5 Steps Towards Planning Your Wedding Drinks (+ 8 ways to save money)

Planning your wedding spend

Did you know that alcohol often takes up to 20% of your total wedding budget? Many spend days choosing and stressing about flowers when they should be choosing the right drinks with the same attention to detail!

wedding drinks

There’s no point in spending large amounts of money for something you haven’t given much thought to. People will say a couple of ‘wows’ when they see the flowers, but it is more likely to be the evening party that they talk about after the wedding day.

It is true there are always people who won’t drink at all and those that drink (and drink and drink), therefore it is good to spend some time planning the drinking order and what to offer. If you give the option for free whiskies from the start it is likely that Uncle John might not last until the wedding breakfast, or at best he won’t remember it, but you will!

No matter what your drink budget is, there’s always ways to make beautiful drinks that add to your special day.

Here’re some simple steps towards planning the wedding drinks.

Step 1

Welcome drink. It’s such a nice thing to offer to all your guests on arrival and it doesn’t have to be expensive. Often at weddings the welcome drink is something fizzy or a bottle of beer for those too masculine for bubbles, but there are other options to choose from. Pimm’s, a classic English summer drink, G&T (as there’s so much to choose from) or classic drinks such as Mojito or white Sangria are perfect for summer weddings. For the winter you could consider winter Pimm’s or even a hot drink with some sloe gin to keep the guests warm.

In Italy it is common to offer low-alcohol drinks at the beginning of the wedding to avoid guests getting too intoxicated too fast. Also, low-alcohol drinks often tend to be a bit cheaper. Offer your guests a glass of prosecco, filled only halfway, and make a ‘pimp your prosecco’ station. The guests can add different flavoured syrups, cordials or liqueurs and garnish with berries or fruit. That way, the guests can be creative and have fun choosing their favourite flavours without drinking too much alcohol from the start.


Step 2

Wedding breakfast. Most weddings will offer wine as part of the meal. The bottles can be left on each table or have the waiting staff top up everyone’s glasses. During a buffet meal, on the other hand, you are not expected to offer drinks, especially if the seating is limited. In this instance, you may want to think about having a wine table or some ice buckets for bottled drinks where people can help themselves to a drink.

You get six small glasses of wine from one bottle, and it is recommended to have three glasses per person during the meal, assuming you will do the full meal. Basically, 50 bottles for 100 guests should cover it, but you might want to have an option to purchase a couple more bottles on the day if needed. Often white and red wine is split evenly; however, during the warmer seasons, people tend to drink more white wine.

white wine

Step 3

The bar. Next you need to choose whether you are offering a free bar or a cash bar. In my view, the free bar is often abused by guests. People tend to go overboard when you offer them anything for free, especially if the amounts are unlimited. For the evening’s sake, I would recommend offering a free drink or two during the cocktail hour and a limited amount of wine during the meal. After the meal, the bar can be open as a cash bar.

If you feel more generous, why not pay for a ‘happy hour’; specific drinks would be free for your guests for a limited time only. This is the time you could offer lower ABV drinks, such as beers, Aperol Spritz or Bellinis. Alternatively, you can tell the venue how much you wish to pay for and when the limit has been reached the bar turns back into a cash bar.

Basically, somewhere between a free bar and a cash bar is perfect; you just need to find the most suitable option for your budget.

wedding bar

Step 4

Toasts. There should be a small glass of champagne or prosecco available for everyone for the toast(s). You don’t have to offer more than a glass, so it might be best for the waiters to serve everyone to make sure there’s enough to go around.

A fun idea is to buy mini prosecco bottles and add a ticket to each with the name of the guest and their table number. This way they will have a glass of fizz ready for the toast.

table numbers

Step 5

The evening party. This is where you need to choose what type of bar you are having. If there’s another set of guests arriving just for the party, it could be nice to offer the free bar for the first hour or at least serve another round of the welcome drinks for the late arrivals.

8 ways to cut down on bar costs:

  • BYOB. Some venues will allow you to bring in some of your own drinks so that you can select cheaper options. While the occasional venue will pour your booze free of charge, most will charge a per-bottle corkage fee, so be sure to check ahead to ensure that it doesn’t eat up the difference in your drink budget.
  • Plan the bar opening times. The bar doesn’t need to be open during the meal. This way you will save on staff hours as well as drinks (assuming you are having a free bar).
  • It doesn’t have to be Champagne! Choose a nice Prosecco or Cava instead or, even better, pimp up the cheap prosecco with cordials and garnish.
  • Choose two to three drink options for the cocktail hour. That way you can choose fewer spirits and less expensive mixers. Signature cocktails also add a nice touch and show more of your personality as a couple.
  • Pay per head rather than per drink. If you know your guests love boozing, you are better off trying to pay per head. This way you can relax, knowing everyone can drink plenty without you receiving a crazy expensive bar bill the next day.
  • If you are offering a free bar for the whole wedding, or even if it’s only for a limited time, ask the caterers if you can see their drink menu beforehand. You can ask to take some of the more expensive items off the bar.
  • Ask if you can get a bulk deal on certain spirits. The caterers will need to order from someone, and they are likely to get better rates when they order specific numbers.
  • Have coffee and tea available as well as water stations. This will help to cut down on boozing and hopefully help to limit the number of hangovers the next day.

Bottom line

Alcohol will take a chunk of your budget, but with a little bit of planning, you will be able to stretch the money a little bit  further. You need to think about what your guests usually prefer: do they drink more beer or wine, or do you really need champagne? The bride and groom’s personality should also come through the drink choices: which spirits do you like, and how about special cocktails?

See part 2 – How to theme your wedding drinks.

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    1. You’re welcome and congratulations! I’m glad you found the article useful. Wedding planning is such a fun time!

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