Wedding Alcohol: Calculator and How Much to Buy


All Photos Courtesy of BevMo


Offering good food and drinks is usually a top priority for couples during the wedding planning process. Deciding on different types of alcohol you’re going to serve is oftentimes more challenging than the food menu because it can be difficult to estimate how much you’ll need and the cost of the alcohol. 

Let’s demystify this part of the reception budget. Of course there’s always the option to have a cash bar and have guests buy their own drinks, but if you plan to provide alcohol to your wedding guests, here are the most common fee options:

  • Per Person. Your venue or caterer charges a “per person” fee for unlimited alcohol consumption.

  • Per Consumption. Your venue or caterer charges per drink ordered. Beer and wine are often cheaper per drink than hard liquor or mixed drinks.

  • DIY Bar. You buy your own alcohol, mixers, and garnishes (lemons, limes, etc.) and typically hire bartenders to serve it.

Because the “per person” option is a set fee, you’ll know your total alcohol cost once you give your final guest count to your venue or caterer. That’s easy. It’s “per consumption” and “DIY bar” that are trickier. 

Per consumption leaves an open ended tab so you won’t fully know the cost until after the big day is over. Sometimes venues let you provide a cap number, and notify you during the party once you’ve reached that amount. That then lets the couple decide what they want to do in the moment, buy more or move to a cash bar. 

The DIY option leaves the estimating up to the couple. It’s possible that there ends up not being enough to last the entire reception or you may have way too much. 

If you’re going with an option where you need to choose an amount to purchase before the reception or are trying to gauge how much of your budget a per consumption option may take, here are some general tips on how to estimate the amount of alcohol needed. 


According to both BevMo! and Total Wine & More, for each adult guest, plan on two drinks the first hour and one drink for each additional hour of the event. Using this as a general guideline, you will then need to think through the following steps: 

  1. First, you will need to know how many guests will be attending the event who are of drinking age. 

  2. Next, you will need to decide what type of alcohol will be served. If you are offering a full bar, you will need to purchase a variety of liquors, mixers, wines, and beers. However, if you are only serving wine and beer, you will need less variety but may need to purchase larger quantities. 

  3. Additionally, you will need to consider the drinking habits of your guests. If you are expecting a lot of heavy drinkers, you may want to purchase more alcohol than if your guests are mostly light drinkers. The two drinks in the first hour and one for each additional hour rule should be altered based on your guests’ drinking habits. 

By taking all of these factors into consideration, you can ensure that you estimate or purchase the right amount of alcohol for your wedding. Next, we go into estimating the amount needed based on the types of alcohol you plan to offer. When calculating all of these numbers, it’s always good to estimate a bit higher just to be prepared. 

How Much Liquor to Purchase

If you want to offer hard alcohol but are totally in the dark on how much, retailers such as Total Wine & More and BevMo! suggest 70-80% of wedding guests will drink beer and wine, while 20-30% will drink spirits. Here’s a quick calculation you can use to determine the approximate amount of liquor that may be consumed: 

  • Take 20-30% of your total guest count along with the rule of two drinks in the first hour and one drink per hour after to come up with an estimate of how many bottles of liquor to buy. 

  • 1.5 oz is the standard shot size, so depending on the bottle sizes you purchase, you can determine how many cocktails each bottle will make. 

So, what type of hard alcohol do you get for 20-30% of your guests? Because a venue or caterer will usually charge per consumption or per person, you may as well offer a full bar with whatever liquor they’re willing to provide. It won’t cost you more to offer a full selection (but do keep in mind, a full selection may lead to more drinking and therefore, a higher overall bar tab).

However, if you’re doing a DIY bar, you’ll probably want to limit the selection of spirits because you have to buy all of it. Vodka, tequila, and whiskey are spirits commonly found in popular cocktails. 

Want a few good ideas? For a summer wedding, margaritas would be delicious with Tex-Mex appetizers and a BBQ meal. Tequila is the primary alcohol. Or if your friends love martinis, offer a few flavors--Cosmopolitan, Lemon Drop, and Appletini--that are all vodka based. That’s a fun option for a holiday or formal evening wedding.

How Many Bottles of Wine for a Wedding

If you’re on a tighter budget, it’s certainly not necessary to offer hard spirits. Providing beer and wine is fine, especially because according to the aforementioned alcohol retailers, 70-80% of guests prefer beer and wine anyway. You can always offer the liquor option as one your guests can pay for separately. 

Both BevMo! and Total Wine & More suggest for a beer and wine-only menu, about 60% of guests will drink wine and 40% will drink beer. Here’s a quick calculation you can use to determine the approximate amount of wine that may be consumed:

  • Take 60% of your total guest count along with the general rule of two drinks in the first hour and one drink per guest per remaining hour to come up with a total amount of wine to purchase. 

  • A standard bottle of wine typically has around 5 glasses of wine in the bottle

For your wine menu, offer one sparkling wine, one white wine and one red wine. Ask your caterer which white and red wines go best with your meal but if in doubt, a Chardonnay white wine and Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot red wine are popular choices.

If you are doing a champagne toast, and this is the only time you’ll be serving champagne throughout the event, estimates getting around 8 toast-sized pours from each bottle of champagne. Use this number along with your total number of guests who are of drinking age to determine how many bottles of champagne you may need. 

How Much Beer for a Wedding

As mentioned above, approximately 40% of your guests might drink beer. Here’s a quick calculation you can use to determine the approximate amount of beer that may be consumed:

  • Take 40% of your total guest count along with the general rule of thumb of two drinks in the first hour and one drink per guest per remaining hour to come up with a total amount of beers to purchase. 

Beer drinkers can be pickier to please than wine drinkers. When in doubt, offer at least one well-known domestic brand and one well-known imported brand to keep the masses happy.

However, if your friends are obsessed with craft beer, wow them with an obscure collection along with a few favorites. Or if you and your spouse went to different state colleges, create a friendly competition with regional brews from your college hometowns.


If you’re looking for something more straightforward, there are many tools available to help with calculating the amount of alcohol to purchase. 

For a quick calculation, try either of these:

Wedding alcohol calculators are helpful, but if the results seem way off, then adjust as needed.

Keep in mind, you know your guests best when it comes to choosing whether to go with wine, beer, and/or spirits at your wedding reception. Then look to your venue or caterer to help put together a bar menu that’ll pair perfectly with your food menu. Also, consider creating a fun signature cocktail for the evening with your bartenders! 

What kind and how much alcohol will you offer at your wedding? Tell us on Twitter or Facebook. Cheers! If you’re still in the process of wedding dress shopping, browse our collection of beautiful gowns to find one you love. 

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