Choosing and ordering your wedding reception drinks

The drinks at your wedding reception are designed to offer hospitality to your guests, and to make them feel welcome.

At a wedding reception, it is a nice touch to offer guests a drink on arrival as they wait in the reception line to greet the bride and groom. How about a glass of champagne, champagne cocktail or a signature cocktail? Design your own signature wedding cocktail (or mocktail for non-alcohol drinkers) to welcome your guests or have one made by a mixologist, and give it a memorable name based on the theme of weddings and love. You could even have the cocktail made to match your wedding colors!

champagneMany couples serve wine with the meal at their wedding reception. Choose drinkable red and white wines that will appeal to all tastes. Bottles of champagne are then popped for the toasts to the bride and groom after the meal.

Let’s crack open the “bubbly”

By definition, champagne has to come from the Champagne region of France to be given the name, but sparkling wines such as Spanish cava or Italian Asti Spumante are perfectly acceptable (and much, much cheaper!) alternatives.

Why not have a champagne fountain at your wedding reception? Champagne glasses are stacked around eight tiers high, and champagne is poured into the top glass, spilling down and gradually filling all the glasses. It is a very impressive sight for your guests and makes a wonderful photo!

Having a bottle of champagne opened with a sword or saber at your reception is another dramatic option, and will make a great impression on your guests! Known as le sabrage, this can be learned with practice, but is definitely not for the fainthearted and can be very dangerous!


Drinks at the evening reception

If you are having an evening reception or party, you need to decide between an open paid bar, a cash bar with bartender, or ordering in your own drinks. You could also arrange a combination of these options if you have a limited budget. Some venues charge a cork fee per bottle if you order in your own drinks, so look out for this added expense.

An open bar or a cash bar?

At an open bar, you either have a time limit of, say, 3 hours or are given the option of free drinks until a certain agreed amount of drinks has been consumed. After this, the guests pay for their own drinks at a cash bar.

If an open bar is beyond your budget, provide pitchers of popular cocktails such as margaritas or mojitos. Another possibility is to offer a free bar with wine, beer, soda, and water, with a cash bar for cocktails and liquors.

A cash bar is easy to manage if your wedding reception is at a hotel or restaurant, and is the best way to save money if you are on a limited budget. It is however hospitable to offer your guests a glass of champagne or a welcome cocktail on arrival at the venue.

Whatever you decide, be aware that many guests tend to expect there to be at least free beer and wine at a wedding, and most wedding planners would recommend a limited free bar rather than a fully-stocked cash bar.

Ordering your own drinks

Order drinks for the reception If you are ordering your own drinks for the wedding, for example if you are having your reception at home or in a hall, it is best to wait until you know how many guests to expect.

Depending on the style of your wedding and your budget, you may want to order a selection of drinks and beverages: beer, wine, champagne, soda, mixers, still and sparkling water, a selection of liquors…

It is often possible to return unused bottles of wine or liquors after your wedding if you buy them from a local supplier or wine producer. Don’t forget to hire glasses if necessary; check whether the venue has them in advance.

If you plan to have a cash bar at your reception in a hall or other prívate venue, you should be aware that it is illegal to sell liquor without a state license. A one-day liquor permit for special events can be purchased in many states.

Calculating how much to order

Here are some suggestions for calculating the amounts you will need, which will obviously depend on how much you think your guests will quaff!

Champagne: For a champagne toast, allow one case of champagne for 75 guests. (One case = 12 bottles)

Wine: For wine with lunch or dinner, estimate some 18 bottles of wine for 100 guests, with the proportions of white and red depending on what you think people will prefer. Six bottles of red and 12 of white are recommended.

Beer: Beer for wedding receptions can usually be ordered by the keg. One keg is the equivalent of 84 bottles of beer, and will serve some 100 glasses of beer. Account for 3 or 4 guests during the reception.

Liquor: At an evening reception, allow 2 drinks per guest for the first hour, and 1 drink per guest each extra hour.

Ice: Drinks will need to be put on ice during the wedding reception, and you will need ice for alcoholic and soft drinks, especially during summer, so order plenty.

Non-alcoholic drinks

Many weddings are dry and no alcohol is served, mainly for religious, personal, or family reasons, or because the town where the wedding is being held is “dry” (look at this Wikipedia page on dry communities in the USA). You will therefore need to provide an interesting selection of non-alcoholic drinks. The same applies at any wedding: considerate couples offer a good selection of non-alcoholic drinks for guests who do not drink for a variety of reasons as mentioned above, and for the designated drivers.

Make a non-alcoholic punch with fruit juice, cold tea or ginger ale, with ice and fruit. There are many non-alcoholic wines, sparkling wines and beers on the market which provide an acceptable alternative.

Offer a variety of interesting coffees like lattes, espressos and cappuccinos (perhaps consider hiring a professional barista?), and a good selection of teas and herbal teas.

Fresh fruit juices and shakes are another idea, and a good alternative to soda. Iced still and sparkling water should be freely available.


Some recommendations to prevent inebriated guests

Although most wedding receptions end on a high note, occasionally guests cannot resist the temptation of the open bar and overdo things. Here are some ideas on how to prevent obnoxious drunkenness and how to deal with it if it happens.

  • Make sure there is water and other non-alcoholic drinks freely available in pitchers at all times throughout the reception (the bride and groom should also remember to drink water too during the day!). This prevents guests from quenching their thirst with alcohol.

  • Place bowls of bar snacks like nuts, olives and chips in the bar area as food slows down the rate at which our bodies absorb alcohol.

  • If a guest starts to get embarrassing, ask one of the venue managers to deal with them, they have probably seen it all before. Otherwise, ask a groomsman to help out.

  • If you are a guest at a wedding, try to be discreet and avoid telling the bride and groom as it could ruin their day.

  • Help book cabs (pay in advance if necessary) for guests who have overdone the drinks, or organize rides with guests who have not been drinking. Take the keys away from inebriated guests if you have to.

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