Everything you need to know about your wedding drinks - including the real cost

HELLO!s money-saving column from the UK Alliance of Wedding Planners

A pre-wedding welcome drink, a toast to the happy couple, an after-party tipple – that's a lot of drinks to consider when it comes to planning your big day.

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Fear not, HELLO! has teamed up with UK Alliance of Wedding Planners (UKAWP) member Michelle Jacobs of Elegante by Michelle J for our monthly budget column, and this instalment reveals the ultimate guide to your wedding drinks. What alcoholic and soft should you offer your wedding guests? Who should supply them? How can you stay within your bridal budget? Michelle answers all your questions…

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What drinks are offered at a wedding?

Drinks are served at different stages of your wedding day. When I plan a wedding, I think about the following:

  • Pre-wedding: Do you plan to offer a welcome drink as guests arrive? This is entirely optional and indeed not always appropriate if you are planning a religious or legal wedding at your venue
  • Post-wedding drinks reception: Following your ceremony, it is traditional to host a drinks and canape reception whilst your photographer shoots the newlywed couple, bridal party and family portraits; traditionally we serve champagne or Prosecco at this time, but you may choose to offer other drinks options as well with gin, beer and cocktails becoming increasingly popular
  • Wedding dinner (sometimes known as the wedding breakfast): This is when we typically serve guests with a choice of white and red wine
  • Speeches: Towards the end of dinner, it is usual to have speeches, and a glass of champagne or Prosecco is often served at this time for the toasts
  • Party: After dinner the party starts, and this is when a full open bar may be provided, which may be either free to the guests (and funded by the couple) or a cash bar

Of course, this is a very general outline, but it’s a good place to start. And here are some general guidelines for calculating the quantities of drinks likely to be needed or offered during these times:

  • An average of two glasses of champagne or Prosecco per person for a one-hour drinks reception
  • An average of half a bottle of wine per person for your wedding dinner
  • An additional glass of champagne or Prosecco per person for your toasts

Wedding drinks may be served at the wedding breakfast, during the speeches and at the party

If there is an open bar, either just for the party or also at other times of your wedding day, it can be a little more difficult to estimate quantities and costs as this will depend on what is being offered, how long for and – let’s be honest – how much your guests are likely to drink. Every crowd is different.

Who pays for the wedding drinks?

It is usual for the couple to provide their guests with the drinks specified above as a minimum – champagne or Prosecco during the drinks reception, wine during dinner and the toast with the speeches.

Any additional drinks are entirely discretionary and up to you as a couple to decide if you wish to offer more than this.

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Some couples provide a completely open bar throughout their entire wedding, whilst for others, a cash bar is operated for all other drinks. And, there are options in between, should you wish to pay upfront for a certain number or value of open bar drinks.

The decision is yours, but my advice is to work with a budget for drinks that you are comfortable with spending.

How many glasses are in a bottle of wine or champagne?

Before you can begin to budget it helps to understand how much drink you can get from a bottle, then you can work out the cost for your favourite bottle of wine for example.

  • 1 bottle of 75cl wine = 6 x 125ml glasses or 3 x 250ml
  • 1 bottle of champagne = 6 x flute glasses
  • 11 gallon keg = 88 pints
  • 4.4 gallon = 35 pints
  • 1 litre bottle of spirit = 40 x 25ml measures

Who supplies the wedding drinks?

Your options regarding who supplies your wedding drinks start right at the point that you choose your wedding venue. Essentially, this can work in one of three ways:

  • Some venues will insist that all drinks are provided in-house
  • At other venues, you may be able to bring in an external bar company
  • Or you may be allowed to supply your own drinks

Some venues provide drinks

    If the drinks are provided in-house or by an external bar company, these may be charged in one of two ways:

    • Either a charge per drink, on consumption
    • Or on a package basis – a price per person for an agreed drinks service

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    Before you commit to a drinks service, please ensure you are clear on how the charging works. Do your maths and confirm that it works within your overall wedding or drinks budget.

    If the venue is allowing you to supply your own drinks, there are a few issues to consider:

    • Who will be serving the drinks, providing the glassware, the ice, the garnishes and other bar equipment? And is there a charge for this? This is sometimes known as a "corkage fee"
    • You will need to come up with a definitive list of all the drinks that you wish to serve, including waters, soft drinks and mixers. You must also ensure you supply sufficient quantities so that you don’t run out. And, finally, you must make arrangements for the stock to be delivered to your venue. We normally suggest using a drinks supplier who offers a sale or return service. But note, they will generally only accept returns of unopened bottles with labels that have not been damaged.
    • If you are paying for an all-inclusive bar, meaning all drinks and staff are included within the price, don’t forget to remove any non-drinkers from your final numbers, such as pregnant ladies and designated drivers. You certainly don’t want to be paying more than you need to.

    What are the rough costs per person?

    If you are providing your own drinks, then a bottle of Prosecco ranges from £6-12 a bottle and a bottle of champagne ranges from £21-55. This means for the toasts, you are looking at anywhere between £1-9 per person.

    Make sure you budget for corkage fees

    A bottle of wine could be between £6-21 which works out to be between £3-10.50 per person for the table wine, and a champagne only drink reception would be around £7-18 per person for two drinks or £2-4 for Prosecco - all of these are excluding staff and glasses.

    If you are hiring a venue that provides drinks in one of their packages, then expect to pay around £4-6 a glass for the drinks reception, £17 for house wine, £22 for house Prosecco and £37 for champagne. Obviously, some venues will charge more and some might be less. As a rough guide, I would budget around £20pp for the daytime drinks.

    To conclude, please make sure you are clear on all the elements of your day when drinks will be offered and what drinks you would like to serve or make available at each of these times. And then, be absolutely clear on who is providing them and who is paying.

    Ultimately you should be comfortable that your expenditure remains within your wedding budget.

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