How-to: open bar and alcohol for your wedding

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Putting it all together: bartending how-to manual for guests

Ok, so you got everything you need for your bar: liquor, mixers, olives and cherries, and even juices. Now you need to figure out how the open bar is really going to work: many of your guests really have no clue what they want to drink and how to make the drinks you've planned for.

Easy solution: print out the same instructions you used to purchase ingredients and put them in a stack on the side of the bar stand. Guests who know their liquor, like most customers in the first class lounges at the airports, which almost always feature open bars, will just come up and pour the drink they want. Guests who don't know what they want will just take a peek at the instructions. A ton of great sites on the web provide straightforward, printable instructions - just type a cocktail name into and add "recipe" to your search.


In a few states, to be able to dispense alcohol in a setting like a wedding, you need a liquor license - most usually called Banquet License. It's pretty much a regular tax: it costs around ten bucks per event and is sold at any liquor store. Contact your license control board for more details.

Here is an example for the state of Washington:

"A Banquet Permit is required to allow the service and consumption of liquor at a private, invitation-only banquet or gathering in a public place or club.

A Banquet Permit costs $10. An application can be filled out at any state or contract liquor store. During your event, the Banquet Permit must be displayed in a conspicuous place at the event location.

Liquor consumed at the event may not be sold under a Banquet Permit. It must be provided free of charge by a sponsor, or brought to the event by those attending."

Many catering vendors will not enter into a catering agreement with you without you agreeing to provide a banquet license - so just go get it if you're going to have an open, free bar.

The Result

So we ended up with the following sections for the bar, in the order from left to right:

  • Tumblers, napkins, straws
  • Mixing shakers, strainers, and other bartending tools
  • Hard liquor bottles
  • Ice
  • Mixers and cocktails
  • Garnishing elements, lemons, limes, olives and cherries
  • Napkins and straws again
  • Signature cocktails section
  • Non-alcoholic section, ice
  • Water

The wine bottles are set throughout the reception tables by the catering or waiters.

Next: There is still one item that we need to complete our bar.

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