It’s likely that the only thing you’ve thought about for the bar at your wedding is whether you’ll have an open bar or not, but once you went to book your bartending services, you probably became quickly aware that there was a whole lot more to consider. Your potential bartender likely responded with a long questionnaire full of items you may not have considered. Who’s delivering the alcohol? Where are you renting glassware from? Who’s cleaning up at the end of the night? And on and on. Your expectations might have been that the bartender was going to take care of all of these things for you. And that’s the issue with the bar services at weddings – people’s expectations vary greatly! Let’s address some of those expectations now.
In Texas, your options for wedding bar service usually look a little something like this –
- Hire a full service bartending company where they provide all of the services – bartenders, mixing and serving equipment, ice, coolers, glassware or plastic-ware, sodas, drink mixers, and more. You would still provide the beer, wine, and liquor, but the full service bartending company would supply everything else.
- Hire bartenders only. You are only hiring the bartenders (labor) and nothing else. You will need to provide all of the equipment, coolers, glassware, mixers, and more. The bartenders show up empty handed to bartend only and you supply 100% of the bar and supplies needs.
- Your venue requires you to use their in house bar service. There may be different versions of this but usually there are two options here as well –
- You are required to use the venue’s bartenders but you can bring your own alcohol.
- You are required to purchase both bartending services and alcohol from the venue. This is normal for most hotel and resort properties.
Full Service Bartender VS Bartender (Labor Only)
Full Service Bartending Companies
A full service bartending service will typically include a variety of bar packages for you to choose from in different price points, depending on the formality of your event and the requirements of your venue.
Their bartending staff will likely be comprised of bartenders, bar backs (additional labor for retrieving ice, extra cases or liquor, etc), and service staff. The bartenders pretty much stay behind the bar all night, the bar backs do the less fancy work (refill bar ice, retrieve more wine bottles from the back, empty trash, etc), and the service staff serves the guests at the tables, removes empty and discarded glasses, passes champagne, and cleans up after guests.
A full service bartending service usually arrives about 1 – 2 hours before bar services begin, to make sure that the beer, wine, and liquor are iced down and ready for service, that the bar is set up with all of the proper glassware, and that everything is set and ready to go to serve your guests when they arrive. They stay throughout the event and often provide final clean up of all bar items and glassware.
Bartenders (just the service)
When hiring bartenders for bartending labor alone, the bartender(s) will usually arrive about 15 – 30 minutes before guests are set to arrive. In most cases, you will be responsible for having the bar set up with glassware, drinks on ice, and all utensils prepared and ready for your bartender’s arrival. They would provide the bartending service for a set amount of hours and then they leave. Clean up throughout the event and at the end of the event is typically not included when you hire individual bartenders for labor only.
Bar Staff Ratios
We advise a ratio of 1 bartender for the first 50 – 75 guests and 1 for each 50 – 75 guests after that, depending on what is served. If only beer and wine are being served at the bar, you can have fewer bartenders. For a full bar, with liquor and mixed drinks, you would definitely need 1 for every 50 or so guests.
Tip! Having a sign clearly listing the bar items will speed up time at the bar!
For passed wine service and champagne toasts at dinner, you will need 1 service bartender for every 1 – 2 tables, depending on how many guests are at each table. This same staff will be able to service the glassware throughout the night and make sure that tables are clear at the end of the evening. To reduce cost, you can often reduce staff members by one half, after dinner. Ask your bartending service if this is an option for you.
How much alcohol will my guests drink?
For weddings, we plan on your guests having 2 drinks for the first hour and 1 drink for each additional hour of your event. For example, a 5 hour event would equal an average of 6 drinks per person. Some of your guests will drink very little and some of your guests will drink a lot, but it all seems to even out.
- Consider placing your bar away from the entrance of your venue. Having the bar too close to the entrance will cause a bottle neck upon guest arrival and block guests from entering and departing.
- We like to have an additional bar set up when the guest count passes about 175 – 200 guests. Even if it is only set up for the beginning of the event and closes once dinner begins, it still relieves congestion at the bar. Another way to avoid congestion at the bar, and eliminate the need for a second bar, is to pass wine and specialty cocktails during guest arrival and the cocktail hour. Once dinner begins you shouldn’t have a need for the passed service. This is very helpful when space is limited!
- Don’t place the bar and the buffet or food stations next to each other. Try to keep them in separate areas to avoid congestion in these areas and give them both their own defined space.
