Bar Planning Essentials

A great bar often makes a great party, but what makes a great bar? Follow our tips to stock your bar with the ultimate bar essentials.

  • Bar Basics
    Laura Moss

    Bar Basics

    A great party doesn't require an extensive bar offering or even an exotic one. Simply put, you must make sure that you can supply all the basic ingredients required for your party guests' drinks. Covering the basics is easier said than done. It takes skill and strategy to know the amounts needed. We've done the legwork and answered seven commonly asked bar planning questions to ensure plentiful pouring all night long.

  • Glass or Plastic?
    Beau Gustafson

    Glass or Plastic?

    What kind of glasses should I use at my party?
    Plastic cups, crystal stemware, and ruby-tinted martini glasses are all okay depending on the style, theme, and time of your party. If your party is formal, opt for crystal. If it's a barbecue, choose plastic.

    Traditionally, white and red wines are served in different types of glasses (narrower for whites, wider for reds so they can breathe). However, there is no actual rule requiring you to serve beverages in any certain type of glass. That said, offering an assorted selection of glasses will add more zip to your bar.

    Stock Up On: Wine glasses, martini glasses, beer mugs or glasses, and champagne flutes.

  • Try a Variety
    Beau Gustafson

    Try a Variety

    If you're hosting a casual barbecue, pick up funky, plastic margarita and martini glasses at local stores for about $1-$3 each. It's okay if they're mismatched, you're going for a casual look. 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 or worry about chipping your own crystal.

  • How Much Ice To Buy?
    Beau Gustafson

    How Much Ice To Buy?

    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 an ice chest on the back porch, to blend with frozen mixes, and to serve cocktails "on the rocks."

    Stock Up On: ½ lb - 1lb multiplied by the number guests

  • Keep It Frozen
    Beau Gustafson

    Keep It Frozen

    Buy bags of ice and store them in an ice chest on the deck, or for smaller parties empty your freezer's ice maker into an extra container in your freezer the night before to allow double ice storing and production capacity. Ice typically comes in five-pound bags; determine how many bags you will need before you head to the store. Don't forget to put a cooler in your car to keep your ice frozen solid.

  • How Much Wine?
    Beau Gustafson

    How Much Wine?

    Purchase at least ½ a bottle per person for any gathering, but err on the generous side. Think about how your event is planned. Is it a sit down dinner party or a reception? 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.

    Stock Up On: At least one-half bottle per guest - better to over buy than under buy.

  • Serving the Wine
    Beau Gustafson

    Serving the Wine

    If you're serving only red and white wine, make sure there's enough of each, and that they're at the right temperature. Chill white wines in the fridge or a wine chiller ahead of time. Open red wines early to allow them to breathe. Two things to keep in mind about wine: Red keeps well, so don't worry about over-purchasing and retailers may allow you to return unopened, unchilled wines.

  • Is Beer Always Okay?
    Beau Gustafson

    Is Beer Always Okay?

    Just because your party is upscale or specifically themed doesn't mean your favorite brew can't be served. Proudly serve your beer alongside your mixed drinks and wine choices. If you're only serving beer, purchase anywhere from two to four bottles per person. Before you buy, think about your friend group. If there is only one beer drinker in a group of predominantly liquor and wine drinkers, you should be able to lighten your purchase load.

    Stock Up On: Only serving beer - 2-4 bottles per guest.

  • Upgrade to Glass
    Southern Living

    Upgrade to Glass

    If you're worried that serving beer is going to make your party seem too much like a fraternity party, there are several tweaks you can make to achieve a more high-end vibe. Switch from cans to bottles for a more sophisticated look. If you're offering keg beer, serve it to guests in handsome pilsner glasses or frosty beer mugs rather than red plastic cups. Be sure to strategically place the tell-tale silver keg out of guests' view.

  • Do I need a Signature Cocktail?
    Cooking Light

    Do I need a Signature Cocktail?

    Signature cocktails are special drinks selected to correspond with the theme of the party. Typically, they are mixed liquor drinks, but they can also be a special beer or a non-alcoholic drink. They may seem like extra work, but there special presentation will add an extra dimension to your festivities.

  • Make it Personal
    Southern Living

    Make it Personal

    Browse our beer, lemonade, iced tea, and cocktail recipes to find one that appeals to you and give it a test run. Don't be afraid to tailor the drink recipe to suit your needs and wants. If you don't like gin, then substitute vodka. Give the drink a sassy name, like "Sally's Send-Away Sangria" for a farewell party, or a "Movingtini" martini for a housewarming event. Serve the libation in a special glass with decorative garnishes to the drink (umbrellas, drink stirrers, etc). Be sure to have a large pitcher of the drink on hand so that guests can refill glasses on their own.

  • What Liquors Do I Need?
    Jason Bernhaut

    What Liquors Do I Need?

    Whether you're hiring a bartender or letting guests serve themselves, it helps to start with a well stocked bar of spirits. The problem is, there are so many options to choose from! Play it safe and stick to the classic spirits.

    Stock Up On: Gin, Vodka, Whiskey, Scotch, Rum, and Tequila, and Vermouth.

  • Check the List
    Abbi Masters

    Check the List

    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, club soda, milk, sodas, and cranberry juice. If you like, add pucker, bitters, schnapps, sweet-and-sour mix, and flavored runs and vodkas. Don't forget the shaker, limes, cherries, olives, toothpicks, lemons, and tiny umbrellas. Check out our all-inclusive shopping list.

  • Pretty Up Your Bar
    Thomas J. Story

    Pretty Up Your Bar

    Most every party will have the same standard bar offerings. Set your bar apart from others with fun decorations! Add pizazz with a brightly colored table cloth if serving from a regular table. Do not overlook a vintage bar cart to add a retro look to your party. Dress up drinks with fruit-juice ice cubes or colored salt and sugar rims. Serve wine from pretty decanters rather than the bottle.

  • Add Accessories
    Brian Francis

    Add Accessories

    Place a fresh flower arrangement on the bar. Offer wine glass charms or beer bands to help guests remember whose libation is whose and set out napkins (either cheeky or sophisticated) to prevent drink rings on furniture. Label drinks with decorative labels to let guests know what is what. Plan ahead and order custom-designed coozies that guests can take home at the end of the night. Our favorite, spotted at a couples engagement cookout, read, "To have and to hold and to keep your beer cold."

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