Alcohol for a Special Event

With St. Patrick's Day around the corner, what better time to discuss options for providing alcoholic beverages during your special event.

Most events will have water/ice tea/coffee available for their guests. The budget for these types of beverages is minimal and even upgrading to include soda makes it just a small percentage of your overall event budget. When it comes to alcohol, there are various options that will or will not significantly impact your budget.

Dry Event

For events with minors and, for religious reasons, or for personal preference you may implement a dry event. This means that you will not provide alcoholic beverages and do not permit guests to bring their own. Be sure to provide your guests with some sort of refreshments and even consider providing non-alcoholic version of popular cocktails.

Cash Bar

A Cash Bar can be done in multiple ways. The simplest is to have the guests pay for ALL drinks that they order (less common). A section option is to have an Open Bar until a certain time or your guest exceed a predetermined limit. Once the event meets the specified time limit or budget cap, the bar then becomes a Cash Bar. The third option is to provide your guests with beverage tickets at the beginning of the event and once they have used their predetermined number of tickets the guest can then opt to pay for additional alcoholic beverages. (Very common for conventions or corporate events).


While some may say that a BYOB is not the best route to go, keep in mind that this is YOUR day and it is your decision. The most effortless and the least expensive option to provide your guests with alcoholic beverages is to allow them to bring their own. This option can be done in different ways. One popular way is to provide mixers (juices, soda, etc.) so your guest only need to bring liquor if they are wanting mixed drinks. Another option is to provide 1-2 types of beer and allow your guests to bring their libation and mixer of choice if they are not a fan of the beer options. If you do decide on the BYOB option, you must be sure that your venue will allow outside alcohol into the reception area.

Limited (Beer, Wine, and/or Signature Drinks Only)

This option is the most common for backyard weddings and special events. Providing your guests with few chooses of beer/wine and one or two signature mix drinks is a perfect way to control your bar budget. For weddings, the Bride and Groom can each create their own signature mix drinks. There are simple calculations to determine the amount of beer and wine you will need to purchase based on your guest list.

  1. In general, guests will consume 1-2 drinks during the cocktail hour and 1 drink per reception hour.

  2. Determine the Beer/Wine/Liquor ratio based on your guest list.

  3. Remember the following quantities:

  • 12 Beers/Case

  • 124 16 oz. Glasses/Keg

  • 5 Glasses/Wine Bottle

  • 18 Servings/Liquor Bottle

Example: For a wedding with a cocktail hour and 4-hour reception, each guest may consume up to 6 drinks. If there are 150 guests, that is 900 servings. If 40% of the guests are beer drinkers, that's 360 servings of beer (30 cases or 3 kegs). If another 40% are wine drinkers that's 72 bottles of wine. Lastly, if the final 20% are liquor drinkers, that is 10 bottles of liquor.

Since unfinished drinks may become orphaned by distracted and dancing guests, always figure on the higher side of the estimates and always round up on your calculations. Be sure to check with your venue to see if you can provide the alcohol. Also, don't forget to purchase Champagne if you are looking for a formal toast. One average size Champagne bottle can accommodate 8 guests or simply consider one bottle per guest table.

Full Service Open Bar

This option is the most expensive but most common option for events with a large guest count that will consume a considerable amount of alcohol. This option allows the host to pre-pay a certain amount for unlimited consumption. This option allows the largest selection of beverages. Be sure to provide your guests with proper transportation or the ability to contact transportation.

Whichever option you choose, you should never feel obligated to provide your guests with alcoholic beverages. There are many options when it comes to making this decision and nothing is customary, remember this is YOUR day!

1st Capital Events, LLC | York, PA | 717-683-8127

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