From the cocktail hour to the Champagne toast, drinks are a key component of most modern weddings. They can make good food great, and they warm strangers both to each other and the dance floor.
The key elements of a wedding bar include wine, beer, bubbly, cocktails - plus soda, "mocktails" and other nonalcoholic drinks. Determine which libations you want based on these factors:
Fancy, formal affairs may offer premium versions of all beverages all night long. But couples with limited funds might prefer to serve only carefully selected wines and beer and perhaps a signature cocktail, says Chris Tanghe, chief instructor at the Guild of Sommeliers. You also can limit the full open bar to just the cocktail hour, but be aware: many member of the bridal world, from editors to etiquette experts, say a cash bar is the ultimate no-no.
If you've invited a gaggle of gourmands, you may want to emphasize fine wine. A ton of college friends? Perhaps (a lot of) cheap beer is fine. "Or maybe spirits are a must because the older generation only drinks gin martinis," Tanghe says.
Plan for one drink per person per hour of the reception, says Toni Ketrenos, Oregon state manager for The Winebow Group, a collection of national import and distribution houses that offer portfolios of wine and spirits from around the world.
If serving a special sparkling wine for the toast - perhaps a budget-friendly Spanish Cava or Italian prosecco - allot one additional glass per adult.
Traditional venues usually have set prices, but you may be able to trim costs by paying a nominal corkage fee to bring in your own vino.
If your venue allows you to provide all alcohol yourself, kegs are the more affordable beer option at approximately $1 per 12-ounce glass of craft beer or 63 cents per glass of domestic, says Ketrenos. Smaller gatherings are better off with bottles that can be purchased in quantities.
When it comes to wine, look for deals on labels from an up-and-coming region like South Africa, or ask about close-out prices on the last few cases of a vintage. As for liquor, a 750ml bottle contains about 17 drinks, making it a good deal, but remember that you will also need ice, mixers and more bartenders.