancy glass beverage server...but it tastes just as refreshing served in a pitcher.  The easier option is a fruit flavored water.  The fruit is sliced or cut into chunks and placed in water to "steep" for several hours.  Simple.  To see 50 suggestions for fruit, or fruit & herb combinations, visit
A presentation with a variety of fruit flavored waters is very attractive and would cut down on the cost of bottled water.  It would also avoid the necessity of transporting all the bottles to the venue.

Tea and Lemonade are both popular summer drinks and can be elevated to another level with the addition of either fresh fruit, or liquor.

Hot Chocolate has become a very popular addition to the winter wedding scene and can become the signature cocktail with the addition of a single, or variety of liquors.   It will take some planning to maintaining a constant supply of the drink at the proper temperature.  But, this could be as simple as making it during the set-up and keeping in crock pots on low temperature behind the scene.  

This is a very popular rice based drink, with a hint of cinnamon, that is served everywhere in Mexico; from the food cart on the corner to high-end restaurants . It is surprisingly refreshing because, although it does have some sugar, it is not overly sweet.   Here it is made in a large glass jar, large chunks of ice are added and a ladle is used to pour the drink into glasses.  It took me quite a while to get up the nerve to order it 
(rice and water - ugh!) but now it is my go-to drink when I am thirsty.  One of the reasons I have included it is because it is available in a easy to use powder form, and is very inexpensive.  Look for it in the powdered beverage section at your supermarket, or nearest grocery store that has a large Mexican food section.  Add Kahlua, or a dark rum, to the Horchata and you have a yummy signature cocktail.    

Punch versus soda?  Either / or  ......but not both.  From my experience if you have both, the majority of the guests will grab a soda and you could be left with copious amounts of punch base.  If you want to trim the budget punch is a good option.

The key to a good punch for a reception is to have one that is not too sweet.   Angel Punch is one of the favorites of my clients....there was never any left over.  It is refreshing without being overly sweet.  Did you know that if a punch is too sweet it will not quench the thirst, but will have the opposite effect and make you thirstier?  

Soda - The next question is individual cans or liter bottles?  My clients usually opted to purchase cans, for several reasons.  A large assortment of soda flavors can be offered, it is easier to put the cans in a large container and add ice to chill, you don't need to rent or purchase additional glasses, or calculate how much additional ice you will need to put in the glasses.   At the end of the evening there are no open liter bottles of soda that have to be dumped down the drain.  There might be a few stray cans with a little remaining soda to be emptied at the end of the evening...which are much easier to deal with.   If there are leftover cans of soda sitting in the ice...drain any water out of the tub, (keep the ice) put any leftover food on top and place in a vehicle to be taken back to the house.  Many times there was enough ice in the tub to keep everything cold until late the next morning, which is good because everyone is going to be tired when they get home.  Note:  soda is not always cheaper at the box stores.  Watch your local paper for sales on will save a substantial amount of money.  Plus you can pick up a variety of flavors over a period of time.

BEER...always a favorite  - iced cold beer.  The men will walk in the door of the reception venue and head straight toward the beer.

Keg, Bottles of Cans?
One of the challenges with having a keg is finding a large enough container in which to set the keg and still have room to pile in the ice. A deposit will be required for the keg, ask your vendor if a container for icing down the keg is included - more likely available at a liquor store than a supermarket.   There are more brands of premium beers available in kegs now, or check with a local micro brewery to see if they off one of their specialty beers in a keg or pony keg.  Depending on your guest count you might want to offer a light and dark beer.  A key with the keg is to serve large enough portions so that people are not constantly lined up to be served.   It will be important that one person be assigned the duty of tapping the keg before the guests arrive.  How much do you need?  There are 1920 ounces in a keg of beer, which is 140-150 14 oz servings, and 960 ounces in a pony keg of beer which is 70 14 oz servings.  This does not allow for foam on the top so the actual serving amount will be a little higher.

Next on the list....the vino.
White or red or blush? question if you are going to serve wine you need to offer all three. Most people prefer one over the others.  You can choose to either select one type of each and then purchase multiple bottles.  Or, determine how many bottles of each you will need and then purchase a variety of types of each.  My clients did it both ways and it worked fine.  Once you decide how much wine you will need, check for case prices at your local liquor store, Trader Joe's (yes Chuck is big at weddings), box stores and even your local grocery store.  Most stores will offer case prices even if the brands and varieties are mixed.

Find recommendations for good wines at a decent price at  Also if you anticipate making a large wine purchase consider joining a wine tasting club for 15% to 20% discounts.  Ask at your local liquor store for a referral to the closest club.  If you live close to a winery definitely make a tasting trip and check for clearance specials and sales.  Ask if there are certain times of the year when they offer specials?

