I once threw a party with a $20,000 alcohol bill. We were bursting at the seams with 150 guests on the dance floor. Justin Timberlake showed up. The Black Eyed Peas did an impromptu mini set. The energy electrified the room long into the morning. The in-house authorities kept the outside authorities out. It was that kind of night.
The most sobering moment of the entire event came Sunday morning when reality bubbled up to the surface and the massive bar bill overrun had to be addressed.
Great parties inevitably involve alcohol. Here’s how to keep the alcohol bill from bursting your bubble.
How to Throw a Great Party without Blowing the Alcohol Budget
1. Serve specialty non-alcoholic beverages
Presentation is everything. Serve up fancy non-alcoholic drinks that look just as good as the cocktails and you’ll save lots on the alcohol bill.
2. Variety is not the spice of the night
Instead of offering a full bar, limit the types of alcoholic beverages offered. Either stick to beer and wine or if you offer mixed drinks, pre-select the labels so you can steer clear premium priced brands. Planning a Christmas event? Offer a sparkly red and green cocktail. Limiting the selection also helps keep the bar service moving efficiently and let’s you more accurately predict the final bill.
3. Limit the bar hours
Limiting the open hours of your bar will help keep your bill manageable. If done right, you can still ensure your guests needs are properly taken care of without looking like you’re running the event on the small budget. Two simple ideas to use are closing the bar during speeches and formalities. And limit serving cocktails to the hour pre and post dinner while sticking to beer and wine for the rest of the night.
4. Don’t leave open bottles of wine at the table
Instruct the servers to look after your guests with strict instructions on the regularity they pass by. Conservative top ups can have a significant lowering effect to your bottom line.
5. Dilute drinks for the intoxicated
Your bartenders can be your eyes and ears when it comes to watching guests that drink more liberally. As a general rule, an average of one drink per hour would be reasonable for each guest. One trick I’ve used successfully is requesting that the bartenders dilute drinks with water or soda for the few guests who are pushing past that average fast.
6. Food and water for everyone
The more food and water are available, the less your guests will visit the bar. Have lots of water pitchers on the dinner tables and around the reception area. Have cheese and meat platters available throughout the night for a substantial snack.
7. Hire fewer bartenders
Don’t feel obliged to keep the bar service moving as quickly as at a club. There’s a nice middle ground between lightening fast service and inconveniencing your guests.
8. Never announce ‘Last Call’
Prevent the stampede towards the bar and a rocketing bill by closing the bar quietly. Have wait staff at a counter offer water, coffee, and tea to provide a touch of sophistication without the cost of alcohol.
9. Issue drink tickets
If it’s socially acceptable at your function, offer each guest two drink tickets with the expectation they buy any extra drinks. I have seen drink tickets used even at large corporate events with elegant generosity as the focus.
10. Use smaller glasses
Use 6-ounce glasses. Bartenders can generously fill smaller glasses close to the brim while protecting your pocket.
Preventing your guests from being over-served is not just for your pocketbook – it’s also a mark of the sophisticated event host. Employ these tips liberally and wake up the next morning to a predictable alcohol bill!