Determine who and how many people will attend the party, purchase bar supplies (hard alcohol, beer, wine, juices, glasses, napkins, etc.), and then set up the bar for your House party according to your guest’s preferences and rules of thumb.
Once you have a general idea of who is on the guest list and the number of party-goers that will attend, you can fill out a list of supplies or services you will need and have a better idea of what it will cost to host your party.
Rules of Thumb
Two drinks per person the first hour and one drink an hour per guest after that is what some claim unless the party keeps going until the wee hours, and then you can plan on the drink percentage to go up by half.
When setting up a bar for a house party, lists (guest list, “to do” list, and supply list) are your friend and a good idea; you can accomplish tasks and cross them off the lists.
How Much Alcohol to Buy?
Your purchase of alcohol-based beverages is going to differ from my purchases for a house party.
Evita’s website has an invaluable tool to calculate how much and what types of alcohol are needed to throw a party.
Based on the number of attendees and their preference of drink, all you have to do is “plugin” the number of party-goers and their favorite beverage, and you’ll be on your way to making happy and content party guests.
Check out Evite’s drink calculator here.
On average, each guest will drink two drinks the first hour and one drink per hour after that, which is subject to change depending on the length of your party.
There are sixteen one-and-a-half fluid ounce “shots” in a standard twenty-five-ounce liquor bottle; if a person consumes four regular drinks in three hours on average, one bottle should serve four people.
It’s a party, so you can count on your heavy drinkers to consume more by ordering more drinks or having “doubles.”
Everyone has a different budget to work with; I like to serve quality Hard Liquor, but it’s not always feasible when you’ve got two hundred people that want to consume Chivas Regal or Crown Royal.
Buy according to your budget; there are plenty of great mid-range choices that will be mixed with soda or some other mixer, so don’t break the bank on a fine sipping whiskey.
Screwdrivers and other popular drinks can require lots of Vodka; you might consider buying gallons of Vodka rather than the standard bottles.
The Standard wine pour is five ounces; if your guest drinks the first hour and one glass of wine each hour afterward.
There is 25 oz. In a standard wine bottle, so in three hours, one person could drink approximately four-fifths of that bottle.
Chardonnay is a crowd favorite white wine, and Carbernet or Merlot should please the pallets of those looking for a glass of red wine.
There is 12 oz. of beer in a regular beer bottle, two beers the first hour, one beer each additional hour; I think a six-pack of beer for each beer-drinking guest would work fine.
If you’re serving beer and wine only, usually the ratio is about 60% wine and 40% beer.
Punch can be a nice refreshing drink on a summer’s day, and some of your guests might like having it as an option; make two batches, one alcoholic and one non-alcoholic.
A full bar allows for an extensive drink menu with premium Liquor available, whereas a house party will typically feature your basics, Vodka, Whiskey(s), Rum, Gin, and Tequila.
If you’re looking to put on a good show, and not break the bank, stick with the basics; and most importantly, don’t run out of anything in the first hour or two.
If you’re going this route, this makes things easy and is a great option; keep an open bottle of Vodka, Rye, Bourbon, Gin, Rum, Tequila, and white and red wines on the table, beer in the cooler, plenty of ice, fruit juice, and soda pop.
Screwdrivers and other popular drinks can require lots of Vodka; you might consider buying Vodka in the gallon size bottle rather than the standard bottles.
Bar Setup for Party
If you’re an active Home Bar owner, you’re probably in good shape for throwing a party, buy a few extra bottles, wine, beer, soda pop, fresh fruit, some plastic drinkware, napkins, stock the ice, and you’re good to go.
Don’t own a home bar? No worries, you can do this.
Now that you’ve determined who will attend, here’s where a list of needed items comes in handy, purchase supplies so you will be ready to set up.
If you’re setting up your bar in the living room, for example, and have no home bar, or possibly a Murphy Bar, the card table that was Uncle Vern’s will work if it’s a smaller gathering; put a waterproof cover over it, and again, good to go.
While Uncle Vern’s card table may work for a smaller setting, try to set it up with the most sturdy table/buffet table/counter you can; you never know, it’s a house party, accidents happen.
Portable folding bars are pretty affordable, lightweight, pretty stable, and because they are foldable, they store easily.
Set up the bar away from the hors d’oeuvre / party snack, beverage tub table to avoid having the crowd get bunched up in one spot.
If tending bar, I like to work with my back to the wall; this way, I don’t have distractions coming at me from behind as pouring drinks for a crowd can be pretty demanding, and you won’t want any more distractions.
Set your liquor bottles up according to what you will use most, and for right-handers, put them to the right, with the ice bucket and cocktail glasses and wine glasses along with the juices, garnishes to the left; reverse if left-handed.
This way, you can pick up the glass with one hand and either fill it with ice with the other hand.
