Wedding planning comes with many considerations to check off the list, and if you’ve chosen to serve alcohol at your wedding, setting up the bar can be one of the most complicated tasks to tackle. Especially if you’re hosting an outdoor wedding, or hosting your reception somewhere that does not have the license to sell alcohol, you will need to plan the bar set-up on your own. Although it may seem as simple as just purchasing alcohol in bulk and bringing it on site, there are a few items that need to be considered before you tie the knot.

Bartenders and Permitting

One major factor to consider is who will be serving the alcohol. Having someone with a MAST (Mandatory Alcohol Service Training) permit is highly recommend at most venues, rather than asking a friend or your distant cousin to manage the bar. Assigning the task to someone with a MAST permit ensures they have gone through the required training surrounding alcohol service and know how to serve alcohol responsibly.

“It’s rough to put someone into that position. It’s a real job, and that person is on duty,” says Eileen Weresch, owner of Cascade Garden. “You need to make sure you have someone who has no problem cutting people off if needed, someone who is aware of over service and is comfortable denying service.”

For more peace of mind, hiring a licensed bartender may be the best option. “Hiring a bartender versus a close friend ensures you have a neutral person serving,” says Juan Torres Jr., who owns BarTab LLC. “You want your guests to have a good time, while a third party regulates consumption.”

If you hire out a bartending service, or utilize bartenders provided by your catering company, have a discussion about whether they are able to provide alcohol for you. Depending on the license the business holds, some are not able to bring the alcohol to your venue, and you’ll need to take care of that on your own.

“We are licensed to provide the beer and wine, as well as bartenders for service,” says Toni Benetti-Flabetich, owner of Catering Creations by Toni. “In that case, it’s not necessary for the couple to obtain a banquet permit because our license covers it. We can do it all, but it all depends on the type of license you have.”

Be sure to plan ahead, obtaining a banquet permit in time for the big day if needed. The Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board requires couples to purchase a banquet permit for weddings held at private business establishments or public places, allowing for the consumption of liquor by couples and their guests. You can apply for the permit on the board’s website for $10.

As you’re completing your checklist, remember to determine your needs for liability insurance as well, with a particular focus on host liquor liability. Most venues require some sort of liability insurance for damage or injuries, but you’ll want to make sure you are protected in the event of an alcohol-related accident as well.

Drink Selections

Choosing between doing a full bar, just wine and beer or a combination of options can be difficult. The signature cocktail route makes it a lot easier to manage the bar, saving on service time while still having fun. “A lot of couples like to do a signature cocktail with a cute name, which is so fun,” says Weresch. “That way you still get a drink with a bit of a punch without doing a full bar.”

According to Torres, sticking with wine and beer and keeping your drink choices simple can go a long way. “Especially with huge groups, you don’t want your bartender worrying about making mojitos and piña coladas,” he said. “You can keep the drinks simple but still serve something incredibly delicious and refreshing.”

When it comes to beer, especially in the Yakima Valley, many couples want a craft option. “A lot of couples will ask me whether purchasing a keg or cans of beer is better,” says Torres. “And it just depends on the pricing, value and ease you’re looking for.” If you want to offer your favorite craft beer that isn’t necessarily sold in cans or bottles, there are still plenty of options, and smaller containers may be a great solution.

“We’ve seen a lot of couples doing growlers from local breweries,” says Benetti-Flabetich. “If you have a lot leftover in a keg you can’t do much with it, but the growler options saves you from too much waste.”

Other Logistics

As you consider set-up and aesthetics, discuss the option of a tip jar ahead of time to avoid any confusion. Often, the family may be paying the bartender and has already included gratuity for their services. “Consider that you may not want your guests to dig into their wallet and feel obligated to tip, and you definitely don’t want them to be confused about what the jar on the bar is for,” says Weresch. If you plan to collect tips for the bartender, clearly mark the jar so guests know if it’s for tips or to help pay for alcohol.

According to Weresch, having a set-up plan is important, but considering tear-down is equally crucial. You’ll want to have a plan for what’s happening at the end of the night with the alcohol. Is the bartender cleaning up and shutting down the bar? Who is transporting the extra alcohol? What about kegs? Make sure someone is designated to handle that task when the party comes to an end.

Crossing off a few key items and requirements for your bar set-up will save a lot of headaches later on in the wedding planning process, leaving the couple to just enjoy their big day!

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