DIY a Self-Serve Wedding Bar

Are you planning to supply all the alcohol for your wedding reception? While this option does have some risk of certain friends and family helping themselves too much, it can be an easy way to stick to a budget and let your creative side out to put together a fun, one-of-a-kind bar scene. In my opinion this idea is best for smaller weddings, with less than 100 guests, to allow some wiggle room with how much you need of each beverage type, keeping everything stocked quickly enough, and you may even get lucky and can return unused bottles (or keep for your in-home bar).

If you are looking to know what tools and accessories you need for a DIY Bar (ice buckets, bar cloths, etc.) , check out this post. It is focused more on what you needed to stock the bar not how to serve the drinks and keep track of guests consumption. HOW MUCH CAN YOU REALLY EXPECT FROM DRUNKEN GUESTS?!

Before going any further regarding how much to purchase, display, and keep guests happy, you want to first know if it is legal in your state to host a DIY self-serve bar? Every state has their own laws regarding special events and alcohol consumption. For instance in Washington state, I believe you can have a self-serve juice bar, but all the champagne has to be poured by certified bartenders. Before you get too far down the self-serve bar path, I’d check in with your venue/local liquor regulations. Odds are your vendors will also be able to tell you, especially caterers, a lot of times if you have a caterer the law requires they serve or there is a licensed bartender.

Now that the legal concerns are out of the way, here are some questions to consider when arranging your own do-it-yourself bar should include (If you come up with some questions of your own, leave them in the comments below. I would love to help!):

How many bottles should you keep out at a time?

That depends on how big of a bar set up you want for your guests. Ultimately you know your guests better than anyone. Will they want only beer and wine with one or two signature cocktails? Then you may not need to put out several bottles of liquor and simply have pitchers of premade cocktails displayed. A great, (most of the time) free tool would be to download a bar stocker app. Here are my suggestions:

Partender – Partender is a subscription-based tool that lets you to quickly and accurately do full bar inventory on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and even on the web, calculate your Usage (for Variance), and in addition to liquor, you can inventory beer, wine, kegs, and food!

The Liquor Cabinet – This app has everything you need to know about spirits and cocktails in one place. They have curated the most essential cocktail recipes and bottles to help you make cocktails at home or browse shelves at the liquor store. Included in each recipe are helpful insights about bar tools, glassware, and specialty ingredients.

Should you have a designated person responsible for bringing out more bottles or collecting trash?

In my opinion, yes, always yes! A trashed up bar is never a good thing, assigning someone to continually collect trash and refilling beverage containers is worth your (and your guests) peace of mind and makes for better pictures. Who wants a pile of crumbled napkins in the background of their wedding photos?!

This can be done by utilizing your wedding coordinator who hires additional assistants to manage the bar area, or hiring a licensed bartender for the evening. Depending on your state’s local liquor requirements you may get away with asking close, trusted friends attending your wedding to each take a 45 minute shift of bartending together. Just to assist other guests, monitor alcohol consumption, refill the drinks when things were getting low. This can serve as a fun, down-to-earth way for them to get to know all of the wedding guests, as someone inevitably does when bartending. You never know they may enjoy themselves so much and not want to stop when their shift is over!

Either way you handle it, I think you’ll definitely need (want) someone to watch over supply levels of whatever you put out and manage any empty bottle clean-up.

What will be the best system for organizing the different drinks (mixers and liqour, non-alcoholic, etc.)?

If you’re planning to do liquor + mixers, a good way to take the complexity down a notch or two is to provide some pre-mixed punches/juices in large glass beverage dispensers and guests can mix that with the liquor of their choice. As a fun bonus this option doubles as a yummy non-alcoholic option in addition to the standard water, lemonade, soda, and tea. Another option for liquor/cocktails, that may put a smile on your bartending friends face, is to completely pre-batch a couple of options and then you only need to provide the garnishes or finishing touches. You can find some good large batch recipes online that can be made ahead of time and then set out for pouring/garnishing.

backyard wedding bar set up
Deer Pearl Flowers

Have possibly two tables for drinks, one with glasses for your guests and non-alcholic options available. Nowadays you can find a surplus of tubs to house sodas, bottled water, etc. to fit any wedding style. On the other table you cna place drink dispensers with batches of sangria, pre-made batches of cocktails, bottles of wine and beer. People will have the option to mix as they chose (and to their preferred strength!) or have things non-alcoholic. Also include buckets of ice, a small keg of beer or a variety of beer bottles and a few bottles of wine for those wanting alcohol but opposed to mixed drinks.

Our suggested tip for beer, is to do a keg purely for not having to worry about all the bottles, depending on the size of your guest list. Consider making recycling bins with containers to catch bottle caps, and offering bottle openers for ease.

How can you encourage guests to reuse their glasses throughout the evening?

To encourage guests to reuse their glasses, simply post signage. You can take it even further by providing them with a personalized glass for the night (that can double as a wedding favor!) so they can keep track. Of course, have non-personalized extras on hand for those that get misplaced or broken throughout the evening. Some of our favorite personalized options include:

Etched pint glasses or wine glasses

unique wedding guest favors, etched pint glass, diy bar
J+J Designz and Glass


Etched wine glass, wedding guest favors, diy bar
Everything Etched AZ


Mason jars that double as escort cards. Make individual name tags and attach them before the wedding, along with the table number. These can also be etched like above!

Shaw Photo Co.


Personalized glass charms

personalized wine glass charm, unique wedding guest favors, diy bar
Fran Johnson House


For the kids, purchase plastic double insulated cups with lids and straws.

kids cup for wedding
Dollar Tree


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