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The Bar Vs. Your Budget

As a former budget bride, I know the struggle it takes to make it all work on limited funds. Just six short years ago my husband & I experienced the sticker shock that comes along with planning your big day. Like many of you, we really had to evaluate what we needed vs. what we wanted. When it came down to it the bar was at the top of the list.

At that time I had been a bartender for over 10 years so a DIY bar seemed like a no brainer. I had a pool of talented bartender friends that I had worked with over the years to choose from & I felt like my experience in the industry would help me plan the perfect drink menu. Also, when I got the quote from our catering company on adding a drink package I was astounded by the cost. I quickly realized that DIY was all that fit into our tiny budget.

At this time, the option for a bar service like ours didn't exist. The purpose of this blog post is to lay it all out for you. We are going to compare your three options:

1. Booking with your catering company

2. A DIY bar

3. Booking with the WSCB

Booking with a Catering Company or Bar Staffing Company

Many catering companies will offer food and beverage services. These catering companies typically hold a license to sell you alcohol and will do so at a considerable mark up. There is no shame in this process. It is just how it works. In addition to selling you the package, usually their menu choices are predetermined. With many of these companies you are paying premium prices for the most basic options. If you upgrade to a custom package you are looking at shelling out the big bucks.

The average price per person for bar service from a catering company is between $25-$30 per person. On average you are looking at $6-$8 per drink. These figures usually are for a bar with basic offerings: Smirnoff, Bacardi, domestic beers and off-brand mixers. If you are looking for an elevated bar experience with top shelf spirits, signature cocktails and craft beers you are more likely to pay between $35-$45 per person. In addition to this look out for a la carte add ons such as tables, linens, set up/breakdown charges, and trash removal fees.

Here's the breakdown for you:


Basic Bar Package

100 guests @ $25 per person = $2,500

1 drink per hour x 4 hours x 100 guests = 400 drinks

$.6.25 per drink

Custom Premium Bar Package

100 guests @ $40 per person = $4000

1 drink per hour x 4 hours x 100 guests = 400 drinks

$10.00 per drink


"Do It Yourself"

We talk to potential brides often that opt for the DIY bar. We get it. We DID it! While this is the most cost efficient option, it does come with its hurdles. Consider first the supplies that you will need. Here's a pretty basic list:

1. Bar: Whether that consists of a table or and something more sophisticated you will need a space for your bartender to work from.

2. Storage: A bar requires a lot of supplies & you will need a place for it all so that your bar doesn't look like a hot mess. Also, this will need to be easily accessible for you bartender during service. Consider where you will put the following:

Coolers ( you will need cold product and back up product as well)

Ice (you will need a clean ice area and ice for beer & wine)

Inventory (beer cases, wine boxes, liquor bottles, mixers-soft drinks, juices, water,

garnishes (some will need refrigeration), extra cups, paper goods

Trash (for both behind the bar and right outside the bar as well)

3. Bar staffing: This can get tricky. Sure, your cousin's boyfriend's sister used to bartend for years & that's great. I'm sure she will do it for free or at a very discounted wage, but bartending at a bar and bartending events are two very different things. Event staffing is not always efficient and after three seasons we think we have almost mastered the process. You are working in limited space and serving a large number of guests. You must be prepared for the rush that comes at you after a ceremony or after dinner. A bartender that isn't experienced in high volume will drown in this situation. We pride ourselves on short lines and timely and prompt service to keep your guests from waiting and from getting thirsty.

With bartenders you get what you pay for. Most staffing companies will charge between $35-$55 per hour per bartender. These should be experienced, professional bartenders. Also, a reputable bar staffing company will provide full liquor liability insurance. This protects the bartenders, you, and the venue. If your bartender is just doing a little side hustle and does not provide insurance you really should look into purchasing your own policy for the event.

4. What you will need to purchase:


Bar tools: varies on the complexity of your bar menu

(ice scoops, shakers, jiggers, strainers, bottle openers, wine keys, muddler, garnish box, dispensers, pour spouts, etc.)



Cups and paper goods

Mixers and garnishes


5. The basic bar

For a DIY bar it is best to keep things pretty basic. Your best bet for limited prep/set-up time would be to stick with the classic mixed drinks and beer and wine. The last thing you want to be doing on the morning of your wedding is batching or making syrups (believe me, I did it).

