What to know about beverage catering

Top Shelf Wedding Blog

Wedding bar service

During the past 15 years I have had the pleasure of working on over 1,000 weddings. In this time I have seen many trends come and go. Trends that were once the main stay of every wedding we coordinated or catered have gone by the way or definitely should have. In the following blog I will share with you: the trends that I see currently and one that needs to be done away with, how to know what to purchase, what drinks are actually ordered, where to purchase your alcohol, and a few veteran wedding coordinator and beverage catering tips to help make your wedding reception’s beverage service a success.

As the new season for 2019 begins to ramp up I am beginning to get those same questions from my brides and grooms. What about the bar? What are brides and grooms doing today. There are a few trends that are currently being practiced at a lot of weddings that we coordinate and cater. The first is the use of “Signature Cocktails”| or “ His and Hers” cocktails. When a bride asks what do I think about “ Signature Cocktails”? My reply is always the same; Great idea but do not pre mix it and make them with the most popular liquors currently. I recommend this because, if you were to choose two cocktails that sound wonderful to you and your significant other, but those cocktails end up not being very popular among your guests, you still have the alcohol in it’s original unmixed form. This leads me to my second recommendation, choosing two popular alcohols that will be the base liquor for your cocktails. For instance should you want to server a Strawberry Lemon Drop Martini as one of your signature cocktails, which is made by mixing vodka, triple sec, fresh lemons juice, fresh muddled strawberries and a pinch of sugar. Should your guests not want a drink that is on the sweeter side, they can opt for the always popular Vodka and Soda or Vodka and Tonic for instance. If you were to pre mix all of those ingredients for the 100 plus guests you have invited, you would not be able to serve any other cocktails. So create an amazing Signature choice just make sure it is not pre mixed and that it is made with one of the three popular base alcohols.

The one trend that I believe needs to be done away with is the Champagne toast for speeches. I say this for multiple reasons. First it is a huge waste of your money. You will need to rent a Champagne glass for everyone in attendance( 0.75 from Top Shelf- .90-1.05 elsewhere). Plus you will need to purchase enough Champagne to pour a glass for every guest. Not to mention you will need to have more service staff on hand to pour it table side or deliver from the bartender at the bar. It is nice if you want to have bubbles for your self and those who specifically want them. Most of your guests if given the opportunity would prefer to toast with what they have already been drinking since the cocktail hour and are not likely to want to mix in bubbles. This option is better known as the “ Glass in Hand” toast. So if you are going to have bubbles at your reception I would recommend getting only 30 glasses and 6 bottles for a 100 person headcount. If you know you have a large number of females between the ages of 21 and 35 you may want to go with more than 6 bottles.

When it comes to planning the beverage portion of your reception it can be completely intimidating. What do I want to offer? How much do I need? What type/brand should I purchase? What if I am not from the area and can not take the left overs with me? How do I get it to the venue? How much ice do I need? Where can I get it from? How do I keep the ice from melting away? What garnishes should I get? This is when 15 years and over 2,000 events has helped me to be able to answer all of these questions. Lets take them one by one:

