During the years I spent tending bar at wedding receptions in Louisiana and Maryland, I learned an interesting point about alcohol: nobody ever buys the right amount. They buy either too much or too little. Some couples expect their guests to restrain themselves in the presence of free booze, and are sadly misinformed. Others anticipate a swinging party that never materializes. Neither misconception is necessarily the fault of the couple. They're excited, and assume their enthusiasm will rub off on their guests. But that's not always possible, through no fault of their own. Little things like bad weather can also ruin the "vibe" that makes a party light up. On the other hand, sometimes the crowd gets crazy and the booze goes too quickly. You can't predict the future.
As I said in the article on reception planning, though, there's a rule of thumb to follow when planning your food and beverage service that's if anything more important when considering the amount of alcohol to have on hand at your reception. It's really simple, too: The wedding is for you and your beloved. The reception is for your guests.
With that in mind, here's a few ideas about how to anticipate who'll want to drink what. Some of this is based on generalizations and stereotypes, yes. But when it comes to alcohol, most bartenders will tell you that stereotypes are largely true. The "good brands to buy" tab refers to medium-range spirits that can be bought in large amounts without having to pawn your kidneys. The occasional By the Way information is just trivia and lore, the kinds of things good bartenders sometimes explain as they make your drink.
Who will drink it: your friends from high school; your dad; your co- workers You should buy a lot for: larger receptions, or events lasting into the night. Good brands to buy: Budweiser, Coors Light, Miller Lite, Corona By The Way: Imports are classy but expensive, and almost no one will refuse free domestic beer.
Who will drink it: your mom and her friends; your college instructors You should buy a lot if: your reception is outdoors or in the spring or fall. Good Brands to Buy: Turning Leaf, Penfold's, Benziger
Who will drink it: your dad's friends and the guests you don't know You should buy a lot if: you serve steak at the reception dinner. Good Brands to Buy: Beringer's Pinot Noir, Los Vascos Cabernet Sauvignon
Who will drink it: anyone impressed by the box it's packaged in
You should buy a lot if: you don't expect a gift from many of the guests, or if your family and friends aren't much for drinking. Good brands to buy: any of the larger boxes By the way: mixing white zinfandel with lemon-lime soda approximates the taste and texture of a wine cooler.
Who will drink it: your friends; your college roommate; your white trash cousin, who still thinks mixing it with energy drinks is hip
You should buy a lot if: your white trash cousin's bringing a date; you're sure the party's going to swing. Good brands to buy: Absolut, Smirnoff, Stolinachya.
Who will drink it: Your fiancé's Uncle Bob, who likes to tell people about his fishing trips and condo in Florida; your friends from high school You should buy a lot if: your friends are watching their weight but are still alcoholics-in-training. Good brands to buy: Bacardi White and Dark; Captain Morgan, Malibu By the way: if you offer rum, double stock the diet sodas, for the really weight conscious partiers. Also, make sure you've got lime garnishes.
Who will drink it: your grandparents; your little sister's hipster boyfriend You should buy a lot if: you're holding the reception during the 1920's. Otherwise, one bottle is more than enough. Good brands to buy: Tanqueray, Bombay Sapphire
Who will drink it: only the brave; your other college roommate You should buy a lot if: you're planning a summer or beach wedding and offering blender drinks; mass vomiting is your idea of a happy reception memory. Good Brands to Buy: Jose Cuervo, Herradura By the way: for those summer/beach weddings, consider serving moderate Tequila Sunrises, a tasty concoction of tequila, orange juice, and grenadine (cherry juice). It's a good alternative to the mess and noise of the blenders.
A note about purchasing your booze: Underline this paragraph, because I mean this with complete seriousness: don't get jerked around by a liquor vendor. Most of them are honest. But some aren't, and will try to bully you into purchasing unnecessary mixers and garnishes you don't need. You know your guests and reading this article means you've done research, so don't let a dishonest businessman take money out of your reception budget. It's your wedding, not a chance for someone to make easy cash from his distracted customers.
A note about mixers: when deciding what mixers to include, don't get fancy. Simply serving cola, diet cola, lemon-lime soda, and perhaps iced tea will satisfy 99% of guests. You might also consider getting bottles of orange juice and cranberry juice, and perhaps some lemon sour mix (sometimes referred to as Collins Mix) to mix with the booze. Just about half the cocktails in a bartender's retinue will include some mixture of alcohol with orange juice, cranberry juice, or lemon sour mix combined together. By the way: if you're living above the Mason Dixon line, add a bottle of ginger ale to this list.