How to Stock Your Bar for a Party

Never run out of drinks again

Pink Lady Cocktail recipe ingredients

 The Spruce

If you are hosting a cocktail party, the biggest question of the event may be how to stock the bar. All of the other details like time, date, place, and entertainment are easy. It is the fear of running out of drinks (and food) that gives hosts the most worry.

The first question to ask yourself is whether you want a full bar or a limited cocktail menu. Both have their advantages and will work for parties of any size.

How Many Drinks Per Guest

In party planning, the general advice is that guests will drink two drinks the first hour, and one drink per hour after that. These drinks can be cocktails, beer, wine, or nonalcoholic beverages, and many guests will opt for a combination throughout the night.

Stocking for a Cocktail Menu

Developing a cocktail menu is one way to cut your costs because you only need the ingredients for the specific drinks you select. It also offers the opportunity to design the menu around the party theme.

The steps involved make it rather easy:

  1. Decide which cocktails you'll offer.
  2. Estimate the number of guests you expect.
  3. Determine how much of each liquor and mixer needed per drink.
  4. There are 25 ounces or an average of 16 shots in a 750-milliliter bottle; Use this to estimate how many bottles of each ingredient you need. For the base spirits (e.g., rum, vodka, whiskey, etc.), add one extra bottle just in case. Place any leftover bottles in your regular bar after the party.

Stocking a Full Bar

The full bar option is a little more complicated and costly because you'll need a greater variety of liquor and mixers available. The advantage is that guests can order any drink they want.

The following chart is an average bar stock based on the number of guests in attendance. You can choose to eliminate any of these ingredients based on your guests. For instance, if you know there won't be many martini drinkers in the crowd, eliminate or reduce the vermouth. Some parties may not need brandy or a wide range of liqueurs, either.

Some of the spirits include a recommended style because it's the most universal for mixed drinks. In the case of whiskey, it's a good idea to stock a second whiskey, other than bourbon, that will appeal to most of your guests. Canadian or blended whiskey are nice options for the average whiskey cocktail. If you think your guests are partial to a specific brand or style, stock a bottle or two of that instead.

Choosing which liqueurs to stock is a matter of personal choice. For a well-rounded bar, begin with the essential liqueurs: amaretto, coffee, Irish cream, and an orange liqueur like triple sec. You can also add a cherry, chocolate, ginger, melon, mint, nut, and raspberry liqueur. If there is a particular cocktail that you'll be serving, be sure to stock any specialty liqueurs for that as well.

Liquor Stock for a Full Bar
  10–24 Guests 25 34 Guests 35 59 Guests 60 100 Guests
Brandy 1 bottle 2 bottles 2 bottles 3 bottles
Gin 1 bottle 2 bottles 2 bottles 3 bottles
Rum (white) 2 bottles 2 bottles 2 bottles 3 bottles
Tequila (blanco) 2 bottles 2 bottles 2 bottles 3 bottles
Vodka 3 bottles 3 bottles 3 bottles 4 bottles
Whiskey 2 bottles 2 bottles 3 bottles 4 bottles
Bourbon 1 bottle 1 bottle 1 bottle 1 bottle
Scotch (blended) 1 bottle 2 bottles 2 bottles 3 bottles
Dry Vermouth 1 bottle 1 bottle 2 bottles 2 bottles
Sweet Vermouth 1 bottle 1 bottle 1 bottle 1 bottle
Liqueurs (each) 1 bottle 1 bottle 2 bottles 2 bottles
One bottle refers to a standard 750-milliliter bottle.

Tips

  • If the majority of guests are under 35 years old, increase the vodka, rum, and beer stock.
  • Plan for and offer a great mocktail or two for guests that don't drink alcohol.

Mixers are the nonalcoholic ingredients used in cocktails. Use your judgment on the types of juice and soda you'll need. Overestimate the soda to account for guests who want to drink it without alcohol.

You can skip the sour mix if you have plenty of lemon and lime juices available but may want extra simple syrup. The "other juices" category includes any specialty juices like tomato, pomegranate, apple, or any other juice that may fit a particular cocktail offered.

Mixer Stock for a Full Bar
  10–24 Guests 25 34 Guests 35 59 Guests 60 100 Guests
Club Soda or Seltzer 3 Two-Liters 3 Two-Liters 4 Two-Liters 5 Two-Liters
Ginger Ale 2 Two-Liters 2 Two-Liters 2 Two-Liters 3 Two-Liters
Cola 3 Two-Liters 3 Two-Liters 3 Two-Liters 4 Two-Liters
Diet Cola 3 Two-Liters 3 Two-Liters 3 Two-Liters 4 Two-Liters
Lemon-Lime Soda 2 Two-Liters 3 Two-Liters 3 Two-Liters 4 Two-Liters
Tonic 2 Two-Liters 2 Two-Liters 3 Two-Liters 3 Two-Liters
Orange Juice 2 Quarts 2 Quarts 3 Quarts 3 Quarts
Cranberry Juice 2 Quarts 2 Quarts 3 Quarts 3 Quarts
Grapefruit Juice 2 Quarts 2 Quarts 3 Quarts 3 Quarts
Lemon and Lime Juices (each) 12 ounces 32 ounces 32 ounces 48 ounces
Other Juices (each) 2 Quarts 2 Quarts 3 Quarts 3 Quarts
Grenadine (12 oz.) 1 bottle 1 bottle 1 bottle 2 bottles
Simple Syrup (12 oz.) 1 bottle 1 bottle 2 bottles 2 bottles
Sour Mix (12 oz.) 1 bottle 1 bottle 1 bottle 1 bottle
Aromatic Bitters 1 bottle 1 bottle 1 bottle 1 bottle

Stock a variety of beer, including the most popular brands among your guests. Offer at least two options and more if your guests are particularly fond of beer or could be considered connoisseurs. You can also skip some of the beer and replace it with cans of hard seltzer, which are preferred by many drinkers.

The wine recommendations assume a 5-ounce pour per glass and 750-milliliter bottles. White wine is typically more popular than red, so a few more bottles are suggested. Sparkling wine is good for special celebrations like New Year's Eve but not expected at the majority of parties.

Beer and Wine to Stock
  10–24 Guests 25 34 Guests 35 59 Guests 60 100 Guests
Beer (bottles or cans) 50 75 80 100
White Wine 7 bottles 7 bottles 8 bottles 11 bottles
Red Wine 2 bottles 3 bottles 5 bottles 6 bottles
Sparkling Wine 4 bottles 5 bottles 6 bottles 6 bottles

Garnishes are cheap so it is always best to overestimate. Add more if you're using fresh fruit for lemon and lime juice and consider juicing them in advance.

Garnishes to Stock
  Average Per Guest
Lemons 1/2 lemon
Precut slices and, if you like, twists
Limes 1/2 lime
Precut slices or wedges
Olives 2 olives
Cherries 2 cherries

Don't Forget the Ice

The other key to any great drink is ice. Plan on one pound of ice per person. This will be enough for mixing drinks and to keep the beer and wine cold.