Party Pointer: Shopping and Serving Drink Guidelines

Before you put together a shopping list, answer these questions:

  • How many adults will be attending?
  • How many children will be there?
  • How long will the party run?
  • Will the party be indoors or outside?
  • What type of party will it be? Dinner party? Cocktail party? Cookout?
  • Will you or a bartender be serving drinks or will it be a self-serve bar?

Other things to consider:

  • Your guests’ personal tastes: Are they beer drinkers primarily, or are they into wine? Or do your guests like the trendiest cocktails?
  • Your menu: You should choose beverages based on your menu and type of party. However, it will give you a hint as to what the volume of drinking should be if you offer a variety.
  • Who’s behind the bar: If you plan to hire a bartender, a full bar will be manageable. But if you’ll be mixing drinks all night for your guests, you’ll want to simplify your offerings to make your hosting job easier. Remember: it’s your party, you want to have fun too!
  • The ages of your guests: If there will be lots of children, plan on stocking up on juices, soft drinks, and water. Will there be many young men, just out of college? Then don’t skimp on the beer. Is it an older, more sophisticated group? Be sure to lay in a good supply of wine and liquor.
  • Try a signature beverage: This will add style to your party and can be a nice addition to a themed event. At the same time, it will keep your budget more manageable than the cost of stocking a full bar with alcohol, mixers, wine, and beer.
  • Your partying schedule: If you entertain often, then it may pay to keep a fully stocked bar. Take inventory before your party to determine what extra beverages you’ll need to purchase.
  • Don’t open everything at the beginning of your party: You don’t want to be left with ten bottles of wine that are only partially consumed. Also, if you purchased beverages that you don’t normally keep in your home, you may be able to return them after the party if they’re unopened.
  • Remember to stock up on lots of ice: You should have at least one pound of ice per person. This covers the ice you’ll be serving in drinks and need to keep beverages cold. If the weather is hot or the party is active, it’s best to have more. On the other hand, if you have many refrigerators to keep your beer and other beverages chilled until serving, you can have less.
  • Be sure to have enough glasses: Whether it’s glass or disposable, when setting up the drinkware for your party, plan on multiple glasses per guest. This can be cut back if you use wine glass charms or other drink markers. Guests often forget where they place a drink, or they may change beverages over the course of your party, requiring a new glass.

Serving Guidelines for a Two-Hour Party

How much should you stock for a party? In general, plan on two beverages per guest during the first hour of your party, and one each hour after that. Quite often, parties last at least two hours, though yours may go a little longer depending on the occasion.

Each of these estimates assumes that it will be the only beverage served during the party unless stated otherwise. Therefore, if you will be serving a variety, cut back on each individual item based on what you think the most and least popular drinks will be among your guests.

  • Wine: Estimate one bottle of wine for every two guests at a two-hour cocktail party. If serving both red and white wines, you should have twice as many bottles of white as red, unless you know specifically that your guests are red wine drinkers.
  • Beer: Plan on two bottles or servings of beer per person for the first hour, and another one for each subsequent hour of your party.
  • Champagne or sparkling wine: One 750 ml bottle of champagne or sparkling wine fills six champagne flutes. If serving it as a toast, one glass per person is enough. If you’re serving champagne as a pre-meal cocktail, plan on one and a half glasses per person. If it will be served throughout a two-hour cocktail party or dinner, plan on three glasses per person.
  • Spirits and mixers: One 750 ml bottle of liquor will serve 17 drinks. Plan on three drinks per person during a two-hour cocktail party. The amount of mixers you will need depends on the type of cocktails you plan to serve. Look at your drink recipes and multiply the volume of mixer ingredients needed per cocktail by three per person for a two-hour party.
  • Liqueurs and after-dinner drinks: Plan on getting 15 drinks from every 750 ml bottle. Usually, you’ll only need one drink per guest.
  • Water: At a cocktail party, one liter of water will serve four guests. At a sit-down meal, plan on serving three guests from each liter. Offer a mix of mineral and still water.
  • Soft drinks and juices: At a party where other beverages, such as wine, beer, and cocktails will be served, plan on one eight-ounce glass per person. If there are children, you’ll need to increase that amount by three drinks per child. If non-alcoholic drinks will be the only beverages served, plan on three per guest.


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