*This is a suggested setup; it allows me to put out drinks efficiently;
You will find what works best for you in no time.
Here are the essential tools you’ll need if you’re going to be dazzling the crowd with your mixology talents as you create their great drink.
If you don’t have Bar Tools, no worries, they are readily available from the big box stores.
- Cocktail Shaker to mix drinks
- Mixing glass
- Mixing spoon (long-handled bar spoon)
- Strainer to filter out bits of ice and whatever else
- Shot Glass
- Bottle opener
- Cork Screw
- Ice bucket
- Ice scoop (put no glasses in the ice bucket!)
- Muddler to extract the flavors
- Cutting board
- Paring knife
- Free pour spouts ( designed to allow for drip-free faster pouring)
- Give yourself some time to purchase all the items to stock your bar for the party; a week should do it if you’re ordering and having supplies delivered.
- Purchase the hard alcohol first; get that done.
- Purchase the dry goods, for example, the essential bar tools, glasses, napkins, coasters, straws, and bar tools if needed.
- Purchase your mixers, soda water,
- A day or two before the party, purchase your fresh fruits and (vegetables if using any).
You can save money and find bar products that might not be available on your local grocery shelf by shopping online for items.
Olives, cocktail (pearl) onions, pickled asparagus, pickled beans, tomato juice, cocktail napkins, coasters, straws, and the like can be delivered right to your door.
If you’re hosting one hundred plus people, buying in bulk is a great idea and money saver.
A U.S. Foods that may have an “open to the public” store in your area is a great way to save money. Many regions have a commissary-type store; check them out as well.
U.S. Foods offers everything a person needs to set up for a house party and can accommodate your needs for any drink you plan to offer.
A person can get deals on certain items, and they carry everything from bar towels (which you will need) to salami for your finger foods.
- Orange juice
- Tomato juice
- Cranberry juice
- Pineapple juice
- Lime juice
- Lemon juice
- Simple Syrup
- Sour Mix
- Worcestershire Sauce
- Hot Sauce
- Tonic water
- Club Soda
- Soft Drinks
- Ginger Ale
- Ginger Beer
All of the items listed above are unnecessary for every house party; it’s just a list of the basic mixers to give you an idea of what you might need for your House Party.
As I write this, we’re in the growing season; check with your local Farmers Market for local produce; they can be a great place to find the fresh fruit or veggies for your garnishes and possibly some strawberries for your specialty drink.
- Maraschino Cherries
- Stuffed Olives
- Cocktail Onions
- Mint Leaves
- Whipped Cream
- Salt (Kosher)
Purchase fresh citrus and other produce for garnishes as close to the day of your party as possible for the best-looking drink on the block.
By shopping at the local Farmers Market, you can help support the local economy, and you will usually obtain a better product than what you would find at the grocery store.
Scrub all fruit and vegetables thoroughly before preparing your garnishes. Remember that you can cut yourself easier with a dull knife than a sharp one when preparing garnishes or other food.
You don’t want to run out; if you have nothing other than the camping cooler, or ice bags lying in the bathtub covered with a heavy blanket or something similar to keep the ice frozen, it will suffice.
Keeping the ice frozen is essential as you don’t want the ice melting and watering down your drinks before your guest gets to enjoy their drink.
According to Reddyice, the average guest will require between one and two pounds of ice, so a party of 100 persons will require approximately 200 pounds of ice to be on the safe side.
Reddyice has a handy ice calculator here.
Clear ice is ice without air bubbles trapped in it; it’s of little importance when preparing a blended drink of some sort such as a frozen margarita.
When you’re serving a High-ball, an old-fashioned, or a similar alcohol drink with ice cubes in it, it’s a nice touch to have clear ice.
Unless you have a source where you can purchase clear ice or an ice machine that makes it (they are available), I would try to find the freshest ice available and go with that.
If you expect a large crowd, enlist one of your friends to serve drinks to keep people in the party area and not lined up in the bar area, creating a traffic jam, especially helpful if you’re working with small spaces.
Some accumulation of guests around the bar is good; it makes the party seem “happening,” but when ‘Fred’ from next door and his fishing buddy won’t back away from the bar for two hours…
In addition to what you purchase to drink and eat, you can expect guests to bring a bottle of white wine, possibly a bottle of hard liquor, or something to snack on, such as chips or finger foods.
I don’t need to stress the importance of not having an inebriated friend that’s had too much alcohol on the road.
It is the responsibility of the homeowner to ensure that people arrive safely at their next destination.
Good coffee and other non-alcoholic beverages will be appreciated by designated drivers and those who enjoy socializing and having a good time without drinking an alcoholic beverage.
And there we have it; you should now be able to set up your bar for your House party; it may seem daunting, but once the party gets going and the guests are having a good time enjoying themselves, you can congratulate yourself for creating a “happening” atmosphere.
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