How should I get 170 people good and drunk?
June 27, 2007 8:38 AM   Subscribe

I'm doing a (semi) limited bar at my wedding reception on a (semi) limited budget. What is the best hard liquor to serve? How much should I buy? We would also love to hear suggestions for wine and champagne that offer the most for our dollar.

My reception facility is mercifully BYOB, so we will be stocking both bars. We want to serve beer (at least two kinds), wine (white and red), two or three kinds of hard liquor, and champagne if the budget allows. We're also doing a few signature cocktails, so our hard liquors will definitely include tequila and rum. Our facility will be stocking all of our mixers for us.

We'll have about 170 drinkers and a budget of $600-$700. However, if this is too little we can raid other areas of the budget to make sure we cover any monetary shortfalls.

My questions:
1) Is about 3 glasses of beer per drinker enough? We can obtain two 1/2 kegs and two 1/4 kegs of two very nice beers for $250. That should yield almost 500 12 ounce glasses of beer.

2) How much red wine should we buy? How much white wine should we buy? What brands/vintages should we look for?

3) Are there any other hard liquors that we should consider stocking? How much should we buy?

4) What are some good budget champagne suggestions? Would it be terribly gauche to buy just a few bottles of the nicer stuff for the lucky few who get to them first?

I'm not much of a drinker, so please let me borrow your refined palettes.

Thank you, Ask Metafilter, for continuing to plan my wedding!
posted by Alison to Food & Drink (25 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
1) One should hope so. It depends on your crowd, but it sounds ok to me.

2) Are you having individual tables? An easy way to handle this is to put a bottle of red & white on each table. If possible, have a backup bottle of each per table.

3) I would suggest stocking vodka in addition to the rum & tequila since a lot of people like vodka based drinks.

4) I can't suggest a champagne, but I do think it's tacky to just get a few bottles. Perhaps you can have someone pre-pour a flute of champagne for each guest so that they join in a toast.
posted by tastybrains at 8:45 AM on June 27, 2007

Gallons of cider. Cheaper than beer and merrier too.
posted by popcassady at 8:47 AM on June 27, 2007

4) What are some good budget champagne suggestions? Would it be terribly gauche to buy just a few bottles of the nicer stuff for the lucky few who get to them first?

Depends how you're serving it. If you're doing champagne toasts, or serving people at their tables, then yes, that would be tacky. If you're just having champagne as one of the options at the bar, and are fine with your bartenders eventually saying 'Sorry, we've run out of champagne!' then it's not really tacky in an etiquette sense. A bit odd, though, and possibly likely to make guests feel bad--both the ones who didn't get any, and the ones who might have had two glasses while lots of people got none.

If you want to have only small amounts of champagne, your best bet is really to have enough to do 170 glasses and have them served to people directly at the tables before the toasts--that's quite common. But then you really need to have a glass for everyone. The champagne can be poured and delivered in glasses, though, to eliminate the people who want more in their glass/refills/etc from impacting your supply.

The other option might be to serve the champagne only for a specific portion of the evening--while the hors d'oeuvres are being passed, for example. People who want some during that time will have some, and people who don't won't have it as an option later.

I don't know how much you should buy, but both Tequila and Rum are fairly strongly flavoured. Something like vodka range might appeal to people who'd rather not taste their alcohol.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:52 AM on June 27, 2007

Regarding picking the wine, I'd suggest going to a liquor or wine store and getting suggestions. You should be able to get a discount when buying by the case. As for quantities, ideally there's four glasses in a bottle. We estimated two glasses per person.

I spent some time talking to the manager of the liquor department at our neighborhood grocery store. He was able to offer us a deal on decent wines (unless your guests are hardcore foodies and wine geeks, you should be fine with an average of $6 - 7 per bottle). We worked with him to get the desired number of bottles rather than a specific amount from one vintner. So we had a variety of wines from different wineries (just in case one sucked) and got a better deal on the whole thing.

As for champagne, I'm a fan of Cristalino, which is about $7 a bottle. Again, you should be able to get a discount when buying by the case.
posted by Atom12 at 8:57 AM on June 27, 2007

Response by poster: Just to clarify: we aren't planning on having a champagne toast; we don't want to make anyone feel pressured to drink or blow that much money when most of our relatives would prefer beer. However, we were considering having a few bottles at each bar.
posted by Alison at 9:03 AM on June 27, 2007

Most liquor stores, as well as your caterer (if you have one) will have lists of appropriate amounts of liquor for weddings and other functions (however we doubled the recommended allowances because most of our friends and family are BIG drinkers).

You sound sold on having hard liquor, but if not completely, consider just having wine and beer. We did this, and nobody missed having the other options (or if they did, they were nice enough to bitch about it where we never heard! It saved us quite a bit of money.
posted by gaspode at 9:03 AM on June 27, 2007

You should probably mention where most of the guests will be from (and if many of them are Jewish) since my understanding is that drinking habits vary with region in the US.
posted by Aidan Kehoe at 9:04 AM on June 27, 2007

With your Champagne, it may or may not amtter to you if you actually get a "real" Champage (that is, one from France), but I would recommend, if you're going to go with one on the cheaper side, that you taste a little first before serving it: nothing tackier than an over-frothy but tasteless Champagne.

