Never Run Out of Alcohol at Your Party Again

November  5, 2015

‘Tis the season for freaking out.

Whether it’s about executing a perfectly roasted (non-dry) turkey, avoiding lumps in your gravy, getting holiday shopping done on time, or figuring out how much wine you need to keep everyone happy at the party you’re hosting, opportunities for stressing out abound, in spite of our best intentions.

With regards to that last issue, though—that is, how much wine, or other drink, you’ll need for a party—thankfully there are some formulas that can help guide you (if you're looking for help finding a present for your mother-in-law, however, it'll have to come from elsewhere, sorry).

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1) First, think about how long your party is likely to be.

I talked to friends in catering and liquor stores that help people with ordering for parties, and they told me that they have a rule of thumb for how much people will drink based on how long the party lasts: On average, people will have two drinks in the first hour and then one drink per hour after that. So, if you’re having a four-hour long shindig, for example, plan for guests to sip their way through five drinks.

In general I’ve found this to give a pretty generous estimate for how much you need, but standard party wisdom holds that it’s better to have some leftovers than to run out of drinks mid celebration.

2) Next, think about how many drinks you get from a bottle.

• With wine, you can figure on getting five servings from a bottle.

• Beer math is easy because beer, handily, mostly comes in bottles or cans that are one serving each—unless you’re getting a keg, in which case the number of servings depends on the volume of the keg, and I’m going to go ahead and let you figure out that math yourself.

• Spirits are a little more tricky because the number of drinks you’ll get from a bottle depends on the cocktail you’re planning to make with it. An average estimate would be 15 to 20 drinks per bottle, but you can figure it out more precisely by looking at the measurements per serving of the cocktail you want to make.

Say you’re serving Manhattans and the recipe you want to use is 2 ounces rye whiskey, 1 ounce sweet vermouth, and 3 dashes of Angostura bitters. If you are buying 750-milliliter bottles (about 25 ounces), one bottle of rye whiskey is good for 12 1/2 drinks. Meanwhile one bottle of vermouth will give you 25 drinks. Obviously you’ll need to buy twice as many bottles of whiskey as vermouth. And don’t forget the bitters! I have no idea how many dashes are in a bottle, but it is a lot. One bottle should more than suit your needs.

3) Finally, think about the break down of what you’ll be serving, and, just as importantly, who you’ll be serving it to. For example, your planning needs will be very different if you’re serving only wine compared to iwine, beer, and cocktails.

• If you’re going all wine, people generally drink more white wine than red, so consider a 60:40 split unless you know your crowd is more of a red wine crowd. Then, definitely stock up on a higher proportion of red wine than white.

• If you’re planning to serve wine, beer, and spirits, the caterers I’ve worked with suggest making your break down 50% wine, 30% beer, and 20% spirits. But again, try to gauge your crowd.

• If you’re having a festive gathering of friends, and you know the majority are beer lovers, focus on getting an eclectic mix of beer styles and just a couple bottles of wine.

If you’re including cocktails, I’d strongly suggest coming up with a few signature cocktails for the event rather than trying to buy everything you’d need to host anything close to a full bar.

In my experience, many people avoid ordering cocktails if they have to come up with which cocktail they want to drink on their own—most of us choke as soon as we try to order and draw a complete blank (I do this and cocktails are my job).

On the other hand, I’ve hosted parties with people who typically are wine or beer drinkers, but because I had crafted a small menu of special cocktails for the event (or a fabulous bowl of punch), everyone tried and adored the cocktails and the beer and wine went virtually untouched.

I like having a menu of about three cocktails, one fruity, one fizzy and refreshing, and one boozy and either bitter or savory. If you have a small menu of cocktails, you can calculate and buy precisely what you need to execute those cocktails and you won’t have to have a panic attack because you ran out of Campari while being left with enough dry vermouth to last you a decade.

So there you have it. Plan your drinks menu, do a little math, and you can direct your stress-out energy toward something else that needs it!

How do you estimate the amount of alcohol to have at a party? Share your rules of thumb with us in the comments.

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