Six Tips to Maximize A Beverage Menu For Your Next Event

By: Whitney Twede, El Gaucho Bellevue Event Director

One of the most-asked questions from our clients with regard to private events is, “How should we handle beverages/alcohol for our event?” There are a lot of different options, and here are 6 of the most common, along with the benefits of each and potential negatives.

Something to keep in mind for planning/budgeting purposes: For most events, plan for about 1.5-2 drinks consumed per person in the first hour and about 1 drink every hour after that (of course, this will vary based on your guests and the type of event, but it’s a good general rule of thumb to follow).

1. Hosting an Open Bar – Hosting an open bar simply means you aren’t limiting your guests’ beverage selections. This gives you and your guests the freedom to enjoy specialty cocktails and top shelf selections. Often times you will have the option of hosting an open premium bar or an open bar with no limitations and top shelf available. More often than not, hosting an open bar means beer, wine, and liquor beverages will be charged based on consumption for the duration of the event or pre-determined number of hours, but this can vary from venue to venue; Note: Hosting an open bar doesn’t always mean there will be a bar in the room with a bartender staffed for your event, so you’ll want to make sure to inquire with your venue for pricing and details.
Benefits: Gives your guests lots of options as well as the freedom to enjoy the beverages of their choosing. Makes your guests feel like VIPs because they aren’t being limited to certain selections.
Potential Drawbacks: Drink tab could get pricey quick. If you are on a strict budget, this may not be the best option. Larger possibility of over consumption.

2. Limited Bar – A variation to hosting an open bar is hosting a limited open bar. This can be accomplished by selecting certain liquors by brand, specialty cocktails to be ordered, or offering alcoholic beverages up to a certain price point.
Benefits: This option still gives guests the freedom to order a variety of beverages, while also keeping costs lower than hosting an open bar with no restrictions.
Potential Drawbacks: There’s still the possibility of over consumption.

3. Offering Wine and Beer only – Helps control costs and manage beverage consumption. Some venues may give you the option to offer a “no-host” bar for cocktails, so guests may purchase their own liquor beverages if they like. There is often a charge for this additional service.
Benefits: Can help minimize overall expenditure due to liquor prices being potentially higher. Also, liquor consumption is typically quicker than with beer or wine.
Potential Drawbacks: It doesn’t give guests the same freedom for beverage selection and they may feel limited in their selections. They may want a cocktail and have to purchase it on their own. Depending on the caliber of the event, it could take away from the “wow” factor you are trying to achieve.
Alternative options: A good alternative to offering just wine and beer is to offer a signature welcome cocktail in the beginning of the event, followed by a cash bar.

4. Drink Tickets – Limiting guests to a certain number of drink tickets is a way to limit the amount of alcohol consumed throughout the event. With this option you could choose to limit the drink tickets to wine and beer only, or give guests the option of having any beverage of their choosing. Some venues may provide the drink tickets for you, while others may ask you to provide your own.
Benefits: This option helps to control costs, as you can set a price ceiling per beverage and limit the types of beverages guests can order. Also manages consumption.
Potential Drawbacks: Some guests may want more than the allotted amount of drink tickets (and it could take away from the overall experience.)

5. Bar Package: A bar package establishes a set price per person for unlimited bar consumption during a specified amount of time for a specified selection of brands.
Benefits: There won’t be any surprises in the bar bill on the night of your event, as a price per person is established beforehand. Guests can consume as much as they like.
Potential Drawbacks: Not all venues offer this option. Alcohol selections/brands can be more limited. Over consumption is a greater possibility.

6. Cash Bar (also known as a no-host bar) – Some places may offer the option of a no-host bar where guests purchase their own drinks. This will vary by venue and most likely will have a charge and staffing fee associated with it.
Benefits: Greatly reduces the cost of the event
Potential Drawbacks: Often times cash bar sales do not contribute toward the food and beverage minimum. Make sure you check with your venue. There’s also a possibility of guests spending more time buying drinks than enjoying the event.

By executing these six tips and tricks, you’ll be heralded as an event pro in no time. As always, one of our event directors will be happy to answer your questions and handle the details for your next event. Cheers!

For nearly twenty years, El Gaucho has been creating experiences for our guest’s most important and personal moments. From an intimate party of two, to a large gala of 600, an important business meeting, to a 60th wedding anniversary, our team of professionals has planned and executed thousands of events in our restaurants, in our guest’s homes, and exclusive venues all over the Pacific Northwest. Our team of experts have gathered a list of the most common questions they’ve received and compiled a series of articles targeting every facet of the event planning process to help you plan a successful event.



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