With regular wines, you haven't yet addressed the question of whether people want drier or sweeter. Of course, certain kinds go with certain courses, but if this is more about just having a drink in lieu of a cocktail, people do have their preferences. (I am a great fan of Yellow Tail Chardonnay, myself.)

And you didn't bring up blush wine. It is suddenly trendy. Personally, I am not a fan. If you're more out in the sticks (like me here in Cleveland ::cough::), no one may even know it's "in" yet.

I would also second (third?) the suggestion of vodka as another liquor.
posted by RobotHeart at 9:08 AM on June 27, 2007

1) That seems like a lot of beer to me. Either way, I'd suggest fewer kegs and some backup cans/bottles. If all the beer isn't drunk, it's usually easier to deal with bringing cans home than kegs, especially if they've been tapped.

2) Definitely go to the liquor store for suggestions. There are tons of perfectly good NZ/Portuguese/SA wines for $7 and under.

3) Skip tequila, IMO. People get DRUNK on tequila. Unless it's gonna be that kinda wedding...

4) I agree with the "toast only" suggestions. And consider Prosecco, which is quite lovely and can be had for $10-$15/bottle. Most people won't even know it's not "real" champagne.
posted by mkultra at 9:10 AM on June 27, 2007

Just to clarify: we aren't planning on having a champagne toast; we don't want to make anyone feel pressured to drink or blow that much money when most of our relatives would prefer beer. However, we were considering having a few bottles at each bar.

If this is the case, I'd skip it. Nothing worse than having "a little" of something that everyone suddenly wants.
posted by mkultra at 9:11 AM on June 27, 2007

I've bartended at probably 100 or so weddings, and they vary so enormously. Some families just aren't big drinkers, other weddings have a lot of young guys who drink only beer, some have a lot of kids in attendance, some people take advantage and order double-whiskeys all night, at some weddings people will start with wine and just carry on with the same tipple. I just attended a wedding where every table of ten got through about six bottles of wine and six bottles of water - and then switched to beer and mixed drinks for the other five or so hours.

How long will your reception be? What will the weather be like? Can you remember the way people drank at other family weddings? If you take the answers to these questions to your local off license I bet they will be able to help.
posted by jamesonandwater at 9:23 AM on June 27, 2007

Best answer: Twenty-year bartender here. Tell us more about the crowd. Are they young, old, uptight, partiers, or a mix of everything?

I'm not convinced you need to serve hard liquor. Wine and beer is much cheaper, less likely to get too many people too wasted, and you can give your guests a higher-quality experience by spending your budget on decent wine and good beer instead of cheap hooch.

But if you are set on serving liquor, buy twice as much vodka as anything else.

At 3 shots per person that's about 5 gallons of booze for 170 people. Cut that in half if you plan to offer beer and wine, too.

Count the number of female guests, divide by 2 (or 3, depending on the crowd), that's how much white wine you need. You'll need half as much red wine. There's plenty of wine shops who would love to help you pick some reasonably priced cases. I'd recommend you serve either a soft merlot or a pinot noir for the red and a chardonnay for the white. That's boring, but everyone likes chardonnay.

Again, this is all guessing, based on typical parties I've catered, ymmv considerably.

Is your facility providing bartenders, servers, and bussers? 170 is a lot of folks. If you have help, great. If you don't, batch-mix drinks beforehand so you don't run yourself to death.

And if you get 170 people drunk, you need to feed 'em.

On preview, what jamesonandwater said.

I prefer Bushmills
posted by BitterOldPunk at 9:42 AM on June 27, 2007 [15 favorites]

Oh, I almost forgot. There are actually people who can't consume alcohol, and some, even, who actually like the taste of dealcoholized wine and beer. (They're nuts, but hey.)

Can Aunt Tillie mix the Chardonnay with her Coumadin? If there's only one Aunt Tillie, it may not be a big deal, but if the crowd is old, or have a lot of health problems, it would be kind to think outside the box. If it's a summer wedding, well, I have yet to meet someone who didn't like a virgin daiquiri.
posted by RobotHeart at 9:47 AM on June 27, 2007

4) I'm a big fan of Tosti Asti Spumante -- it's delicious. I've served it at several parties and everyone likes it, keeps coming back for more. (Of course, that may not be what you're looking for, but at $7-9 a bottle at case prices, it's not too bad).
posted by katemonster at 9:50 AM on June 27, 2007

Technically, if Alison's having her wedding in Pennsylvania, liquor stores aren't supposed to recommend specific wines/types of liquor, as they are state-run and cautioned against favoring a certain type.

