Bar Essentials and Planning 101  

Start the party off right by having the proper essentials on hand.

Bar Planning 101
Photo: Beau Gustafson / Styling: Mindy Shapiro Levine

A great party doesn't require an extensive bar offering or even an exotic one. All it takes is a well-stocked supply of the ingredients you need for your party's theme. And what about the glasses? We've answered seven commonly asked questions to ensure easy pouring all night long.

What kind of glasses should I use at my party?
Plastic cups, crystal stemware, and ruby-tined martini glasses are all fair game, depending on the style, theme, and time of your party. While white and red wines usually come in different glasses (narrower for whites, wider for reds so they can breathe), unless you're Miss Manners, there are no rules requiring you to serve beverages in one type of container or another. However, your bar will feel more party-ready if you supply the proper glasses for the type of drink you're serving (even if that includes shot glasses).
Fix it! Pick up funky, plastic margarita and martini glasses at local stores for about $1-$3 each. For a more elegant affair, rent high-quality glass stemware from a party rental store. They'll cost around $1 per stem for the night, and you won't have to do any hand-washing.

How much ice do I need?
A good rule of thumb for any party is to have anywhere between one-half-a-pound to one-pound of ice per person. That may sound like a lot, but remember that you may need ice to fill a cooler on the back porch, to blend with frozen mixes, and simply to use in cocktails served on the rocks.
Fix it! Buy bags of ice and store them in a cooler on the deck, or, for smaller parties, simply keep an extra container in your freezer and empty your ice maker into it the night before to allow double ice-storing capacity. Ice usually comes in five-pound bags, so figure out how much you need and stick a cooler in your car before you head to the store to transport the ice back home easily.

How much wine should I have on hand?
If you're serving only red and white wine, make sure there's enough of both, and that they're at the right temperature. Store white wines in the fridge or a wine chiller ahead of time and open red wines early to allow them to breathe. The amount of wine you need depends on what type of party you're planning.
Fix it! Purchase at least 1/2 a bottle per person for any gathering, but err on the generous side. Think about how your event is planned, then adjust drink expectations accordingly.
A standard bottle has about 5 5-ounce servings, so we suggest 4 glasses for brunch (1 for appetizers, 2 for entrée, 1 for dessert), 3-4 glasses for a cocktail party, 1 bottle per person for an evening buffet, and 6 glasses for a dinner party (2 glasses for appetizers, 3 for entrée, and 1 for dessert).
Half of a bottle per person may sound like a lot, but remember you know your guests best. Buy more or less depending on your crowd. Plus, red wine keeps well, so don't worry about over-purchasing. Retailers may allow you to return unopened, unchilled wines, or you can always throw another party next week!

How do I serve beer at a party?
Just because your party is upscale or specifically themed doesn't mean your favorite brew can't be invited. Serve the suds unapologetically alongside your signature cocktail or other offering to put fellow beer fans at ease.
Fix it! Upgrade from cans to bottles for a more high-end vibe. If you're only serving beer, purchase anywhere from 2 to 4 bottles per person. Otherwise, think about your friend group. If Stan is the solo beer-only attendee at a stocked-bar event, you may be able to lighten your purchase load.

What's a signature cocktail?
Signature cocktails can be a drink that you or the guest of honor loves. Plus, they're a great conversation starter. Decide your signature cocktail before the invitations go out so you can tailor the theme of the party toward your celebration.
Fix it! Browse our beer, frozen drinks, lemonade, tea, and cocktail galleries to find a recipe that appeals to you and give it a test run. Make a large batch and store in a pitcher so that guests can serve themselves. Add spice to the bar menu by tailoring the drink to your specifications and giving it a sassy name, like "Send Sue Off" sangria for a farewell party, or a "Moving On Up" martini for a housewarming event.

What kind of liquors should I have available?
Whether you're hiring a bartender or letting guests serve themselves, it helps to start with a good stocked bar of spirits. The problem is, there are so many options to choose from.
Fix it! Make sure you have tequila, whiskey, vodka, rum, scotch, gin, and vermouth in addition to the much-needed mixers such as margarita mixes, tonic water, orange juice, soda water, milk, soda, and cranberry juice. If you like, add pucker, bitters, schnapps, sweet-and-sour mix, and flavored runs and vodkas. Don't forget the limes, cherries, olives, toothpicks, lemons, and tiny umbrellas. Check out our all-inclusive shopping list.

How do I create a memorable party look for a bar?
Most every party (Aunt Linda's Whiskey Wind Down excluded) will have the same standard bar offering, so make yours memorable with extras or even party favors. You can also serve drinks with fruit-juice ice cubes or colored salt and sugar rims.
Fix it! Offer wine glass charms or beer bands to help guests remember whose libation is whose and set out funky napkins to prevent drink rings on furniture and stilted conversation in the foyer. Plan ahead and order custom-designed cozies that guests can take home at the end of the night. Our favorite, spotted at a couple's engagement cookout, read, "To have and to hold and to keep your beer cold."

Above all, listen to fellow bar-frequenter Humphrey Bogart who once said, "The trouble with the world is that everybody in it is three drinks behind." Follow Bogey's advice for preventing party trouble by making sure there are plenty of libations to toast and an equal number of reasons for toasting.

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