2 Tips for Cocktail Time

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From the cocktail hour to the Champagne toast, drinks are a key element of most modern weddings. Some couples even pop corks and bottle caps for guests pre-ceremony, and most keep the beverages going all night long.

If a bountiful bar matters to you, you’ll want to quiz potential caterers on the type and brands of wine, beer and spirits they feature in their various packages, including whether or not Champagne or sparkling wine is included, says Karen Bussen, a New York-based wedding expert and author of the “Simple Stunning Wedding” books. “You might be able to negotiate for your favorite bourbon or higher-end wine,” she says. Or, if they can’t get it, they may allow you to bring in your own for little or no additional cost.

The price for caterer-provided alcohol varies greatly across the country and different types of venues, but, in general, you can expect to pay $7 to $20 per person for a four-hour full bar. Budget-minded couples may want to consider serving only beer, wine and a signature cocktail rather than the whole kit-and-caboodle, suggests Anja Winikka, senior editor of the TheKnot.com, or they could substitute more-affordable Spanish cava, Italian prosecco or even sparkling cider for Champagne during the toasts.

If you’re allowed to handle the alcohol on your own (plan for one drink per person per hour of the reception), costs will drop significantly; however, you’ll likely be charged a corkage fee if you need someone with a liquor license (i.e. your caterer) to serve the drinks, and keep in mind that you’ll need to pay for glassware, mixers, ice and garnishes.

Drink Up

Logistics aside, alcohol is also one of the easiest and most enjoyable ways to add character to your event.

“The recent renaissance of the mixologist – a fancy word for a creative, skillful bartender – has introduced a slew of interesting cocktails to the market,” says Winikka. For example, you might set up a tasting bar of cocktail shooters that showcase unique vodkas with flavors ranging from pomegranate and blood orange, to black truffle and kaffir lime. Or, if you have the kind of crowd where overly sweet cocktails won’t cut it, you might offer herbal infusions. A zesty cilantro martini is the perfect match for a Latin-themed menu, says Winikka, while different varieties of mint (spearmint, peppermint, etc.) complement a wider variety of foods.

Bussen is a fan of build-your-own beverage bars (think mojitos or spiked coffee drinks) and stations that pair hors d’oeuvres with small sips, such as sushi and sake, ceviche and pisco sours, and tapas and sangria. She’s even seen creative caterers make super-sophisticated Jell-O shots in chic flavors like margarita and gimlet, or serve adult slushies made with delicious syrups and a splash of vodka or Baileys.

“Many local wineries are also providing personalized labels for some of their bottles,” says Bussen, “which means you can serve your own special ‘cuvee’ on the big day.”

Time-Saving Tip

If you’ll be buying your alcohol yourself, be sure to inquire about case discounts, says Bussen. Many stores offer discounts of 10 to 20 percent off when you buy in bulk. Bussen also suggests checking out the free Party Planner iPhone app – it will tell you how much of each type of alcohol you need, as well as mixers, ice, glasses and garnishes. But keep in mind that many retailers will allow you to return unopened bottles, so don’t fret too much about over-ordering.

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Tags: cocktail, catering, budget