Wedding Alcohol: How Much do we buy?

Let’s talk booze. I love a great cocktail party—which in my mind can be as small as two girlfriends catching up or a full-fledged tented affair with live music and hors d’oeuvres. Both are equally great. Probably because I love to socialize. And have cocktails. 👩🏻+🍷=🎉

Today we’re talking about how much alcohol to buy for your wedding. It might seem really overwhelming trying to determine the right amount, but honestly, it’s just some simple math! However, before you get to the math portion, you need to discuss some things with each other, your coordinator (if you have one), and your beverage caterer.  Let’s dive in:


So, you’ve made your guest list, and most likely invitations have gone out. So we know who’s probably coming. Except for those super annoying guests that won’t return their RSVP card (you know, the one with the f@*g stamp? I digress). So anyway, here is what you already know: you know if your list is heavier on younger people or older people. Some people make their friends the priority and plan a huge throw down. Others, entertain their parent’s wishes to invite ALL of their friends! Side note, my husband didn’t believe my parents had that many real friends when I gave him our list. His parents didn’t socialize a lot, but mine sure as Hell did. And so yup, LOTS of parent friends – who I lovingly consider mine too 🥰; and you may too!

So depending on who is coming, your alcohol makeup could be drastically different. Younger adults tend to drink more, as they are still in party mode! Older adults could go either way. Let’s just say, we bought A LOT of booze for our wedding #parentsfriendsthrewdown. In addition to the demographics determining how much your guests will drink, it will also determine what your guests will drink. Maybe the majority of your guests are truly just beer and wine people. Or maybe they prefer cocktails. This is really important to know before making any decisions.




So, there are two camps for this one. Some people like to run out towards the end so they don’t have to return anything. Or maybe so people just stop drinking for God’s sake #idontspeakthatlanguage! Or they just want to spend a certain amount and that’s it. I completely get that. Then there are some people (cough, my father) that never ever want to run out. Like, ever. Deciding on where you stand with this will help you know whether or not to overbuy. Tip: a lot of places will let you return unopened alcohol, so if you are in camp #2, that’s a good thing. Also, you can always keep the leftover booze and stock the bar!



Where you’ll be, what time of day the reception will take place, and what the weather will be like all can contribute to how much and what kind of alcohol you will need.


Generally, people will probably drink less at daytime weddings, so round down your numbers for a brunch or daytime wedding; the earlier in the day, the less alcohol will most likely be consumed. Of course, there is always the exception for weddings where mimosas get the party started! Only you know how crazy your guests are!


Here in Michigan, we all know how hot and humid our summers can get—especially if you’re outside without the convenience of air conditioning. Plan on your guests drinking more to stay cool. They will also lean toward lighter drinks like white whites, rosé, and light beers. Red wines and heavier spirits usually take a backseat during this time. However, if you choose to be a winter bride, for sure plan on more red wine, darker beers, and whiskeys.



There are pretty much two kinds of bars: Beer + Wine or a Full Bar. Beer + Wine is the most simple and cost-effective, obvs. A Full Bar includes spirits, mixers, and garnishes as well. What are the pros and cons of each? And why would you have one over the other?


Beer + Wine is a great option if your crowd is younger, your wedding is less formal, and you’re watching your budget. And seeing as though 70% of wedding guests primarily drink beer and wine, you’re already giving most of your guests exactly what they want! If you choose to offer beer and wine only, make sure to give your guest options within the two. In an effort to really accommodate your guests’ palette, we recommend bottles of four types of beer and four types of wine. For beer (especially since Grand Rapids is considered Beer City), we suggest offering a range that includes a couple of craft beers—probably an Amber and an IPA—plus some commercial beer—like a Heineken and a Bud Light. If you would prefer to serve beers from kegs to save even more, we would recommend serving a craft beer (IPA) and a domestic light beer (Bud Light/Miller Light).

As for wine, we also like to see four options here as well. For these, we like a sparkling wine (or Champagne), a white, a rosé, and a red. Of course, you can modify this to suit whatever it is you think your guests will want. Perhaps it’s two whites and two reds: a dry and a sweet of each. Or, you can always have just one option for each. This all depends on your guest list, your budget, and how many options you think are enough.


If you will buying the booze, you do not need to worry about buying EVERY type of booze; rather, make sure you have the top 5 spirits for cocktails, the proper mixers, and of course your garnishes. In addition, more and more couples are opting for batch cocktails or specialty drinks to serve at their cocktail hour. This will be very important to take into account when determining booze quantities. As long as you have the items below, you can make 95% of the drinks out there. And for that 5%, you’re too boujee for us anyway! 

This is also where it is important to consider your guest list as well. Maybe your family and friends love them some Whiskey – better get extra! Are you prone to breaking out the tequila shots? Stock up on extra tequila, salt, and limes! Of course, beer and wine will still dominate your drink orders, so use the guidelines above to supplement your liquor for your full bar.


One last thing to consider—regardless of what type of bar you are having—is whether or not you will be doing a full Champagne toast with all of your guests. With an average of 8-10 toasting servings per bottle, you will need to add this to your overall bar list as well.





As defined by the graphic above, serving the proper portions for each drink will ensure that your alcohol calculations stay on track. One thing to be aware of when selecting your glassware is how much a serving size really is, and what that will look like in the glasses you are using. For example, the estimate of four glasses per bottle in the infographic above equals about six ounces per serving. In the proper glassware, this will look like a typical serving. If you select glassware that is oversized, it might look cool, but your pours will seem very small. This has the potential to encourage your bartenders to overpour the drinks and throw off your entire calculation! Or even worse, make you look stingy—which your not; you just have glasses that are too big!  Wine glasses come in a vast range of sizes—anywhere from eight to twenty ounces on average; with your calculated pours being six ounces, you will want to keep this in mind!



Of course, not everyone at your wedding will partake in your alcohol selections. Whether adult or child, you will want to be sure to have some fun options for these guests as well. Of course, water is a necessary choice, be it bottled or in self-serve dispensers next to the bar. It is really a thoughtful touch to have water available separate from the bartenders. You don’t want to make your non-alcohol-drinking guests have to wait in the long line for a water. It’s one thing if you are waiting for mixed drink yourself, but frustrating when you just want a simple water or soda!

In addition to water, be sure to have plenty of soda, possibly even including some fun seltzers and fancy bottle sodas. In addition, a lemonade or iced tea might be a nice addition, based on what time of day or year your event takes place.



Making sure your bartenders know your wishes regarding portion sizes, timing of toasts, and potential beverage stations for non-alcoholic beverages, will make the event go so much smoother. Another big tip is to hire extra bartenders for your cocktail hour only. When your guests first arrive at your reception, they are going to be ready to grab a drink right away! And there is nothing worse that a line that is a mile long to get that drink, right?!? Having double the bartenders for just this inital rush will alleviate this traffic jam at the bar and keep your guests very happy. Again, time of year really comes into play on this one too: if it is super hot outside, your guests will be even more thirsty and looking for a quick drink to cool them down. People already get cranky enough when they’re hot; not having a cool drink will make them even crankier!


Finally, don’t forget the ice! You’re welcome!

Happy Wedding Planning!


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