Your wedding bar is one of those things that gradually eats away at your wedding budget. Whether you’re working through a caterer or doing a DIY bar, there are a lot of ways you can stay within your budget and still let your adult guests indulge.
“With the right planning, you can create a stunning bar experience at any price point,” says Matt Landes, the CEO and founder of Cocktail Academy. “It’s important to skew toward what you plan to showcase and really anticipate how you’re going to serve your spirits,” he says.
Below are some of Landes’ favorite tips and tricks to accomplish your dream bar without breaking the bank.
This is one of the most straight-forward ways to control costs, Landes says. “Everyone gets so excited and wants to give everyone everything they want,” he says. “But that’s simply not realistic.” Having a more curated bar not only helps keep costs down, he says, but also helps with quality control and enhances the overall experience.
One of the best ways to do this is to stick with the rule of three, Landes says, which requires relying on three spirits that cater to a variety of tastes, such as Bulleit Bourbon, Tequila Don Julio, and Tanqueray Gin. “There are so many ways to serve these spirits,” he says. It’s also not a bad idea to have a bottle of Johnnie Walker in the budget for whisky lovers, as well as a few bottles of Ketel One Vodka for those seeking a simple martini or vodka soda.
One of the easiest ways to get the most value out of your bar is to know your guests... and what they like to drink. Whether it's focusing on one creative welcome cocktail and simpler mixers at the bar or focusing on select spirits that meet your friends and family’s tastes and staying away from a full-bar offering, pinpointing which features are most important to you and your crowd will elevate the overall experience without breaking your budget.
With everyone getting a glass (whether they choose to drink it or not), sparkling wine toasts can end up being one of the most demanding parts of any alcohol budget. A creative alternative is a French 75 with Tanqueray No. TEN, lemon and simple syrup, topped off with champagne. “It has a fourth the amount of champagne and works with so many different spirits,” he says.
In addition to curating the variety of spirits you offer, Landes says, consider some top-tier, budget-friendly options like Smirnoff, Captain Morgan, and Baileys as your go-to spirits for the night. These spirits provide great value and hold their own in classic drinks. You can also feature ready-to-drink cocktail cans from Tanqueray Gin and Ketel One Botanical for a premium serve that doesn’t require bartender prep.
As you plan and make estimates, Landes says, it’s just important to think about the experiences you’re offering as the drinks themselves. The length of the event, number of toasts and expected tray passes all factor into alcohol estimates and need to be taken into account from the very begining. “People also overlook that averages are often doubled for weddings,” Landes adds. "You really have to think about all those things."
Some ways to navigate these variables include serving only signature drinks or limiting premium brands to cocktail hour and serving beer and wine the rest of the night. If there’s a designated “after party” or period where spirit-forward drinks are being served, Landes says, it often feels more purposeful.
Though this might seem counterintuitive, having a second bar for your reception that is either more curated or serves beer and wine only may be a worthwhile consideration for those who are cost-conscious, Landes says. “You can really control what you’re serving through activation stations,” he says. In addition to the main bar, having something like a margarita or gin and tonic bar with fresh herbs and fruit can actually help you save simply because it’s easier to make estimates, he says. There’s always the option to have a “special bar” in the back for the bridal party, as well.
Spending smarter on your wedding alchohol really is just about discovering the value you want to create within your celebrations. At the end of the day, the most thoughtful decisions going into your wedding can translate into priceless experiences.