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How to put on a bar for a wedding

While many couples opt to leave a lot of the work to a planner, either independent or supplied by a one-stop-shop venue, a growing number of people are taking control of the reins and managing the wedding themselves. ​

Being bar specialists, we're not going to be able to advise on how to source the best cars for the bridesmaids, or how many button-holes to order, however we are well-positioned to advise on elements surrounding the drinks, bars, staffing and packages. These are not solely based on our offerings either, this is a general guide for anyone to use.

Think of this as a wedding drinks 101. Hopefully this can help you to make a decision about how to ensure your guests are well libated and jolly!

4 spritz style cocktails in a bright environment
Choose Spritzs as a low-abv reception drink


Types of Wedding Bar

An aerial shot of Elmore Court
Elmore Court, Gloucester

The type of bar you are able to put on is entirely dependent upon the venue - they really hold the cards here. Your four main options are:

  • All included venue

  • All included venue with corkage

  • Dry hire venue

  • Private space​

All included venue

This essentially means a fully-kitted venue that does everything for you for a straight-forward fee. Tweaking packages is tricky, and you are not permitted to supply your own drinks or caterers. Example venues include Clearwell Castle and St Audries Park, both part of Country House Weddings and Elmore Court, (pictured above) where we had the pleasure of training their cocktail team.

All included venue with corkage

As above, everything is included and you'll be tied in to their caterers, but they'll allow you to bring in your own wines for a 'corkage fee', typically £20 per head. Example venues include Eastington Park and Pennard House (although the latter doesn't charge corkage, it does charge a bottle handling and recycling fee, which is similar).

Dry hire venue

An incredible space for you to do whatever you please. Bring in your choice of caterers, bar suppliers, wedding planners and more. This is where we excel, as we have the creative freedome to place one of our bespoke mobile bar units anywhere on the site, and serve drinks anywhere and everywhere! We supply our services to some amazing venues such as Euridge Manor, Hamswell House, and North Cadbury Court. These venues benefit from having us as trusted suppliers as we know the layout, the health & safety procedures, fire exits and so forth.

Private space

If you're lucky to have a kind family member who happens to own a field in a stunning Cotswolds location, then you can take advantage of zero restrictions (other than the weather!) and put up a marquee to create your very own venue. You choose the bar, the food, the band, even the toilets! We have the pleasure of working with some great marquee companies, such as County Marquees, Space Intense, and Bisley Hire

For the purpose of this guide, I'll not be discussing the all included venues. 

A happy wedding couple laughing holding cocktails
Josh & Loren loving our cocktails

Wedding drinks timeline

Drinks at weddings are really split between the day and the night. During the day, a standard wedding drinks service will often look like:

  • Pre-ceremony soft drinks

  • Post-ceremony (reception) fizz

  • Wedding breakfast wine & toast

Before the ceremony, alcohol is generally not available, and if it is a legal wedding or civil ceremony, it is illegal for alcohol to be sold or available (link). Kilners of ice water or soft fruit punches are good here. 

A rustic wooden table littered with glassware and soft drinks in tapped kilners
Fruit punches on tap

Once the vows are out of the way and the kissy kissy is done, the reception starts and guests will be able to grab a drink which has been laid on for them. This is nearly always 'fizz', or ‘bubbly’ - a general term for fizzy white wine. This can be Prosecco, Cava, English Sparkling Wine, or the most expensive, Champagne.

Expect guests to have a couple of drinks here. Typically a soft option is also available, and sometimes cocktails or bottled beers are up for grabs.

​THE BARTENDER TIP: if you are going to offer other drinks, keep it simple. People will be happy with what they're offered. Cocktails and beers should be low-ABV. You want people to remember the day. 

A hand reaching for a glass at dinner

Guests will be called through to the Wedding Breakfast (why is it called a breakfast?) to be seated and served wine. This is usually calculated as half a bottle per person, and either poured for you (silver service style) or with bottles placed on the tables for you to help yourself. Mineral water in bottles or tap water in jugs should be provided too.

