How to Calculate the Number of Drinks for a Party

Estimate the Right Amount of Beverages to Buy

An overhead view of margarita preparation
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When you host a party, it's not good 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 both a science and an art. It's just like estimating the amount of food you'll need to serve to your guests.

Drink Planning Within Your Budget

In an ideal world, every party host would have an extra refrigerator packed with wine, beer, mixers, liquor, soft drinks, juices, and all the possible beverages a guest might want. While there are a lucky few who have this, most people don't. If you have a strict party budget and only one fridge, don't panic.

Before you put together a shopping list, ask yourself a few 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 that beer flows 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 gets easily excited by the newest, trendiest cocktails when you hit the bars together?
  2. Use that as a hint. What your guests are used to should not dictate that you serve your guests exactly what they always drink. You should select beverages based on your menu and type of party. However, it will give you a hint as to where the volume of drinking will be if you offer a variety.
  3. How much variety do 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!
  4. Consider 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.
  1. Choose one or two signature beverages. This will add style to your party and can be a nice addition 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 may be able to return them after the party if they're unopened.
  4. Remember to stock up on lots of ice. You should have at least one pound of ice per person. This covers the ice you'll be serving in drinks and need to keep beverages cold. If the weather is hot or the party is active, it's best to 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. Be sure to have enough glasses. Whether it's glass or disposable, when setting up the drinkware for your party, plan on multiple glasses per guest. This can be cut back if 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. You can never be sure which will be most popular.
calculate drinks for party
Illustration: © The Spruce, 2018

Serving Guidelines for a Two-Hour Party

How much should you stock for a party? In general, plan on two beverages per guest during the first hour of your party, and one each hour after that. Quite often, parties last at least two hours, though yours may go a little longer, depending on the occasion.

Each of these estimates assumes that it will be the only beverage served during the party unless stated otherwise. 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 six champagne flutes. If serving it as a toast, one glass per person is enough. If you're serving champagne as a pre-meal cocktail, plan on one and a half 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 liquor will serve 17 drinks. Plan on three drinks per person during a two-hour cocktail party. The amount of mixers you will need depends on the type of cocktails you plan to serve. Look at your drink 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 eight-ounce glass per person. If there are children, you'll need to increase that amount by three drinks per child. If non-alcoholic drinks will be the only beverages served, plan on three per guest.