You’re engaged and decided to throw a fantastic wedding reception to celebrate…GREAT!! Aside from delicious food, most couples (and guests) decide to offer some sort of bar service. Unless you have worked in food service before, you are probably wondering how do you even begin to set up a bar? Let me START by saying if you are doing any type of bar (full, modified, or beer and wine only) I suggest you work with a professional bartending service, catering company, or your venue. Odds are they have a bartending package available for you to utilize and minimize stress. If you are wanting to strictly DIY your bar area keep reading…
No matter what kind of bar you’ve decided to go with, you’ll need two tables. One for the front of your bar, where guests will line-up, order their drinks, and re-order. Then one in the back for your bartenders to use as a work surface and storage. Many event rental companies rent out taller tables for use as a bar but a regular table works fine, too. The most important thing to remember when setting up a successful bar is making sure that your bartender has all the supplies they need, and then let them set it up according to their specific preferences. Communicate (cannot stress that enough) with them about what they need to have when they arrive at the venue, and then trust them, or your coordinator to check in with them, to set up on time.
Here is a list of the BASIC bar set up essentials:
CORK SCREW: At least two for every bartender, the kind with the jointed pull is the easiest to use.
BOTTLE OPENER: At least one per bartender.
SMALL BUCKETS: These are for storing ice on the top of your bar for mixing in with drinks. You’ll need more for a full bar than for beer and wine only.
ICE SCOOP: At least one for every ice bucket you’re setting up on top of the bar.
BAR RAGS: On average you need one for every hour for each bartender, plus a few more.
BIG BUCKETS: These keep your cans and bottles cold. Get enough to hold half of your bottles at a time, with ice.
BIG COOLER WITH LID: This is for storing your extra ice. Have enough for storing the ice that is not being used as it will be needed to stay cold to replenish buckets throughout the wedding.
GARNISH CONTAINERS: Enough containers to store the garnish varieties you’ll need.
SHAKERS: At least one per bartender.
STIRRER: You don’t need anything crazy, but something like this is good.
Let’s talk beer. First, you need to decide if you are serving your beer from bottles or a keg. Speaking from personal experience of having NO idea how to tap a keg I strongly feel bottles are MUCH easier to deal with but there are some strong-minded individuals that claim beer tastes better out of kegs. If you go the keg route, you will need a party tub to keep it cold (with ice), and a tap. The store you purchase the keg from should be able to provide this.
I don’t think I have mentioned ICE enough yet. Let’s talk more about keeping things cool… Everyone knows beer and wine are never served with ice in them (or shouldn’t be). Meaning, you’ll only need ice for keeping wine and beer chilled, plus some extra for serving non-alcoholic options. The bartender should layer half of your bottles and cans in party buckets with ice to keep cold. Allow an hour for everything to chill. Then, put the remaining ice (still in bags) in a cooler with a lid. Remember the second table I mentioned above? All of these coolers and buckets will be kept in the shade under those tables. Your remaining bottles and cans should be stored somewhere cool as well. If you have access to a fridge in another part of your venue take advantage of it. Someone (a wedding coordinator or one of their assistants, perhaps?) can go get it when more drinks are needed. For the bar table, fill a small bucket with ice and add a scoop. This is for sodas or mixed drinks if you serve them. It’s important to keep the ice that’s being used to cool cans and bottles separate from the ice that’s actually going into things for food safety purposes.
Garnishes can be sliced the day before. Main garnishes are lemons and limes, but you can provide more based on the drinks you are serving (cherries, olives, etc.).
Need to know how much beer, wine, or liquor to provide? Here is a fantastic cheat sheet from The D Tales!