- Your bar will be a focal point at your wedding and all of your guests will be hanging out here at some point throughout the event. You can rent a vintage bar, add unique pillars on both sides, arrange with flowers, accessorize with attractive décor items, or deck out a tall bar back in this area to make it a beautiful place. The rest of your wedding will be decorated – don’t forget about the bar!
- Most venues these days will not allow shots to be served, so make for sure that this is discussed with your bartender, if it’s your venue’s policy. I have seen venues shut down a bar completely that was caught serving shots to guests!
Here’s a list of questions to ask your bartending service and things for you to consider, when deciding on who to book for your wedding bartending needs –
- Are they insured? This is really important, as not all bartenders are!
- What do they provide? It’s important to have your bartending service list exactly what they are providing, down to the quantities. Otherwise, there will be assumptions made by both parties as to who is providing what and it’s never fun to be mistaken on a wedding day. A professional will have no problem listing exactly what is included.
- Are you considering a pre cocktail hour (or half hour) before your ceremony? If so, you’ll need staff members for passed drinks and the bar open upon guest arrival, as all guests arriving at one time will overwhelm a bar.
- If you’re planning on have a passed champagne toast, is this included in the price?
- Do you want passed wine service at dinner? Passed wine service will often require additional staff simply due to the time constraints of serving 150 guests all at once. You will need approximately 1 staff member for every 1 – 2 tables, depending on how many guests are at each table, how many courses will be served, and how many varieties of wine you’re offering.
- Do they provide clean up throughout the event, like removing empty and discarded glassware? Not all companies provide this service, so you may be left with tables full of glasses at the end of the night, that someone will have to clean up before you can leave. Emptying tables full of glasses in your wedding dress is no way to end a night!
- Do they provide trash removal at end of the night? A lot of venues will require that all trash be removed from the premises at the end of the night and not all bartenders are equipped or prepared to take 5 – 6 industrial sized bags of glass bottles with them!
- What non alcoholic options will your bartender provide? Water decanters or bottles, sodas, tea, coffee?
- What glassware or plastic-ware is included? What does it look like?
- Will they help you with suggestions on quantities and types of alcohol to order?
- Will they prepare your alcohol order for you? Or is this something that you will be responsible for?
- Does your bartending service company require an additional gratuity to their staff? If so, how much per staff member? Or will they allow or require a tip jar? If you do not allow a tip jar at the bar during your event, the expectation is that you will give a gratuity, large enough to cover what the bartenders would have made.
- Who will deliver your alcohol order to the venue? A lot of our area liquor stores will deliver your order to the venue, for a very small delivery fee, but it’s important to note than someone over the age of 21 must be on site to receive and sign for the order. They will not leave a liquor order if no one is on site.
- What happens with the leftover alcohol at the end of the night? Some of our area liquor stores will allow returns of leftover wine and liquor, as long as it has not been chilled. (Leaving it in a car in freezing temperatures counts as being chilled! They will not take it back in this condition.) And you still need to decide who is taking it with them at the end of the night. This needs to be a responsible adult, over the age of 21. A parent, family member, or trusted friend with a vehicle on site would be the best choice for this task.
- Does your venue require you to purchase wedding insurance? If so, they will typically require a rider that covers the bar service. This is available on most wedding insurance sites, like Wedsafe or Wedsure (these are NOT affiliate links).
- Cash bar – yes or no? This is a personal decision but Southern etiquette says no. It’s considered improper, in the South, to make guests pay for their drinks. You invited them to an event and therefore, you pay for the drinks. You can reduce bar costs by closing your bar service during dinner, reducing service times, serving only beer and wine, or simply serving alcohol up to a certain point in the evening and then switching to non-alcoholic drinks. There are a lot of creative ways to reduce bar costs but making guests pay for their drinks is bad form.
- Do we have to serve champagne? Absolutely not! You decide what you want to serve at your event. If champagne isn’t your thing, then so be it.
- What if we don’t drink. Do we have to serve alcohol at our wedding? No, you do not! While it is seen as more proper to have at least wine available to guests during dinner, you can do whatever you choose. If you’re not serving alcohol, you might try a fun interactive beverage station, like a Sweet or Hot Tea Station or an Italian Crème Soda Bar! Whatever you decide, you’ll want to have plenty of options. For a fun twist, consider Topo Chico instead of plain bottled water, flavored teas, or a mix of locally made soda options.
Need help with your bar service? Contact us now to get started!