How do you decide how much alcohol to buy for your wedding? You don’t want to be left with boxes and boxes of bottles to transport home with you — along with all of the presents, decor, tableware, and other items. At the same time, you certainly don’t want to have the partying grind to a halt when the taps run dry.
What compounds the problem is that for most of us, this is the biggest event we’ll ever plan. We’re comfortable with doing the mental math to supply booze for 6-8 people at a dinner party, but 100-200? That’s something we just don’t have experience to nail the first time out.
Happily, the wine subscription company Firstleaf has created a comprehensive guide for brides and grooms: How to Choose the Perfect Wedding Wine.
The guide covers pairing wine with food, the most popular wedding wines, and our topic for today — how couples can figure out how much alcohol they need for the day.
The First Rule of Booze Buying
Here is the rule of thumb that all event planners go by.
Two drinks per person for the first hour of an event, one drink per person for every hour thereafter.
This rule is, of course, an average. Some people will keep on downing two drinks per hour (or more) for as long as the open bar stays open. But this rule also factors in the people that stick to two drinks or less no matter the length of the event.
The larger your event, the more you can expect the rule to hold true — everyone’s drinking habits will average out.
Let’s look do a little math to see the rule in action.
Say you are having a 2 hour reception.
If you have 50 guests, plan on 2 drinks for the first hour (100 total drinks), and 1 drink for the second hour (50 total drinks). That makes a total of 150 drinks.
If your 2 hour reception is for 100 guests, your 2 drinks per person for the first hour is now 200 drinks. For the second hour, 1 drink per person makes 100 additional drinks, for a total of 300.
Now let’s consider a 4 hour reception.
50 guests at a 4 hour reception: Hour 1 (100 drinks). Hour 2 (50 drinks). Hour 3 (50 drinks). Hour 4 (50 drinks). Total number of drinks: 250.
100 guests at a 4 hour reception: Hour 1 (200 drinks). Hour 2 (100 drinks). Hour 3 (100 drinks). Hour 4 (100 drinks). Total number of drinks: 500.
Buying for Smaller Events
But if you are having a smaller event, with say 15-25 guests, you may need to consider the unique drinking habits of your party.
A crew of 25 close friends at a destination wedding is going to put away a lot more booze than a small guest list laden with older, more sober-minded relatives.
Determining Your Alcohol Mix
If you know how large your guest list is and how long your event will be, you now know how many drinks you’ll need. But which drinks?
Especially at a large event, you’ll have some people who prefer beer, some who prefer wine, others — and this is more likely at a special event like a wedding — who’ll go for mixed drinks.
You’ll know your guests much better than any drink calculator or event planner will. So make sure you have a strong hand in guiding the percentage of each type of alcohol makes up your drinks mix.
If you expecting a heavy beer-drinking crowd, you may be able to get away with just a few bottles of wine, or maybe wine only at dinner.
Or maybe your crowd has more wine connoisseurs. Then you’ll want to make sure you heavily favor wine in your mix.
You can guide this in the direction you’d like as well. If you’re getting married at a winery, it only makes sense to push people a little more in the wine-drinking direction.
If your ceremony is somewhere that people are going to have to drive a fair distance to get to / return from, you may want to keep the mixed drink options rather limited.
Let’s assume we need 200 drinks, and see how a few sample alcohol mixes would pencil out.
Start with a “mostly wine” reception — 75% wine, 25% beer.
That would mean 150 glasses of wine (30 bottles) and 50 12 oz. beers (2 cases + a six-pack).
Now let’s look at an even split — 50% wine, 50% beer.
That would mean 100 glasses of wine (20 bottles) and 100 12 oz. beers (4 cases + a six-pack).
Finally, a beer-heavy event — 25% wine, 75% beer.
That would mean 50 glasses of wine (10 bottles) and 150 12 oz. beers (6 cases, or 1 keg).
Drink Amounts and Bulk Buying
You probably aren’t going to end up with these exact numbers, so it will help to know how they are calculated.
For wine, one glass is assumed to be 5 ounces. A bottle of wine is approximately 25 fluid ounces, so that’s 5 glasses per bottle. A standard case of wine has 12 bottles. So buying a case of wine is buying 60 glasses of wine.
A quick conversion: For 200 glasses of wine, you need 40 bottles of wine.
Boxed wine is something we do not recommend, especially for a once-in-a-lifetime event like a wedding. But for the sake of being thorough, know that a standard boxed wine is approximately 100 ounces, or 20 glasses of wine.
A 12 ounce can or bottle of beer is considered to be one drink. A case of beer has 24 cans or bottles. A half-barrel-keg, which is the typical size provided for events, contains 15.5 gallons, or 1,984 ounces. That’s enough for 165 12 ounce pours.
A quick conversion: For 200 12 ounce pours of beer you need a half-barrel-keg plus 2 cases. Or 8 cases plus 8 more single cans.
Mixed Drink Amounts
The standard pour for a mixed drink is 1.5 ounces. A standard bottle of alcohol is 750 milliliters, or approximately 25 fluid ounces, enough for 16 standard pours. You can also buy in larger sizes. The 1 liter size will provide enough for 22 standard pours. The 1.75 liter size will provide enough for 39 standard pours.
A quick conversion: For 200 standard pours, you’ll need 12 bottles of liquor — the same amount usually found in one case.
Sara, a seasoned expert in wedding planning and date ideas, brings a wealth of experience to our couples blog. With a background in the television industry and hands-on involvement in a dozen weddings, including working as a wedding assistant on "My Fair Wedding with David Tutera," Sara has an innate understanding of the magic that makes weddings truly special. Growing up with four sisters has given her unique insights into the dating world, making her a go-to source for practical and heartfelt dating advice. Her knowledge and enthusiasm make her the perfect guide for couples seeking to infuse their relationships with creativity and love.