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  • Alexis Alvarez

How to Create Your BYOB Bar Menu

wedding bar menu with glasses
Photo: The Gernands

We love a good BYOB-friendly Chicago Wedding Venue because we know that it saves our clients some serious cash from venue or catering premium bar packages. But what saves you money in the long run usually ends up costing you in time and lack of experience. So we’re here to make planning your BYOB bar menu a breeze.

A note of clarity before we begin, BYOB (bring your own booze) means that you can purchase your alcohol directly from a liquor store at standard retail costs versus paying a per person fee from your venue or caterer that is marked up for profit. (Usually you can return unopened liquor back to the store after the event for even more cost savings!). BYOB doesn’t mean that Cousin Tony can bring his own keg.

So first, let’s talk about service, mixers, ice, glassware, and insurance.

You’ll need to hire a licensed and insured bartending service to bartend for your wedding. The city of Chicago requires it, which means your venue will too. If you have a full-service caterer, your caterer can add on just the labor for service without a bar package. Or, if you’re going the route of drop-off catering or food trucks, your event service staff can add bartenders to your service package. OR for something showier, you can hire a mixologist who can help you craft some fun signature cocktails and usually can add some flair to the presentation of your bartending.

Now for mixers, you’ll want to add on a mixers package to your service contract that’ll include all of your standard non-alcoholic mixers (also important for your guests that can’t or don’t drink alcohol). If your service provider can’t add a mixers package, you’ll want to make sure to order plenty of sodas, tonic water, drinking water, juices, syrups, and garnishes for your guest count. DON’T FORGET THE ICE! If your venue does not have an ice machine onsite, you’ll need to talk with your service provider about who will provide it: you or them. HERE is an ice calculator to help you determine how much ice to buy.

Similarly to mixers and ice, it’s important to clarify with your service provider who is providing glassware and at what caliber. Are you serving the bar out of disposable cups or are you renting glassware? One is definitely less expensive + simpler in terms of planning and one is the more eco-friendly option.

On insurance, you’ll want to make sure both you and your service provider are insured. There are many reasons you need wedding insurance, but at a minimum, liability insurance is a must to protect you.

Now, let’s craft our menu!

We recommend couples streamline their bar menu in order to maximize savings and simplify your ordering and returns process. Here’s what to put on your menu:

  • 1 red wine

  • 1 white wine

  • Something sparkly, if desired

  • 1 domestic beer

  • 1 imported beer

  • 2 signature drinks with 2 different, commonly used liquors (example: a tequila-based signature drink and a rum-based signature drink)

    • This will give some personality to your bar menu while ensuring all of your guests still have other standard cocktail options like a Rum & Coke

    • Note! Pay attention to whether your selected signature cocktails require mixers or garnishes that are not included in your mixer package. For instance, if you’re opting for a mojito, most mixer packages from caterers don’t include mint. They can typically add this to your order for a small cost.

This will ensure that every guest has at least one drink they like on the menu. Make sure to decide whether you’ll close the bar for dinner (about 90 minutes) and whether you’ll serve wine with dinner (for the best guest experience, we recommend making sure at a minimum you either have wine service with dinner or keep the bar open). If you order something sparkly, decide if each guest will get a pour either during toasts or as a welcome drink as they enter either cocktail hour or the reception, or if you’ll simply have it as an offering at the bar.

Now, all that’s left to do is order! For our Chicago Weddings, we recommend Binny’s, Prestige, and Garfields. You can work with a sales rep from each of these stores to draft an order based on the menu you created above to ensure you’re ordering the correct quantities. Be sure to ask about delivery, return policy, and same-night pick-ups (or get written permission from your venue for a Monday liquor pick-up).

A BYOB-friendly venue is an easy way to help balance some of the costs of planning a wedding and now with this guide, your BYOB bar menu planning is easy!

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