How to do a free bar at your wedding

There are two kinds of wedding day fuel. One is the food and the other is, of course, the tipple!

If you’re hiring in a professional cash bar or if your venue takes care of drinks, then sit back and relax.

If you’re taking the plunge and treating guests to a DIY free bar or a DIY cash bar and/or your venue allows you to supply your alcohol, then we’ve pooled all our drinking know-how to compile a list of handy hints and ideas.

First things first, keep it legal! If you’re considering running your own cash bar, click here to read about selling alcohol at events and ensure that you aren’t at risk of breaking any laws.


Reception Swill
The ceremony has ended, the confetti has settled and you’re officially married! It’s time for celebratory drink number one (we’ll all pretend that pre-ceremony beverage was virgin). Classic fizz such as Champers or Prosecco will always be a winner, or alternatively, we have a very special range of Curious Cocktails designed to accompany our canapés – the perfect partners in crime! Aim for a minimum of two drinks per person during this time (or three drinks per person if your reception is longer than 1.5 hours), and don’t forget a soft option. Around 30% of your guests will opt for a soft drink.

Table Quaff
Wine and dine just like newlyweds should! Pickle Shack are always happy to replenish vino levels during dinner, at no extra cost, to keep the good times flowing. Consider opening your bar or providing alternative beverages alongside the wedding breakfast for those who don’t fancy wine. Base your wine-requirements on half a bottle per person for the wedding breakfast, and depending on your menu, consider the split of red and white wine; read our Wine Pairing notes here. Table water will also need to be provided.

Toasting Tipple
A glass of fizz, a shot of whiskey, a creative cocktail… the possibilities are endless but no speech is complete without a glass to raise. Again, Pickle Shack will serve your toasting drink at no extra cost. One drink to cover all of the speeches is standard, and again, have a soft drink option available.

Party Bar
Time for the evening revelry! A well-stocked bar will see your dance floor warriors well into the night. The tighter your budget, the simpler you’ll want to keep it.


Guests will bring a pocket of cash along with them, rather than assuming it’s a free bar. So, if your budget would prefer for them to pay their way, then this is totally acceptable!

A self-run cash bar will require someone to staff, pour and handle cash for the night. Ask a few guests to take a shift for a unique mingling experience! Alternatively, if you opt for a free bar, Pickle Shack can provide bar staff.

Your bar will need to look the part, so check out Virginia’s Vintage Hire’s gorgeous collection of bars and display furniture. For an extra touch of romance think signature drinks or personalised bottle labels.

Keep it simple. Three to five alcoholic options are enough; single spirit and mixer, beer, pre-mixed cocktail, wine, fizz. Done! Avoid shots and short drinks if you wish to regulate alcohol consumption.

If cocktails are your calling, you can pre-mix your favourites and place in Kilner style dispensers for quick and easy pouring. Mocktails for kids and non-drinkers work really well served like this too.

Depending on your venue’s corkage policy, it might be possible to let guests bring their own bottles. This could be for the evening reception only rather than during the wedding breakfast. Their offerings could contribute to a communal free bar or even a cocktail station!

If you have family members or friends who wish to gift contributions towards your wedding planning, then wines and fizz could be a really lovely opportunity to spend their generosity on something which all your guests can enjoy.

We often get asked about the quantity of drinks that will be required for an evening bar. Based on a five hour bar, running from after the wedding breakfast until the end of the night, three – four alcoholic drinks per person is a good guide. In our experience, 40% of your guests will opt for spirit + mixers, 40% of your guests will go for largers/beers, 10% will stay loyal to the fizz or wine and around 10% will have soft drinks only.

As the night draws to a close, the demand for soft drinks will increase, so it’s essential that you have a supply of running water to hand or plenty of bottled water available.


Take your time to shop around, there are some super deals to be had! Christmas sees local Farm Shops and Supermarkets put on incredible drink sales. Tis the season to stock up on spirits and fizz.

We love the spirit of the South West and we have it in abundance. Splurge on luxury Wicked Wolf Gin from the heart of Exmoor or the s-moooo-thest of Vodkas from Black Cow in West Dorset. Head to Dart’s Farm for a local liqueur to accompany your epic West Country cocktails.

There’s nothing like a fine quality mixer to transform a classic option. We vote for investing in the West Country with locally produced, speciality soft drinks, mixers and cordials, such as Heron Valley Drinks, for a true air of luxe.

To accompany your wedding breakfast, say Cheers to stunning local Vineyards. Lily Valley Wines offer exquisite options to wow your guests. A perfect pairing to flaunt the local produce that we’ll showcase in your wedding breakfast.

Alternatively, catch a Vineyard Express! Several European vineyards and wine superstores will cover the cost of your Eurostar ticket if you purchase a minimum order with them. A little research could even get you a free overnight stay! Remember to read up on alcohol purchase limits first.

Don’t forget the all-important pint! Why not source a keg or two directly from a local brewery. Guests will have a great time pouring their own pints. From Hanlons Brewery’s fine craft beers to Exeter Brewery’s ale expertise, you’re never far from a local watering hole’s guidance.


Glasses for your reception drinks, table wines, table water (including water jugs) and toasting fizz flutes are easy to calculate and regulate, but once your free bar is open, it’s a different story, so always over order on glassware for the evening.

Sainsbury’s and Waitrose offer a free glass hire service, but be warned, the glasses must be returned clean. If you don’t fancy the washing up, talk to us about your glassware hire options.

Top tip: Have a stash of plastic cups as a back up, just in case you start to run low – no one wants to go on a glass washing run in the middle of the fun!


In all the excitement of designing drinks and shopping for supplies, don’t forget these key elements for free bar success!

  • Lemons, limes (or lemon balm for a local alternative) and ice make all things nice
  • Chopping boards and knives for cutting fruit
  • Refrigeration and suitable ice storage
  • Corkscrews and bottle openers
  • Tea towels, cloths and paper towels for inevitable spillages
  • A dustpan and brush and a safe container for broken glass
  • Bins and bin liners for any paper rubbish or fruit waste

If there is no sink for liquid disposal, then it’s important for the local environment that you collect any liquid waste in an appropriate container (a couple of plastic buckets for example) to transport to proper drainage.

Recycle glass bottles and plastic where possible. If you’re having a self-serve bar, then you could provide labelled containers for guests to sort their own recyclables into.

Drinking water! If your venue has drinking water on tap, then you’ll simply need some jugs for serving. If the water supply isn’t drinkable, then provide bottled water (and lots of it) instead. Skip the jugs and go for placing glass bottled water from Devonia Spring Water straight onto your tables.

Supplying a free bar is a big task, but there’s no doubt it’s worth the effort if you get it right.

By Rose Harvey