Moving on to the hard stuff.

This can be the area where a DIY reception differs from a catered reception in a hotel banquet hall and several factors come into play.

Cost...if you choose to have an open bar, or a signature cocktail, it is going to significantly impact the budget.  To give you an is the basic bar list for 50 guests.   Note, if you offer hard liquor a lot of your guests will have a mixed drink, rather than beer, so the option of a keg does not come back into play until the guest count is much larger. To help the budget, check to see if your local liquor store has a member's club that you can join which will entitle you to discounts.  

Another budget saving idea is to have a set bar menu, avoiding any drinks which are made with different kinds of liquors.   Also,  guests drinking shots will put a serious dent in the liquor supply very rapidly.  If you anticipate this occurring,  plan and budget accordingly.  However, if no shot glasses are available this situation might be prevented from occurring. 
     1 large bottle each   Tequila, Gin
     1 bottle                    Vermouth
     1/2 bottle each         Rum, Scotch, Vodka, Whiskey
     2 bottles each          Red, Blush and White Wine  
     36 cans                   Lite Beer
     18 cans                   Beer
       3 cans                   Non-alcoholic beer

    12 cans each            Cola and Diet Cola
      6 cans                    7-Up
      3 cans                    7-Up Diet
      3 liters                    Club Soda, Ginger Ale
      6 liters                    Tonic, Bloody Mary Mix
      1 Gallon                 Orange Juice
      1 Quart                  Cranberry and Grapefruit Juice
      3 Quarts                 Margarita Mix

And notice that this does not include champagne.

If you decide to have a bar but don't want to include all the various varieties of alcohol or soft drinks, just increase the quantity of those you are serving.

Beer and wine can be self-serve.  If you have a bar you need someone to act as bar-tender.  There has to be control to prevent the possibility of the bar running dry before your event is over.  We won't even discuss the potential for disaster when some folks have access to complimentary liquor and mix their own drinks. 

Most guests are not big champagne drinkers.  One way to save in the budget is to not pour a full glass of champagne for the toast.  If you pour 4 ounces of champagne in each glass you can get by with 5 one liter bottles or 3 magnums for 50 guests. Suggestions and options for setting up the champagne service at a DIY reception is included in my previous blog;

Cash Bar 
One of my clients had a reception with 300 guests and chose to set-up a cash bar with a experienced bar tender.  No one seemed to mind paying for their mixed drinks;  perhaps because of the large guest count, or maybe because they had served themselves from a fantastic buffet with a wide variety of food selections, the DJ was exceptional, and everyone was having a great time.  We had planned the buffet so all 300 guests could be served in 45 minutes one was left sitting at their table wondering if it was ever going to be their turn to go get their food.   This further illustrates one of the key points of a DIY event; if it is well planned, the guests will have a great time, the bridal party and their families will be relaxed and enjoying themselves - it will be a success!

Signature Cocktails
An option to offering a variety of mixed drinks is to select a signature cocktail.  There are numerous advantages to this, including the fact that it is easier to determine the quantities of ingredients to purchase and the amount of liquor in each serving is consistent.  My clients that served signature cocktails set up a bar with a hired bartender; who also served wine by the glass and bottled or canned beer.   There are an endless variety of cocktails on Pinterest; the biggest problem you could face is determining which one to serve.  

The majority of my clients chose to serve beer, wine, soft drinks and water.  They would roughly anticipate how many guests would be drinking beer, wine or soda and then compute totals based on the following.  If you are serving a signature cocktail figure 1 drink before dinner, 2 drinks in the hour after dinner and then 1 drink an hour after that.

Rule of thumb for computing quantities of various drinks...
Beer - 2 beers per hour per beer drinking guest
Wine - 2 glasses of wine per hour per wine drinking guest
Soda - 2 sodas per hour per soda drinking guest
Water  - 1 bottle per guest

Drinks for Children
Offer juice boxes for the children.  They are usually running around so much that the cans of sodas will get warm before they are finished and will be left sitting on the table.

Other budget helpers.  Check party supply stores for drink stirrers.  If you are using disposables plan your drink menus so glasses can be purchased in bulk.


Information on my blog is taken from my book; Frugally Fabulous Wedding Receptions.
The book also includes numerous organizational and planning tools that are not available anywhere on the web.  Have a planning guide at your fingertips to walk you step-by-step through planning your DIY reception - order at  Ships to arrive in 2 to 3 days.

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1 comment:

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