When you host a party, you face three basic options for beverage service. You can make and serve cocktails yourself. You can set up a self-serve station. Or you can hire professional bartenders to do the job. The choice often depends on the formality of the event.
Even if you don’t serve alcohol, consider incorporating a beverage center or hiring someone to serve nonalcoholic options.
“For parties earlier in the day, we will often do a mimosa bar,” says Blake Baylin, owner of Bella Beverage Catering & Events in La Mesa. “We give guests a glass of Champagne and off to the side we may have a do-it-yourself area with mixers such as orange, cranberry and pineapple juices and garnishes such as berries and pineapples.”
If you opt for professional bartending, you need to plan well ahead.
“I typically recommend booking about two months in advance, especially during the busy season,” says Ray Morales, owner of San Diego’s Top Shelf Parties. “Summer through the holidays gets busier.”
Packages typically range from fully catered bars that come with bar equipment, alcohol and staff to packages where the hosts supply their own glassware and alcohol. Top Shelf generally recommends one bar per 100 people.
“One bar, one bartender and one server is good for about 75 to 100 people,” Ray says. “But each bar can comfortably fit two bartenders.”
Bella Beverage’s most basic option is a bar serving three choices each of beer and wine. “All of our packages come with a portable bar, bar equipment, ice and clear plasticware. If clients want glassware, that’s an upgrade,” Blake says.
A popular trend is to create a custom cocktail menu. Blake offers to create handwritten signage to display on the bar top listing the specialty drinks available.
“We provide a signature drink package for every type of liquor. We have a mule package, we have a martini package or we can custom create one,” she says. “Signature craft cocktails can be scaled up or down. For example, for an outdoor wedding, we’ve made a vodka lemon cooler with a lemon wheel garnish.”
“A popular trend for wed-dings is a beer/wine bar plus two signature cocktails created with the bride and groom in mind,” she continues. “They can be customized based on their favorite drink, the time of year or the theme of the wedding.” Top Shelf’s most popular specialty drinks are flavored margaritas and mules, espe-cially Irish and Moscow mules.
“Mules are crazy popular right now,” Ray says. “We’re doing a lot more mules this year than we have any other year.” If you’re brave enough to fly solo and stock the bar yourself, he recommends offering your guests standard options.
“For wine and beer, choose at least three options. For wine, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay are safe bets. The most popular liquor is vodka; you’ll go through three times as much vodka as any other liquor,” Ray says. Blake cautions hosts not to overdo it.
“When guests have too many drink options, such as eight beers and eight wines, it gets a little too complicated and bogs down the bartender trying to get guests served quickly and efficiently.” You also have to consider your audience.
“Take into account the crowd and what type of alcohol they would prefer,” Ray says. “You need to have the supplies too — from glasses to fruit garnishes. You need industrial-type coolers outdoors in San Diego; ice just doesn’t hold up. And you want to have enough soft drinks for people who aren’t drinking. People forget about that.”
Placement of the bar or beverage center is key to creating good traffic flow. Ensure there’s room around it, because that is where people tend to congregate. Put the food station in another spot.
“If you’re in a back yard, pick a corner where there is shade with room for people to move around the bar. The bartender also needs space,” Ray notes.
“I always recommend an open area such as a great room or an outside patio,” Blake says.
Before the event, move all beverages to the vicinity of the bar. If bartenders are coming in, allow the professionals to take over from there.
“If we organize it, we know where everything is and can set up a system to make everything run smoothly,” Blake says.
They also know how to wind the party down.
“About 30 to 45 minutes before the bar closes, we let the DJ know so he can announce last call,” Blake explains. “For smaller, quieter parties, we tell everyone as they come up to the bar. We also put bottles of water out on the bar top. Water is a good thing for guests to have before they leave.”