How Much Alcohol Should I Buy?


How much alcohol?

One of the most common questions we are asked is “How much alcohol should I buy?”

It’s very typical for brides and grooms to buy their own alcohol and hire TABC certified bartenders to serve it. If you are going this route, you may find yourself asking this question when creating your alcohol order.

As we can’t be the expert on everything, we reached out to Bill Grim, a wine consultant from Spec’s and asked him to talk through some of the most common questions we have experienced regarding buying alcohol for a wedding.

What type of options are available for a wedding bar? Full, beer and wine, etc?

Yes, all options are available. I do recommend consulting with both your venue and your bartending service (if any) to determine their preferences if you plan a full bar option. Consider that it may be preferable to limit the number of spirits and mixers options simply because the bartenders are going to be more concerned about accuracy and speed of service than about taking the time to make custom crafted cocktails with multiple ingredients. My counsel tends towards simplicity in most cases.

Can a bride return unused alcohol to the retailer if they end up with too much?

I cannot speak for all retailers, but my Spec’s store will accept returns with a few conditions.

  1. First, there is a 10% restocking fee on returned merchandise, so I try very hard to “right size” the order to begin with.
  2. Second, returned merchandise must be in sellable condition – wine labels cannot be water damaged, beer cases must be unopened, etc.
  3. Third, if I have special ordered an item I do not carry on my shelves I may not be able to accept returns on that specific product.

What about Sunday weddings? Do people still drink as much?

This is a good question, and I cannot give an answer with great certainty. I can tell you that the Sunday weddings I have served have ordered alcohol in similar quantities as my Saturday weddings, and I have not noticed any pattern of higher rates of returned merchandise. From this data I feel somewhat comfortable saying that consumption at Sunday weddings is similar to Saturday, but there may be other factors for Sunday brides to consider. For instance, if your wedding is on a Sunday evening and Monday is a regular workday, you should consider that many of your guests may not be as willing to imbibe . If however, the Monday after your wedding is a holiday your guests may be all too happy to enjoy the bar fully! These types of nuances are good to bring up with your family, your wedding planner, and your wine consultant in advance.

What about liquor liability insurance? If a bride buys her own alcohol, does she need that?

Wedding liability insurance is a good idea in general, as it protects the named insured and/or Bride and Groom from certain types of claims and losses arising from accidents taking place during the wedding, reception, and rehearsal. Wedding liability coverage can offer protection for the wedding couple if they are found liable for things such as damage to the facility caused by a guest or vendor (Uncle Joe smokes a cigar outside and the cigar butt starts a fire on the grounds), bodily injury to guests (somebody slips on the dance floor and injures their back) and alcohol-related accidents (at the venue or on the drive home). Many venues require such coverage and will direct the couple to a preferred insurance vendor they deal with regularly. Most venues will also require a TABC certified bartender to limit their own liability for liquor related accidents.

When buying beer, how should one determine cans, bottles, kegs or a combination? What are the positives and negatives of each?

For beer kegs, the positives are that the cost per ounce is the lowest you will find. With that said, the potential drawback to kegs are several.

  1. First, less variety. Each full keg (a half barrel) serves roughly 150 beers. Each pony keg (a quarter barrel) serves roughly 75 beers. So a half barrel is more than six cases of 12oz bottles or cans and it is all the same type of beer.
  2. Second, less choice. Not all beers are readily available in kegs.
  3. Third, equipment deposits. Spec’s partners with some venues in Hays County to do a keg exchange program which eliminates the annoyance of deposits and returns for our mutual customers, but not all venues are set up like that.
  4. Fourth, equipment returns. If you have to rent the tap and tub for each keg, somebody will have to return it to the store for you. (I assume this is not a chore for which you will want to delay the honeymoon!) The other alternative is to pay an additional fee to have your retailer pick up the kegs for you, and that fee will more than offset the cheaper cost of the beer.
  5. The final drawback to kegs is there is no possibility of returns, even if the keg is never tapped. Once you buy that keg, it is your beer – period!

Cans and bottles offer the benefit of more variety, more choice, and the possibility of returns if you over-ordered. Check with your venue to determine if they have any restrictions on glass bottles!

My friends and family drink a lot! I’m having 150 guests. How much alcohol should I buy? Will you explain the factors that play a part in how much alcohol should be bought?

One drink per person (adult) per hour is the basic rule of thumb. If you know you have a heavy drinking crowd and shuttle service so you also know people are not going to be driving, then maybe 1.5 drinks per person per hour is appropriate. I cannot imagine any circumstance that would cause me to recommend more than that. Think about it: do you really want a bunch of sloppy drunk people at your wedding reception? There are some factors that could lower the recommendation from one per person per hour such as a Sunday evening wedding, so check with your wine consultant.

Do people really drink 1 drink/hour?I think my college friends can really throw it back.

Within any large group, the rate of alcohol consumption will vary from person to person. Some of your guests may have only one or two drinks all evening before switching to coffee or tea. Others may choose not to drink at all that night for any number of reasons. Still others may not stay for the full duration of the reception. For everybody who falls into these categories, that is additional drinks available for those who may choose to really hit it hard. My experience with weddings is that most of the guests (including older family members, etc.) are not there to booze it up, and they are often very conscious about keeping themselves well within their limits; so on average, one per person per hour (or less) works for the vast majority of wedding receptions.

I’m on a really tight budget. What’s the bare minimum of booze I should provide?

The bare minimum? Zero! There is no rule, written or unwritten, that says you must provide alcohol at your wedding. However, there is a common assumption that alcohol will be served, so if you choose to go without or to offer a very small amount, I do suggest mentioning the reception will be BYOB somewhere in your invitation. Check with your venue to see if they have any restrictions on BYOB affairs. If you feel you must offer at least a little something, then go with the timeless classic option of offering a toast with sparkling wine. Many inexpensive options are available in a wide variety of styles – sweet, medium sweet, dry, white, rose… For example, good Spanish Cava for toasting can easily cost only about a dollar per glass!

While Uptown Events & Travel cannot recommend exactly what your alcohol order should contain as that is a very personal decision, we are always happy to review your order and make sure it isn’t missing anything!




For more information regarding Spec’s and alcohol orders, please contact Bill Grim-

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