Posted by: A Part of the Solution | December 2, 2010

How Much Will My Guests Drink?

How much will my guests drink? This question goes through the head of  every hostess, or host, before party planning goes into full swing. “How much will my guests drink?” contains amazing numbers of variables, but there are ways to understand them, hone them down, focus in, and arrive at a final answer which is better than a good guess, but not as accurate as having a really good beverage psychic on hand.

Here are some of the primary considerations:

When in the year is it? If it’s summertime, your guests will drink more. If the function is somewhere overheated and overcrowded, the guests will drink more. If it’s pleasant out, they will drink only moderately. If it’s very cold, they’ll drink less at the bar and more at the hot drinks station.

What are you serving? If there’s a really grand open bar, the guests will drink more. If you’ve got a punch with alcohol and one kind of beer, the guests will drink less. Essentially, the more choice they have, the more they’ll exercise it. There are exceptions. At a keg party, there only needs to be one beverage and the amount your guests are counting on drinking is probably ‘too much’.

Who are your guests? If the average age of the guests skews younger, or Episcopalian–or Catholic (heaven forfend they should be both), they will drink more. If they are parents, and their kids are present, they will drink less. If they are older and have to keep in mind which of their meds don’t mix well with alcohol, they will drink less. If they are Jewish, they will drink less. If they are Baptist or Muslim, they won’t drink booze at all.

Why are you throwing a party? If the party is a wedding, people tend to drink more. If it is a book launching, people drink less. If it is a full-on office function, they’ll drink less if they want a future with the company.

How long will your party last? The longer the party, if it isn’t an open house, the more people drink. The shorter the event, the less your guests will want to go to the trouble of getting the beverage re-filled, since they’re leaving soon anyway.

Where is the bar staged? A canny host/ess knows you can slow the amount of alcohol consumed by putting the bar somewhere inconvenient and out of sight. If it’s front and center with a good clear area around it, people will all but set up camp there–since they’ll run into anyone and everyone if they just stand there long enough, and why not get the drink warmed up whilst they’re standing?

Let’s start with ice. You need half a pound of ice per guest. Some to keep the beverages cold, some to go into the beverages. Ice melts faster in the summertime, count on 1-1 1/2 lbs of ice per guest.

Speaking of ice, it takes a long time for a lot of room temperature liquid in bottles to get cold. You want the beer under refrigeration 24 hours before your event.  Even if you have to borrow cold storage from someone you can trust to leave you a few bottles for your event. You want the mixers under refrigeration, too; and the white and sparkling wines. Really, you do. It saves on having to run out in the middle of the party to get more ice, for one thing.

You need a TOTAL of one drink per guest per hour of the event. Some water, some beer, some soft drinks, some wine or a spirit to go with the mixers–but if you have 50 guests and a four hour event, you need to plan on wetting their whistles two hundred times. And if you’re smart, you’ll have plenty of non-alcoholic beverages everywhere.

You need (with certain exceptions, and most people know their own crowd to this extent) one lite beer for every four regular beers. This works out to two six packs of Corona Lite (for example) for every two cases of Sam Adams IPA–or a split of one case IPA and one case of Sam’s Seasonal Brewsky. Don’t give people too many choices at a function, it only slows down the line to get a drink.

You need three red wines for every white wine. Sparkling is nice for a toast, but your guests will be more comfortable (and you’ll save a bucket) if you go for the ‘toast with drink in hand’ option. As opposed to forced acceptance of bubbly in flutes.

A fabulous caterer of my acquaintance explains a full bar at a party this way: gin, vodka, Jim, Jack, Johnny and rum. Where Jim = bourbon; Jack = whiskey; and Johnny = scotch. Make sure you have coke, sour mix, tonic water, ginger ale, and one juice (cranberry is pretty, orange is traditional).  Bar cut some lemons and limes (slice off the ends, cut into wedges, then slice the narrow edge off where the pith holds the wedge together–this way it squeezes into the beverage without splashing into your face).

Don’t tease yourself into getting fancy liqueurs or obscure mixers. You could even do yourself a favor by serving only one signature drink alongside the wine, beer, hot beverages and lots of water.

Not everyone will have a hot beverage. More will if they’re older, or if the weather is cold or even very wet. More will if there’s decaf, or if the event is earlier in the day. Plan on about fifty percent of the guests wanting a hot beverage. Swap with friends to collect a nice assortment of wrapped tea bags, both caffeinated and herbal.

How many cups will my guests use? About one fewer than the number of hours they’re scheduled to be around. Most guests are not good about hanging onto their glasses. Many prefer a fresh glass with every drink, regardless of whether it’s the same drink or not. But if your guests are eco-conscious, that number could go way down.

More people ( in general) drink beer than wine. More people drink lighter beverages rather than spirits. Many people will cut themselves off before they have too many, but be sure you have one person (not yourself, you’re busy hosting a party) assigned to keep an eye on the bar area and ready to work with you to cut off the over-ambitious bar patron who doesn’t have a designated driver lined up.


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