  1. What do I want to offer?Traditionally wedding bars had everything under the sun or a very minimal selection of simply beer and wine. These methods made for two different outcomes: a lot of wasted money on undrank alcohol and the latter leads to a reception that is not as fun as the one with hard alcohol. With this in mind I began to guide brides and grooms to offer the 3 main base alcohols: vodka, tequila and bourbon/whiskey. By offering these three alcohols and going with a Top Shelf bar rental package, your guest could now order 90% of the most ordered cocktails at any event we do. Granted there are those events that have different circumstances. Circumstance like: age of the guests, location, male to female ratio, possibly a theme or simply that uncle Frank must have his scotch can all have an affect. You will always want a selection of two to three types of beer. I recommend a Mexican beer like Corona, an IPA like Lagunitas or Stone and then something like a Sam Adams or Sierra Nevada Pale ale for the mid level. As for wine I recommend two reds and two white. Cabernet and Pinot Noir are favored reds, while Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio are the go to for whites.
  2. How much do I need?This is a number that only comes from working with someone like myself to work through your events specific details. You know your guests best. So I always ask my brides and grooms to sit down and answer a couple of quick questions. Questions like: What age your guests are? What do your friends and family actually drink? What time they start and finish drinking? Are they driving in, arriving by shuttle or Uber or Lyft? Any random facts that you believe are pertinent to knowing? The following facts will help to build a recommended shopping list.
  3. What type/brand should I purchase?When asked this questions I like to reply “ Your guests are drinking for free and very rarely does anyone turn their nose up at what is available.” That being said I do not recommend buying the bottom of the barrel selections. Depending upon where you finally decide to obtain your alcohol, there are some great options that are affordable and great quality. I have to say that in the last few years I have had a trend arising. Many of my events have more than one guest who is gluten intolerant, so offering a gluten friendly vodka option like Tito’s Vodka is great option. Tequila is typically mixed(try to avoid shots, they make a mess of your guests) at most of our events so having the most expensive brand is not necessary. You can offer a wonderful Margarita made with Sauza or Hornitos tequila that won’t break the bank and will keep your guests coming back. As for bourbon/whiskey Jack Daniels or Bulleit are the crowd pleasers in my experience.
  4. Where can I get it from?In the Santa Barbara region you have a few options for obtaining your needed alcohol. At the end of the day, who you choose will depend on the following details: do you have vehicle to make the pick up? Do you have a place to store the alcohol? Do you care if there are left overs? Is price more important than convenience? The local options for obtaining your alcohol are: Costco, Bevmo, grocery store, or consignment liquor store. Costco is the most cost efficient and carries Kirkland brand Vodka and Tequila that are produced for them by Grey Goose and the Tequila is made by Cielo. Both of these are great brands. Bevmo is a great option if you want to have the alcohol delivered to your venue. They will deliver for free if your order is above $500(as of 1/1/2019). The grocery store can be a great option if you watch the ads and pick up the supplies when they go on sale. You can occasionally get 12 packs of Corona and Lagunitas (the most ordered beers at any event we do) for under $10. The final option is great for out of town brides and grooms. The “ consignment” option allows for you to only pay for what you use. There are two different liquor stores in the area that will supply the alcohol that you need plus extra. They then return and pick up the remainder of unopened alcohol. You will be responsible for paying for the bottles that the bartenders open. This option will cost you more per bottle, but could save you money in the end if your guests do not drink as you believe they would.
  5. How much ice do I need?This depends upon the following details: cocktail menu, length of event, are you pouring water table side. That being said it is typically between 2.5 and 4 pounds per guest in attendance.
  6. Where can I get it from?Top Shelf supplies ice for $15 per $40lb bag plus tax and includes delivery for events that we are working. If you wish to supply it yourself you can purchase it at Costco, Santa Barbara Ice and Propane, grocery stores and Smart and Final.
  7. How do I keep my ice from melting away?Top Shelf rents 100 qt coolers to hold 100 lbs of ice for $15 or you can supply your own coolers or freezers to hold it.
  8. What garnishes should I get?Garnishes are based upon the final cocktail menu you choose. Typically you will need limes. Olives if you want dirty martinis. Oranges, cherries and bitters if you want an Old Fashioned. Lemons if you want twists or Lemon Drops.

As you can see from the article above, there are a lot of details that go into planning the perfect beverage catering experience for your wedding. These details may seem a bit trivial, but in the end will make for a more precise and cost effective beverage service. Should you decide to hire Top Shelf for your event’s beverage services I will personally work with you to get all of these details squared away. After 15 years of events Top Shelf has seen all types of crowds and cocktail menus. Let us help create your nights amazing drink menu that will keep your guests drinking and the party going strong.


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