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Everything You Need to Know About Bringing Your Own Alcohol to the Wedding

Stocking your own bar? Read these seven tips before heading to the liquor store.

Contributing Writer
open bar wine bottles
Photography by: Megan Kelsey Photography

To cut costs, many budget-savvy couples choose to stock their own reception bar—assuming their venue allows this, of course. But the process isn't as simple as walking into the liquor store and picking up a few bottles of your favorite booze. Here are seven things to know about bringing your own alcohol to the wedding.

 

How to Save Money on Alcohol for Your Wedding Bar

 

Talk with Your Vendors

Before stocking up on liquor, check with your venue. Some full-service event spaces supply alcohol as part of the vendor contract. Other venues allow couples to bring outside beverage but charge a corking fee, which is typically calculated per bottle. Your caterer may also prefer to stock the bar—or, if they don't have a liquor license, they may want to work with a certified vendor. Some caterers will let the couple supply their own liquor, but they may charge a fee or require proof of insurance to protect them from liability. This is especially true if the caterer is hired to serve the beverages themselves.

 

Look Into Liquor Laws and Insurance

Local and state alcohol regulations may impact your alcohol plans. It's important to understand that liquor laws vary by state; some locations may prohibit a BYOB policy, while others allow it if the venue has a proper liquor license. No matter what the law in your area says, you may want to look into an additional insurance policy. When you bring booze to a big bash, accidents can happen. Consider protecting yourself and everyone involved by obtaining liability insurance. Some vendors may even require this if you're providing the alcohol.

 

Choose Your Bar Type

Most brides and grooms decide to have an open bar, which allows guests to drink beer, wine, and liquor without limit. But since this can be a pricey endeavor when bringing your own alcohol, some couples choose a limited bar instead. As the name suggests, limited bars typically only serve wine, beer, and sometimes a few select liquors or signature cocktails. A cash bar, which requires guests to pay for their own alcohol, should be your very last option—it's generally considered best to never ask for guests to purchase their own drinks.

 

Know the Ratios

Imagine attending a wedding with an open bar, only to have the liquor run out before the first course is served. Prevent disaster by supplying enough beer, wine, and booze for the entire evening. Although the exact ratios will depend on your budget and your guests' drinks of choice, a standard guideline is 50% wine, 20% beer, and 30% liquor. Additionally, you'll want to assume that each guest will consume one drink per hour. For a four-hour reception with 100 guests, you'll need 200 servings of wine, 80 servings of beer, and 120 servings of liquor. A few important numbers to note: One bottle of wine equates to four glasses and one bottle of liquor makes 18 drinks.

 

Mobile Bars That Can Roll Right Up to Your Party

 

Remember to Stock Two of Everything

Once you've determined how much alcohol you need, it's time to figure out what types to serve. Most experts will recommend having at least two of everything: One red wine, one white wine; one light beer, one darker variety; one clear liquor, one brown. You'll also want to have a sparkling option, like Champagne or prosecco, on hand for toasts (plan for one bottle per every eight guests). 

 

Factor in Mixers and Garnishes

In addition to the liquor, brides and grooms need to supply a handful of popular mixers like soda, tonic water, juice, and club soda. Lemons, limes, and ice should be readily available, too.

 

Learn About Cost-Cutting Measures

Some stores allow to you return alcohol, as long as the bottles are unopened. If you aren't keen on the idea of keeping leftovers, research suppliers in your area and find one that has a buy-back policy. Since most couples stock their own bar to save money, it's important to implement cost-cutting measures. Oftentimes buying a case of wine is more affordable than buying 12 individual bottles. Similarly, buying a half-barrel keg (165 12-oz servings) is sometimes more cost-effective and convenient than buying bottles or cans of beer. If you want to save on liquor, skip the top-shelf varieties. Don't hesitate to ask your wedding planner for other money-saving tips as well.

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About the Author

Nicole Harris

Nicole fell in love with the bridal industry after a summer internship with Martha Stewart Weddings. Although she's still a couple of years away from tying the knot, she can't help planning her own Big Day. She's crazy about creative DIY décor, classic lace gowns, colorful invitations, and huge (preferably endless) dessert spreads. Until it's time to pick her first dance song, though,...

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