District Winery DC wedding barrel room portrait

Buying Alcohol for Your Wedding: A Case Study

If given the option, you should buy your own alcohol for your wedding. It will save you thousands of dollars, avoiding the markup you will see from a hotel, venue, or catering company.

Anecdotally, I know that my clients typically return close to half of the beer, wine, and alcohol that they buy for their wedding, but I’ve never taken the time to look hard at the real numbers behind this. Why do couples buy double their actual needs? Two reasons. First, they fear running out of something. (I do not fear this.) Yes, it would be terrible to run out of vodka during the first hour of the reception. And as your wedding planner, I can rectify this problem when it is 7 pm. But would it be terrible to run out of vodka 10 minutes before the last dance? It would not. Someone has to remove all that leftover booze at the end of the night – who’s car am I putting those 12 cases in? And wouldn’t they be happier of it was 3 cases?

Second, couples want to offer their guests choices, which is really hospitable. And it will result in more leftovers. Think about it in the context of beer. Offering just one or two options feels stingy, so most people offer at least 3, sometimes as many as 6 choices for beer. This means there will be a greater supply purchased for the same demand of the beer drinkers at the wedding, and thus there will be more beer left over. Beer is harder to return because you usually need to return a full 6-pack and the bottle labels cannot have seen any wear.

wedding specialty cocktails - advice on how much to buy

Here I am going to break down how much beer, wine, and alcohol a recent client bought for their wedding, and compare that to how much we actually used.

While in DC, we went to the Reveler’s Hour Wine Shop for the wines, and we went to Ace Beverage for the beer and alcohol. Both locations offer delivery and will accept returns of items that are both unopened and unchilled.

How Much Alcohol to Buy For Your Wedding

There were 100 guests, all adults. There were more guests around the age of the couple than around the age of the parents.

actual breakdown of an alcohol shopping list for a wedding for 110 guests - how much to buy

Relevant notes on this:

Dinner was a choice in advance of beef, fish, or vegetarian. As you can see, we served about 100 glasses of white and 100 glasses of red with dinner. (A caterer who isn’t overpouring can get 5 glasses from a bottle of wine. There are usually 12 bottles of wine in a case of wine. The more you know!) This is what I expected, as some people will have white with the salad (in our case it was a vegetarian ravioli) and red with their entree. And some people want a glass of white with each, and some want a glass of red with each.

The “Used” column also includes the items we could not return. This means the couple went home with assorted beers, about 12 as I recall, and various open bottles of liquor and a little bit of wine.

We also had a bourbon bar where there were seven offerings. We ordered 14 bottles for the bourbon bar. I estimate that we had the equivalent of 9 bottles left over at the end of the event. We did not open the Bourbon Bar up until after dinner, so it did not impact how much was imbibed at cocktail hour nor the dinner wine service. Really, I think the guests just got drunker than usual after the dinner.

wedding bourbon bar - advice post on how much to buy

If you like these types of advice posts, I’ve previously written about wedding room blocks and how many seats at a dinner table. Send me any questions you have and I’m happy to help!