Whether you are hosting a party or planning your do-it-yourself wedding, it is a universal no-no to run short on food or drinks. As G and I busily plan the remaining two weeks before our wedding, many of our thoughts are geared towards the plates and glasses of our guests. For a couple catering their entire wedding themselves — yep, you just read that correctly — it is one of our worst fears to think any guest may be shuffling around in his or her seat with no option of seconds.
Today I’m going to strictly discuss how to calculate drink numbers in order to buy the right amount of beverages for your party. Luckily I have a bit of experience in this arena due to my past work experience in the wedding industry. And also because I used to sell wine cases to large parties while at the Winery. So I definitely have wine down pat… Calculating beverages is both a science and art as you can never estimate the exact amount of drinks being drank at your event, but you can get close.
If you’re like me, then you don’t have an extra fridge sitting around to pack with wine, beer, mixers, soda pop, water, and all other possible beverages your guests might fancy. And if you’re like me, you also have a strict budget to purchase all those said beverages under. Don’t panic though! We’re going to get through this together.
Before jumping straight into a bunch of formulas, you need to ask yourself a few important questions:
- What kind of beverages do you want to serve at your wedding/party?
- How many adults and children will be attending?
- How long will your wedding/party run?
- Will the party be indoors or outside? What is the weather going to be like? (i.e. cool and breezy, hot and muggy, etc.)
- Will you have a bartender serving drinks or will it be self-serve?
Also: are you planning to serve a variety of alcoholic beverages at your event or non-alcoholic only? This question is something you should decide before moving forward with other decisions.
Let’s discuss non-alcoholic beverages first. If you are opting to choose non-alcoholic beverages only, a good rule of thumb is to have 4 gallons of drink per every 25 guests. Luckily, most brands of water, tea, lemonade, and punch come in gallon sizes. Keep in mind hotter temperatures or more active events will require this number to increase because you will want your guests to stay hydrated.
For easier calculating, use 4 gallons of water converted to 512 ounces of water, meaning you can get 32 16oz servings.
A 2-liter bottle of soda typically offers five 16oz servings. (Conveniently, this is the average size of red solo cups.) And a 1-gallon container of other non-alcoholic drinks will yield eight 16oz servings. I estimate one drink per person per hour of my events, in addition to one extra “safety” drink to give a little wiggle-room. In other words, if your wedding/party is four hours long, plan for each guest to have five servings of non-alcoholic beverages.
If you are serving alcoholic beverages at your event as well, then you can expect to cut the above numbers for non-alcoholic beverages in half. Meaning 2 gallons of water, lemonade, punch, and tea for every 25 guests, and a half drink per person per hour. For events involving dancing or other activities, I would increase your water count. Also, buying water by the gallon/jug is a lot more budget-friendly than bottles of water. Bottles tend to be left half-empty by guests and forgotten. I know I’m guilty of forgetting where I left my bottle and grabbing a new one rather than track it down.
Now onto alcoholic beverages. You will want to estimate one and a half drinks per person per hour of your event. Meaning for a 4 hour wedding/party, plan for 6 alcoholic beverages per guest. Thankfully alcohol tends to come in standard sizes be it beer, wine, or spirits so calculating is a bit easier than with non-alcoholic drinks. Here is the break down on sizing and servings:
- Beer: one bottle of beer offers 1 serving (who knew!)
- Wine: one 750ml bottle of wine serves 6 glasses. A case of wine is 12 bottles meaning you can get 72 glasses of wine per case.
- Spirits: one 750ml bottle of spirits serves 17 drinks.
If you are offering a full bar, calculate one alcoholic drink per guest per hour. (This is still in addition to your non-alcoholic beverages.) For a hot day or a food menu offering salty foods, I always bump my estimate up by 25% as well. I also would highly recommend staffing a bartender in the case of a full bar for obvious reasons.
Another key piece to think about is the mix of beverages in terms of the mix of your guests. If you are having kids at the event, stock up on juices, soda pop, and water. If you opt for spirits at the bar, you might want to go with one or two signature alcoholic beverages to manage your budget a bit more.
DISCLAIMER: All amounts in this post are estimates. This does not mean each person will have the stated amount of drinks; some will have more and some will have less. YOU know your guests best and may need to tweak estimates to fit your wedding/party better. Are your attendees big beer drinkers? Will the majority of your attendees drink one glass of wine and then sip water the rest of the night? You know those answers better than me. The hope is if you can figure out an average, then you should have plenty to go around.
Personally, G and I did not follow any of these “rules of thumb” when we planned our own wedding bar, but that is because we have a lot of outliers which throw wrenches in these calculations. We have chosen to have a beer and wine only wedding. Our guest list is 200 guests and our wedding reception will last for 4 hours. G’s family, which is about 25% of our guest list, do not drink alcohol. The remainder of our guest list of my family and our friends are not heavy drinkers by any means. We anticipate those who may drink to have 1 drink during our cocktail hour, 1 during dinner, and 1 after dinner. (We also know a few of our guests are bringing their own drinks apart from our beer and wine choices so there’s that too.)
With that thought in mind, here are our calculations for our wedding:
200 guests – 25% non-drinkers = 150 guests may drink
150 guests may drink * 3 drinks = 450 drinks
We have opted to host a self-serve bar with two beer bottle options (simply Bud Light and Miller Lite) and five 5-liter boxed wine choices. (Franzia is incredibly pleasing to my girls which made this decision simple and inexpensive.) We purchased twelve 24-pack boxes of beer for a total of 288 bottles and the five boxes of Franzia which account for 33 bottles of wine making for 198 glasses. In beer and wine, we have approximately 486 drinks available for our guests who choose to indulge.
Non-Alcoholic beverages (alongside alcohol):
200 guests * 1/2 drink * 4 hours = 400 16oz drinks
Knowing an outdoors June wedding in Michigan will most likely be hot and muggy, we purchased ten 2.5 gallon spring waters with spigots which accounts for 25 gallons of water. We also have 5 gallons of iced tea and 20 2-liters of soda. So with these counts, we will have approximately 240 16oz glasses of water and tea, and 100 glasses of soda pop for a total of 340 16oz drinks in addition to our alcoholic beverages.
1/2 drink per guest per hour * 4 hours = 2 16oz drinks
30 gallons = 3840 ounces = 240 16oz drinks
1 2-liter = 5 16oz drinks / 20 2-liters = 100 16oz drinks
My last nugget of advice if you are calculating beverage numbers at your wedding or party is to round up your estimates. Like I said at the start of this post, it is a hosting fail if you run out of food or drinks for your guests. Consider that the more variety in your beverage offerings, the more you should increase your estimates because you can never be sure what will be most popular.