How to Calculate the Number of Drinks to Buy for a Party

An overhead view of margarita preparation
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When you host a party, it's a bad look to run short on the food or drinks. It's painful to see a guest shuffling around his or her plate or glass without having the option of seconds.

When it comes to the alcohol, soda, and cocktails, planning the right amount of beverages to buy for your party is a combination of both science and art, just like estimating the food amounts you'll need to serve to your guests.

In an ideal world, we'd have an extra refrigerator completely packed with wine, beer, mixers, liquor, soft drinks, juices and all possible beverages a guest might want (the lucky ones have this; we hear it's heaven). If you have a strict party budget and only one fridge, don't panic. Before you put together that shopping list, ask yourself a couple of very important questions:

  • How many adults will be attending?
  • How many children will be there?
  • How long will the party run?
  • Will the party be indoors or outside?
  • What type of party will it be? Dinner party? Barbecue? Cocktail party?
  • Will you have a bartender serving drinks or will you fill that role?

10 Tips to Consider Before Buying Drinks

  1. What kind of beverages are your guests interested in? Are they into keggers where the only necessity is for the beer to flow all night? Do they love to show off their latest vintage wine when you attend a dinner party at their home? Maybe you're hosting a foodie crowd who get easily excited by the newest, trendiest cocktails when you hit the bars together?
  1. Don't get me wrong; I'm not suggesting that you serve your guests exactly what they always drink. You should select beverages based on your menu and type of party. But it will give you a hint as to where the volume of drinking will be if you offer a variety.
  2. How much variety will you want to offer? If you plan to hire a bartender, a full bar will be manageable. But if you'll be mixing drinks all night for your guests, you'll want to simplify your offerings to make your hosting job easier. Remember it's your party, you want to have fun too!
  1. Think about the mix of your beverages in terms of the mix of your guests. If there will be lots of kids, plan on stocking up on juices, soft drinks, and water. Will there be many younger men fresh out of college? Then don't skimp on the beer. Is it an older, more sophisticated group? Be sure to lay in a good supply of wine and spirits.
  2. One or two signature beverages will add style to your party and may add to a themed event. At the same time, it will keep your budget more manageable than the cost of stocking a full bar with alcohol, mixers, wine, and beer.
  3. If you entertain often, then it may pay to keep a fully stocked bar. Take an inventory before your party to determine what extra beverages you'll need to purchase.
  4. Don't open everything at the beginning of your party. You don't want to be left with 10 bottles of wine that are only partially consumed. Also, if you purchased beverages that you don't normally keep in your home, you can often return them after the party if they're unopened.
  5. Remember to stock up on lots of ice. You should have at least 1 pound of ice per person for serving in drinks and to keep beverages cold. If the weather is hot or the party is active, you should have more. On the other hand, if you have many refrigerators to keep your beer and other beverages chilled until serving, you can have less.
  1. When setting up the drinkware for your party, whether you use glass or disposable products, you should plan on multiple glasses per guest unless you use wine glass charms or other drink markers. Guests often forget where they place a drink or they may change beverages over the course of your party, requiring a new glass.
  2. Round up your estimates, don't round down. The more variety in your beverage offerings, the more you should increase your estimates for each drink since you can never be sure which will be most popular.

General Beverage Serving Guidelines for a 2-Hour Party

In general, plan on two drinks per guest during the first hour of your party, and one each hour after that. Each of these estimates assumes that will be the only beverage served during you party unless otherwise stated. Therefore, if you will be serving a variety, cut back on each individual item based on what you think the most and least popular drinks will be among your guests.

  • Wine: Estimate one bottle of wine for every two guests at a two-hour cocktail party. If serving both red and white wines, you should have twice as many bottles of white as red, unless you know specifically that your guests are red wine drinkers.
  • Beer: Plan on two bottles or servings of beer per person for the first hour, and another one for each subsequent hour of your party.
  • Champagne or Sparkling Wine -One 750 ml. bottle of champagne or sparkling wine fills 6 champagne flutes. If serving as a toast, one glass per person is enough. If you're serving champagne as a pre-meal cocktail, plan on 1.5 glasses per person. If it will be served throughout a two-hour cocktail party or dinner, plan on three glasses per person.
  • Spirits and Mixers: One 750 ml. bottle of spirits will serve 17 drinks. Plan on 3 drinks per person during a two-hour cocktail party. The amount of mixers you will need depends on the type of cocktail you plan to serve. Look at your cocktail recipes and multiply the volume of mixer ingredients needed per cocktail by three, per person, for a two-hour party.
  • Liqueurs and After-Dinner Drinks: Plan on getting 15 drinks from every 750 ml. bottle. Usually, you'll only need one drink per guest.
  • Water: At a cocktail party, one liter of water will serve four guests. At a sit-down meal, plan on serving three guests from each liter. Offer a mix of mineral and still water.
  • Soft Drinks and Juices: At a party where other beverages, such as wine, beer, and cocktails will be served, plan on one 8-oz. glass per person. If there are children at your party, you'll need to increase that amount by 3 drinks per child. If non-alcoholic drinks will be the only beverages served, plan on 3 per guest, adults, and children.