How to plan a successful wedding bar | Pittsburgh City Paper

How to plan a successful wedding bar

I’ve been to brunch weddings with Bloody Mary bars and farm weddings with signature beers brewed by the groom.


I’ve reached that magical and overwhelming age where everyone I know has decided to tie the knot. My girlfriend and I have our wedding routine down pat: She digs up the invitation to find the address, we grab a card and stuff it with cash, and I hope the one shirt I like to wear isn’t still dirty from the last wedding. The past couple of years have been filled with cookie tables and joyous shrieks at the opening beats of “Love Shack.”

Not surprisingly, I tend to pay special attention to the bars. And just as many couples are forgoing other trappings of “traditional” weddings (I haven’t seen a painfully awkward garter-toss in years), bars are moving in all sorts of interesting directions. I’ve been to brunch weddings with Bloody Mary bars and farm weddings with signature beers brewed by the groom. Some couples opt for full-service bars with made-to-order cocktails, while others (like my cousin) just fill a couple wheelbarrows with Yuengling and Bud Light Lime. Having bartended a few weddings and attended quite a few more, I humbly offer a few suggestions to make your wedding bar memorable no matter what approach you take.

Calculating how much booze to buy is tricky, even for the most experienced caterer. A good rule of thumb is to budget one drink per person per hour, and to distribute the total number of drinks evenly among beer, wine and cocktails. State stores will accept returns on unopened bottles of wines and spirits — so don’t be afraid to budget a little extra.

The best wedding bars balance the personality of the couple with a drinks selection that has a wide appeal. If you’re planning an open bar (which seems to be the norm), don’t feel obligated to offer a huge selection: No one is picky when they’re drinking for free. One or two signature cocktails, a red and a white wine, and a couple of beers are all you need. Pick food-friendly, inexpensive wines and a few contrasting beers. If you do two cocktails, it’s nice to do one light and one dark — a gin punch and a Manhattan, for instance. And don’t forget about non-drinkers. When I bartended an outdoor June wedding, the fresh peach iced tea was more popular than beer.

On that note, remember seasonality as you plan your bar. Though not everyone drinks with the seasons, you can bet that milk stout will go untouched at a summer wedding. Ultimately, however, your wedding should be filled with the people and things that make you happy. So whether you have a dozen craft beers or a few pitchers of margaritas, choose drinks that mean something to you. And make sure there’s plenty of them.