The Ultimate Guide to Your Wedding Reception Bar

November 21, 2018 | kailey

Image by Jordan Voth. See more of this real wedding here.

From properly stocking your reception bar to selecting the overall style—there are endless tasks that go into bringing to life a cozy wedding reception, bar included. Let’s be honest, the reception bar is always one of the most popular elements of your wedding—for you and for your guests. 

As a general rule, you should plan to allocate about 10 to 20% of your overall wedding budget for your reception bar. That includes all the bartenders, alcohol, mixers, garnishes, tools, fees, tips, and so on. Because the wedding reception bar will take up such a large portion of your budget, you’ll want to thoroughly research and price out your options before committing to one. 

This reception planning resource will walk you through everything you need to know about planning for a wedding reception bar—taking into account your budget and wedding style. 

Professional Bar or DIY Bar 

There are a few different options to consider for your wedding reception bar, all of which will depend on your venue’s rules, requirements, and your allotted budget. If you’re looking for the most low-maintenance option, a professional bar that’s stocked and staffed by either the venue or a third-party full bar service is ideal. This typically includes marked-up alcohol prices and service fees, but it’s the perfect option for couples who don’t want the hassle of micro-managing their wedding reception bar.

For the DIY lovers looking to save on your wedding day budget, stocking a bar yourselves is a less expensive alternative. You’ll have to decide what types and quantities of alcohol to buy. It may seem daunting, but we’ve got you covered with the calculations below. 

Keep in mind that, even with a DIY bar and wedding, you should hire a professional bartender to serve your drinks rather than have a self-serve bar. Depending on your state and venue’s rules and regulations, you may be required to have certified bartenders—be sure to do your research before getting too far down the DIY path. 

Or Do Both Professional And DIY Reception Bar Options

For those in-between couples who just want to purchase the alcohol but don’t want to deal with anything else, a bartending service that provides a bartender, rentals, setup, and cleanup is also a great middle-ground option. Whichever type you choose, you’ll want to know which reception bar style you’re looking for before speaking with vendors.

Reception Bar Styles 

Open Bar 

An open bar is one of the most popular bar styles for weddings. It functions exactly as its name suggests—the host pays a flat rate and the guests can order as many drinks as they like.

Consumption Bar 

A consumption bar is similar to an open bar. The only difference is that rather than paying a flat rate, a consumption bar requires the hosts to pay per drink at the end of the event. 

Cash Bar 

A cash bar requires guests to pay for their own drinks throughout the night—the hosts do not cover the cost. This isn’t a very common reception bar option but could be a solution for couples sticking to a strict budget. Make sure your guests know this ahead of time so they can cover their tabs. 

Dry Bar 

If you don’t drink, consider a dry bar instead. Simply provide a mix of sodas, juices, flavored waters, tea, and anything else you love—no alcohol required. 

How To Stock A Reception Bar 

As a general guide, assume each guest will consume one drink per hour of your reception. Some guests might drink more, some might drink less—that general equation provides a reliable starting point. For a five-hour wedding reception with 100 guests, you’d need to have enough alcohol for 500 drinks.

When picking out alcohol, keep in mind the following standard volume-to-quantity calculations:

  • Bottle of wine (750 ml) = 5 glasses
  • Bottle of champagne (750 ml) = 8 flutes
  • Bottle of liquor (750 ml) = 18 cocktails
  • Keg (15.5 gallons) = 124 pints

Get More Exact With Personal Estimates

Remember that these are estimated averages to get you started on your planning. If you want to be a bit more thorough with your calculations, go through your guest list person by person and make a note of what type of alcohol they usually drink. Then adjust these percentages accordingly. When in doubt, overestimate. You’d rather end up with extra bottles at the end of the night than run out of alcohol before the reception is over.

Additional Wedding Reception Bar Costs To Remember

Corkage Fee

If you decide to stock your own bar, you will likely have to pay a corkage fee for your venue to allow you to bring your own alcohol onto the premises. The fee is charged either per bottle or per person served, so it can add up quickly! Just be sure the corkage fee is stated in your contract before signing if you plan on providing your own alcohol.