We had about 180 moderate/heavy drinking guests at our reception back in June of 2012. I brought in two experienced bartenders and a barback and rented some two tiered tables. We bought big troughs for beer, soda, and water. We also rented a refrigerated truck for ice (90 degrees outside with troughs and two full bars required over 1500 lbs. of ice). I was happy as pie with the set up at the time. In the end we spent about $3000 on everything.

The time and effort coupled with the expense of a DIY bar is something to really consider and you must weigh your options. Generally, for every 4 hour event we have an additional 20-30 hours of labor invested into the event. This includes staffing, planning the menu, calculating what we need, shopping, organizing, prepping, packing, cleaning, transport, event set up, event breakdown, transport home, clean up, and organization. In our experience we saved very little money and the added responsibility was not worth that small savings.


My DIY Bar Cost

$3,000/180 guests= $15 per person

180 guests x 1 drink per hour x 4 hours = 720 drinks

$4.17 per drink


(This is me at my wedding sipping on a cocktail and basking in newlywed bliss. See that table behind the dude in the black polo? Yep, that's my bar. It was a two-tiered table with a white linen & it was UGLY, There was also zero storage & it was a wobbly mess.)

Booking with Wandering Sidecar Bar Company

We are a beverage caterer focused on creating an unforgettable bar experience for you and your guests. Here are some ways we think that our service stands out:

1. Those bars tho...

Ruthie, Birdie, and Big Red are the heart and soul of WSCB. These vintage bars have been outfitted specifically for bar service and are crafted with unique design elements that are sure to wow your guests.

2. You pick the menu

Our bar menus are completely custom. You can go classic and simple or more sophisticated. We offer package options, but if those don't fit the needs of your event we are happy to come up with a custom package with you. There are zero limitations here. Check out our 2019 Cocktail Menu for some inspiration. We even offer a complimentary tasting for up to 4 before the big day.

Oh, the best upcharge on the cost of alcohol. How you ask?

3. You provide the alcohol

This is where you save the big bucks. Yes, you buy the alcohol separately, but we don't leave you hanging. We are there every step of the way to assist with menu planning, calculating what you need, and even shopping and delivery if you'd like. Below I will compare our average pricing to the price above.

4. No hidden fees

Our packages all include the following:

Mobile bar

Bar Staff & all bar tools

Menu planning & detailed shopping list

Ordering & delivery services (optional)

Complimentary tasting for 4 (with crafted cocktails)


Garnishes & mixers (amounts vary per package)

Cups and all paper goods

All prep of coolers, crafted cocktails, garnishes

General setup & break down

50 miles of travel

Off-grid power (if needed)

Full coverage insurance

While we do have additional services that you can add on, there are no surprise fees with our bar packages.

Here is the breakdown for our Derby package which is the service of up to 4 beers and 4 wines. In addition to this we've added two custom, crafted cocktails.


WSCB package for 100 guests

Derby package-service of 4 beers/4 wines $10 per person

Added 2 crafted cocktails $200 per cocktail

$1400 package total

Sample Menu

Founder's All Day IPA

4 Hands Contact High

Bud Light


Ruffino Pinot Grigio

Bogle Cabernet

Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling

Spicy Peach Bourbon Smash

Blackberry Vodka Lemonade

Cost of alcohol (does not include tax)

2 30 packs of Bud Light

1 30 pack of Busch

2 15 packs of Founders

2 12 packs of Contact High

Beer total-$117.55

5 bottles Ruffino Pinot Grigio

5 bottles Bogle Cabernet

5 bottles of Chateau Ste. Michelle

Wine total-$104.65

3 bottles of Titos

3 bottles of 4 Roses

Liquor Total-$176.94

Total Cost- $399.14 (excludes tax)


Book with Wandering Sidecar Bar Co.

Derby package (beer & wine) plus 2 crafted cocktails

4 hours/100 guest


Cost of alcohol-$399.14

Total Cost-$1,799.14

$18 per person

$4.50 per drink


You can see that you get more bang for your buck with our service.

For less cost you get the following:

A kick ass vintage, mobile bar

Quality craft beers and handmade specialty cocktails of your choice

Professional, friendly bar staff

The ability to leave the bar to us and focus on your event

While we understand that there are times where the other options are best we hope that you will consider our service for your special event. Contact Tiffany @ today for all of the details.

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