Alcohol Arithmetic: How Much Alcohol Do I Need For My Event?

How much alcohol do I need to purchase for my event”? 

This is a common question that Perfect Setting Catering hears a lot, and one that we have the answer to.

Not everyone offers a full bar at their event, so it is important to first decide what you’ll be offering to your guests. Will they have the option of wine, liquor and beer, wine and beer, Craft Beer only? Your first step is to narrow down what alcoholic beverages, if any, you want to offer to guests.

Next, let’s pretend this particular event is a wedding with 100 guests and a four hour reception. We’ll assume no alcohol was served prior to or during the ceremony and we’re starting with a cocktail hour.

Case Study

Over the course of your reception (including cocktail hour), your guests will most likely have about 4 beverages (about 1 per hour). If we do the math here, that is 100 guests x 4 drinks = 400 drinks. So what exactly should you plan to stock the bar with?

100 Guests Bar List 

*This list may vary based upon what you are serving.

Wine 

A standard 750mL bottle of wine serves 5-6 glasses, depending on how your bartender pours. Larger bottles will be the most cost effective.

Try to provide a variety, two whites and two reds will suffice. The standard is usually a Pinot Grigio or Riesling for the cocktail hour and a more complex white such as a Chardonnay or Zinfandel for dinner. As for reds, a Pinot Noir for cocktails and perhaps a Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo or Merlot for dinner (especially if you are serving steak!) Dessert wines, such as a Rosé, are always appreciated.

At 5 glasses a bottle (conservatively) we suggest at least a third of your beverages be made up of wine. At 133 drinks apportioned for wine, that comes out to 26.6 bottles of wine. The remainder of drinks can be supplemented with beer and liquor.

Beer 

Beer typically comes in 12 oz bottles at 30 bottles a case, though some come in 24 packs. If you have a crowd that likes beer then you may wish to provide 1.5-2 beers per person. With 100 guests you will need approximately 150 – 200 beers, or 5-6 cases.

You should consider your crowd and their personal tastes. Some crowds are craft beer drinkers, others prefer more traditional choices. Usually having a standard Lager such as Yuengling and a variety of craft and light beers is sufficient.

Consider how your bartenders will have to set their bar depending on the venue. If you provide six different 12-packs of craft beers along with white wine and a couple cases of lagers then your bartender may not be able to have every type on ice. This is based on how their space and beer tub apportioning factors into the equation.

The more variety you choose then the more complicated the bar becomes. At the very least, make sure to provide sufficient quantity with the variety of beers. There is nothing worse than a bartender digging around for one of the twelve Golden Monkeys that was provided.

Consistency is appreciated guests too. If they keep coming back to the bar only to find the beers they liked have already run out then it will create a slower bar line as your guest evaluates their options. (Note: make sure you don’t buy the ‘variety’ packs that most beer brands offer. This means more variety but less quantity of any one beer… which, to say the least, becomes a headache throughout the night).

Craft kegs are also becoming popular and will serve about 165 12 oz. servings (though smaller kegs are also an option). If you are planning to use kegs make sure your caterer can handle the delay that a keg can bring. A well flowing keg can be a boon for your flavor profile but any stoppage at the source can cause havoc at your bar.

Liquor 

There are limitless options of liquor to choose from. It is important to provide variety. Try to provide the fundamentals: Vodka, Whiskey, Scotch, Rum, and Gin. From there you can decide on quality. Mixed drinks are usually the safest way to serve large crowds because they will drink slower and a mixed drink requires less liquor than a “neat” drink. For a 100 person crowd who love mixed drinks you may wish to provide 2/3 of your 400 beverages (about 266 drinks) as liquor options.

From the bartender’s perspective a fifth of liquor is easier to pour than a handle. Though a handle will usually save you more money. Here is how liquor volumes work out mathematically:


The Standard

 A 1.5 oz pour = 1 standard drink.

Fifth

A 750 mL (25 oz.) bottle = 16.6 standard drinks.

Handle

A 1.75 liters (59.2 oz.) bottle = 39.5 standard drinks.

A handle will serve about 2.38 times more than a fifth. Considering a fifth of Maker’s Mark is $30.00 and a Handle is $58.00, you save about $13.40 by getting a handle, or close to 22.9 oz of liquor more (that’s 15.3 drinks!).


Essentially, you will need to provide a mixture of 16 Fifths or 7 Handles to cover your liquor portioning. The additional third of drinks can be made up with wine and beer.

Mixers 

Your mixers will heavily depend on what types of beverages you are offering to guests. If you want to offer soda to guests as a non-alcoholic option, you’ll need extra on hand not only for those guests who aren’t drinking alcohol, but to use as mixers for those who are.

The most common mixers to have on hand are: Coke, Sprite, Orange Juice, Pineapple Juice, Cranberry Juice, Ginger Ale, Tonic Water, Club Soda, Grenadine, Triple Sec*, Sweet & Dry Vermouth*, Bitters*, Lime Juice, and Simple Syrup.

*Alcoholic 

Garnish

Lemon and lime are the two most popular garnish options. Your bartender will garnish every drink that gets served. You may also want to have a few jars of olives and maraschino cherries.

Some specialty drinks will require a particular garnish. For example, when we make our Mint Mojito specialty drink at weddings, we make sure to have plenty of mint leaves and lime available. The garnish is an added bonus to the specialty beverage and you do not want to run out. The reemergence of the Old Fashioned as a popular drink (thanks Mad Men) requires orange slices on hand, though this can be convenient if you package the Old Fashioned with a Blue Moon, both of which use orange slices. If you plan to supply Corona’s then your caterer needs to be aware in order to bring extra limes. A good caterer will know in advance what garnishes will go with popular drinks.

Remember The Golden Ratio – 4 Drinks : 1 Guest

Whether you serve predominantly beer, or wine, or liquor you can typically assume your average guest will consume 4 drinks. A typical crowd will have a handful of heavy drinkers and perhaps an equal handful of non-drinkers. So while one guest prefers six drinks, another may drink only one… or none!

You can also overestimate your liquor just to be safe. If you instruct your caterer to use only as much as is necessary then a great caterer can avoid icing down alcohol that doesn’t need to be opened. If you end up with a surplus of unopened boxes of beer, wine and liquor then you may be able to return the balance to the store and get a sweet refund. Always pays to be prepared!

If you have anymore questions please feel free to contact us!

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