Liability Insurance

Whether you’re going with a professional service through your venue or a third party or you’re stocking the bar yourselves, be sure to double-check that you’re covered with liability insurance. If the venue or caterer has insurance, you could be covered. If not, you’ll want to purchase liability insurance in the event there is an alcohol-related incident during or after your wedding. We’ve got everything you need to know about wedding insurance right here.


If a service fee or gratuity isn’t included in your contract, the general guidance is to tip your bartender 20% of the final bar tab. If a service fee is included, there’s no need to tip extra unless you’d like to.

Physical Bar And Glassware Rentals 

If your venue doesn’t have a physical bar, you’ll either have to rent one or find an alternative. Additionally, if you’re stocking your bar yourself, you’ll need to rent glassware either through a rental company or through your caterer.

Image by Epic Love Story. See more of this real wedding here.

Offering Signature Cocktail Options 

Having a signature cocktail is the statement piece and we’re all about couples having at least one for their wedding. Wine and beer are great options, but a signature cocktail adds a little personality and fun to your big day.

Set Up Logistics And Decor 

Consider Guest Size and Room Layout

If you’re having a large wedding or your guests will be spread across a huge ballroom, consider having more than one bar. You want your guests to spend less time waiting in line and more time enjoying themselves. Plan for at least two separate bars if your guest list is over 50 people.

Don’t Forget to Add Décor

Now, let’s get to the fun stuff—reception bar decor. Instead of tucking your bar into a corner, make your bar a reception staple piece. Dress the bar in over-the-top floral arrangements or twinkly lights.


Images by Nikk Nguyen Photo. See more of this real wedding here.

Images by Nikk Nguyen Photo. See more of this real wedding here.

Shop bar carts: Handcrafted Bar Cart – Stained Wood Industrial Cart ($625+); Champagne Cart ($351.71); Wedding Champagne Wall ($350+); Boxwood Greenery Champagne Wall ($999.99)

Reception Bar Stocking Checklist

This is where hiring a full-service bar rental company comes in handy. Hiring vendors takes the planning out of your hands and turns it over to a wedding planning dream. Stocking your own bar can be quite the task, but we’ve created a checklist to help you keep everything straight. From the basics to the alcohol, below is the ultimate checklist of what you’ll need to make sure your DIY bar is stocked and ready to go.

There is a lot that goes into the planning of a wedding reception. If you’re looking for more ways to add personalized and unique touches while still sticking to a budget, check out these budget-friendly reception decor items for your wedding

Image by LAYERS. See more of this real wedding here.

Want to save this list for future reference? Pin this checklist now—and thank us later!

There is a lot that goes into the planning of a wedding reception. If you’re looking for more ways to add personalized and unique touches while still sticking to a budget, check out these budget-friendly reception decor items for your wedding

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  1. I hadn’t considered having the mobile bar closer to the other amenities of the wedding reception. My daughter is going to be married in a few months. I’ll look into contacting a venue that can offer these amenities and more, so that her special night can be as special as possible.

  2. It’s good to know about the bar costs for a wedding. My sister wants to have a mobile bar for her wedding. She should find one that fits her budget.

  3. I like that you said that wine and beer are great options for wedding parties, but you may consider adding a signature cocktail to add a little personality on your big day. My sister’s wedding celebration is going to be packed with guests. Since she wanted to save costs from the beverages, I will ask her to consider shopping for wholesale beers, wines, and other types of drinks. Thanks for sharing this.

  4. It helped that you mentioned it would be best to hire a certified bartender even if you set up a DIY bar for your wedding, so you can ensure the drinks served to your guests will meet the state and venue’s rules and regulations. My sister is getting married this summer, and we were thinking of adding a wedding reception bar to the venue. We’ll keep in mind to book private bartending services during the event.

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