For wines, there are a number of reasonably tasty pretty-cheap wines out there. I would suggest talking to friends and family and coworkers about the kinds of wines that they like--my family likes Yellow Tail red wines, which run about $7 or $8 at the state stores.
posted by that girl at 9:52 AM on June 27, 2007

i just wanted to recommend or at least consider 2 things:
1. no whiskey. at least in my crowd, whiskey makes people crazy.
2. buy at a liquor store or wine store that accepts returns. for my wedding we bought all the wine and liquore at costco. not sure if this is an option for you, but its a good deal, they have tons of selection, and they take returns.
posted by alkupe at 10:01 AM on June 27, 2007

Just me, but unless you're absolutely set on having to have someting with tequila and rum, I would opt more towards whisky, vodka, and gin, but that's just my opinion.
posted by pupdog at 10:05 AM on June 27, 2007

my family likes Yellow Tail red wines

Unless the guests will never see the bottle, I'd advise against YT or any other well-known cheap wines. Why? Because everyone knows them and will know that you're serving them cheap wine. For the same price, you can get a wine that's just as good (probably better) and comes in a nicer, more ambiguous bottle.
posted by mkultra at 10:47 AM on June 27, 2007

I know they have some Trader Joe's out on the east coast, but not sure if they're in your area. If you can get to a TJs, it's a great resource for good, cheap wines and the orderer and most of the workers there usually have a good idea of what is good and what is worth getting by the case (always cheaper). Both my husband and I worked there (a looooong time ago) and we were both pretty competent by the time we left. They would sometimes crack a bottle or two after work so that people would know what they were recommending.

And we hit up Costco for the hard alcohol, and we based it all on what we like. Gin for me and Maker's for him...but I can't say enough about some cases of bottled water!!
posted by lil' ears at 11:11 AM on June 27, 2007

Friends of ours got married north of Pittsburgh and were on an incredibly tight budget. I'm going to go with the recommendation of driving over the Ohio state line, going to the closest Costco and buying the alcohol there. They pretty much stuck with white/red wines - one large bottle per table, and ended up giving out unopened bottles as gifts. (Also, the TJs in Cleveland is only 2.5 hours - we used to make that trip regularly prior to the one opening here. We've seen people leaving there with cases of wine, no reason you couldn't too.)

I was at a wedding south of Pittsburgh this weekend, and they had one full sized keg for 300 adults. It wasn't good beer, but I'm fairly certain that since last call was at 10:15, they were going to have some left.

I've also seen it done here in the 'burgh that the only people who get champagne are those at the head table. Everyone else just toasts with whatever they're drinking at the time. So if you just got a nice bottle for you and the bridal party, you could save money there and spend more on the hard liquor.
posted by librarianamy at 11:32 AM on June 27, 2007

I've also seen it done here in the 'burgh that the only people who get champagne are those at the head table.

This, in my opinion, is really, really bad. I've seen it done, too, but keeping the good stuff for the hosts and their closest friends is not very hospitable. It just sets up two levels of guests in an uncomfortable sort of way.
posted by jacquilynne at 12:06 PM on June 27, 2007

Response by poster: How long will your reception be?

The reception will be 4-5 hours long. There will be a full dinner and cookies and candy served afterward.

What will the weather be like?

We will be indoors in an aquarium. The highest recorded temperature for our wedding day is 89 degrees.

Can you remember the way people drank at other family weddings?

We have a whole range of drinkers, but there will be a few dozen serious drinkers. There will probably be 220 total at the wedding, but we are leaving children and religious non-drinkers out of the total.

It is likely to be one on those weddings. We will be waiting for someone to throw up in the piranha tank.

Is your facility providing bartenders, servers, and bussers?

We'll have a full staff. They will be mixing the signature drinks in advance in large batches.
posted by Alison at 12:39 PM on June 27, 2007

We had a limited bar at our wedding, many years ago. What a pain! With a limited bar, you're trying really hard to please everyone. And it requires a bartender.

I've been to weddings with combinations of
- Red & white wine at the table & plenty of extras
- Really good beer by the bottle in big tubs of ice
- 1 or 2 mixed drinks, in pitchers, like Cranberry juice & vodka or limeade & tequila
- Pitchers of sangria
- If you do champagne, it's probably okay to start w/ good champagne, then go to a bit cheaper. After 2 glasses, the taste buds are nicely anesthetized.
posted by theora55 at 2:41 PM on June 27, 2007

Response by poster: Just to report back, we ended up buying two half kegs (Hoegaarten and Yuengling) and one quarter keg of beer (Miller Lite) for the more frequented downstairs bar. There was enough wine so that there would be one bottle for each table, it twice as much white as red. We had tons of beer and four or five bottles of wine left over. Everyone seemed satisfied with the amount.

We had four signature drinks (tequila and tonic, mojito, margarita and cassis orange) and each was mixed in batches and served by the staff. We also a jumbo bottle or two of vodka and a few bottles of hot damn (a family in-joke) to round the variety out. We made sure that we had enough of the hard liquor so that there would be at least one shot of each variety for every drinking-aged person. We had lots of leftovers and my husband was happy about having lots of extra tequila around the house.

We also made sure that the kids had their own non-alcoholic drink menu and plenty of sparking apple cider. They were happy and the same menu also worked well for non-drinking grown-ups.

In summary: $600 was more than enough to cover our alcohol expenses after we returned the extras.
posted by Alison at 7:41 PM on January 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for all of your help getting honest people sloppy!
posted by Alison at 7:44 PM on January 2, 2008

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