Speeches happen, and people raise their glasses. A glass of 'fizz' can be offered and raised too.

THE BARTENDER TIP: More often than not, people are happy to toast with their table wine, or even water. You'll find a number of people may prefer to drink water with their meal, and as such won't want something alcoholic to drink. Saves a few quid too. 

That pretty much covers the standard fare of most wedding drinks offerings during the day. Fizz, wine, fizz. Of course, the above is not the only option, and it absolutely should be completely up to you as to what to serve. Want to have an alcohol-free day? Want to only offer cocktails? Don't like wine or fizz and prefer to serve beer? Do it! 

A smiling team of bartenders

Night follows day, where an evening bar will be available. This is typically either as a free (open) bar, or a cash bar, where guests pay for their drinks. With the latter, a tab is sometimes put on for say, £500 or similar, for everyone to have a drink or two, and then for drinks to be paid for when this runs out.

Standard drinks will often be the case, with drinks costs ranging dependent upon the venue or supplier. From our research, we've found typically that a bottle of beer can range from £5 - £7, and a gin & tonic is around £8 (these prices increase as you get closer to London).

The evening bar is the area that can be quite contentious; some people feel that they must put on a free bar, whereas others don't mind guests having to pay.​ 

How much does it cost to provide a bar for a wedding?

In the same vein as the food, it's usually best to think about this on a per head basis. A really straightforward rule of thumb is to estimate one drink per person per hour. Thus, if your reception is at 1:30pm, and the bar closes at 11:30pm, you're looking at 10 hours, or 10 drinks per person. Considering champagne, beers, spirits, table wine and soft drinks, you might be looking at an average cost per drink of £9, which comes to £90 a head; if that seems expensive, remember I'm basing this on wedding venue prices which are going to be more than the local Dog & Duck.

However, if you're asking your guests to pay for drinks, you'll only need to pay for the day drinks, which could be around five drinks per person - two at reception, two at dinner, plus toasting fizz.

Obviously you know your guests better than we do, so if you think they’re likely to drink more, prepare for more drinks.

A bartender pouring a drink

Should I provide the alcohol?

It’s a good question. As with everything, there are pros and cons to supplying the booze. The obvious advantage is reducing the costs. Buying your own alcohol means you’re able to shop around and get decent prices for the wine and fizz. Stores such as Majestic are really great for this, but so are supermarkets - although they may have limits to how many bottles you can purchase at once.

The biggest downside of course is the purchasing and storage of all of this. Unless you’ve got a big garage, be prepared to be surrounded by cases of drink for a few weeks. You’ll also need to deliver it to the venue, and depending on who is serving it, you might need to get it there a day before so it can be counted and chilled.

Here at The Bartender, we have created four wedding drinks packages which allow you to choose who provides the alcohol for different parts of the day:

  • Magnum - evening bar, you provide the alcohol

  • Jereboam - evening bar, we provide the alcohol

  • Methuselah - you provide the wine & fizz for the day, we provide the alcohol for the evening bar

  • Balthazar - we provide the wine, fizz, and alcohol for day and evening

You can read more details on each of the packages on our weddings page.

Will we need a licence to sell alcohol?

Yes, or at least, someone will. Most venues will hold a premises licence, which allows them to sell alcohol within the building / site, with one of their team being a personal licence holder who is responsible for ensuring alcohol is sold within the law (i.e. not to kids). 

If the venue does not have a premises licence, you need to apply for a temporary event notice (TENs) with the council in which the wedding party is taking place.

If you are putting on a free bar, not selling alcohol, and the event is not open to the public, then you do not require a licence. A licence is only required for the sale of alcohol, not the provision. Think of it this way; if you buy a bottle of wine from a shop, the licence is applicable at that point of sale. You do not need a licence when you get home and pour that wine out for friends.


If you've found this guide helpful, I'm pleased. Feel free to share it around with others who may benefit from it also. 

If we've answered most of your questions, but you have more, please get in touch. If you just love us and want to book us for your wedding, head to the weddings page to fill out an online enquiry form.

Happy planning! 

Lewis x

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