Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Step 59 - Determine if you need a Wedding Bartender

(4 Months to 6 Months before the Wedding)
Besides the bride's dress, the wedding cake, the food, and the decor, another essential element to make the wedding a grand success is having good drinks and in order to have good drinks, you need a great bartender. In just about every extended family, there are a few drinkers, they are picky drinkers and they expect to mark the occasion with their favorite drink. The pressure is on to find a bartender who knows all the mixologist's terminology, knows how to make a good drink and knows how to professionally decorate it like a professional bartender does.

Many venues provide their own bartender and these bartenders have proven themselves to the reception facilities and the caterers, else the venue would not have chosen to keep them on. When you interview these type of venues, you still should get a little information about the bartender, basically the experience factor and try to see them in action a little bit. If you drink a little bit, find when they are working and try to see and experience them in action a little.

However, if you are allowed to bring your own bartender, you might be able to save yourself some significant money. Usually the reception facility and catering companies charge a high rate for a bartender, with the bartending fees they charge you, they take a lot of the fees off the top for insurance purposes and overhead and pay the remainder to the bartender making a nice margin at the bartender's expense. If, on the other hand, you brought your own bartender in for the wedding, you would not have to deal with the overhead and insurance and you can pay the bartender a lot less than which you would have to pay the caterer.

To find a great bartender, there is some research involved, you can start with family and friends and see if they know of any bartenders they would recommend. If you don't find any there you can search many places, just don't search where you are booking your wedding, or they might charge a referral fee or include overheads and insurance. Check with other reception and banquet facilities, other caterer's, upscale hotels, upscale restaurants especially ones that handle rehearsal dinners, upscale golf clubs and country clubs, wedding related websites usually found under caterers or rental services. The vendors that work weddings such as the photographers, videographers, disc jockeys, and musicians have worked many weddings and are constantly getting to know bartenders at all the venues, ask your wedding vendors when you meet with them, if they know of any bartenders they would recommend.

You need to learn all the attributes that makes a great bartender and you want to give them a situational interview. The bartender should have the knowledge to set up his station well in advance, knows where all the liquor is without thinking, has all the high volume movers situated near him/her. The great bartender can make almost all the common drinks from memory has the recipes all in his head. The great bartender takes the order he gets and makes the drinks that take the longest first, he prepares all the embellishments (cherries, oranges, lemons, olives, celery, etc) far in advance and has all the ice (rocks) ready to plop in a glass. The bartender is cool and courteous under pressure and can read someone and cuts them off if they have had one too many.

Bartender schools are great places to learn the bartending trade and you might find pretty good bartenders there, but for a busy wedding you need a great bartender who has the bartender knowledge all in his/her head and that only comes with time and experience, you are best to find one with ten or more years experience. Also ask for referrals and a business card after your interview and get some feedback from some places he/she has worked.

What makes a great bartender?

  1. Arrives an hour early to ready bar and dresses professionally.
  2. Has knowledge of all products, recipes, and can hold a good conversation.
  3. Prepares drinks using both hands with a defined style.
  4. Is aware of etiquette of drinks, drinking, and service.
  5. Everything in the bar has it's place, bartender knows where everything is.
  6. Moving items are always placed in easy reach.
  7. Keeps workspace clean of dirty glasses, turnover glass operation running smoothly.
  8. Prepares garnishments ahead of time with a good estimate on how much is needed.
  9. Makes drinks that take the longest to prepare first, quickest to prepare last.
  10. Understands the alcoholic mix needed for the bar.
  11. Is able to remember multiple orders in their head at one time.
  12. Is aware of mixing methods (blend, built, stir, meddle, shake, or layer).
  13. Knows how to change equipment rapidly.
  14. Keeps track of sales, receipts, tabs, deposits, and inventory.
  15. Supports and acts professionally with staff at all times.
  16. Keeps cool, empathetic, and courteous under pressure from patrons at all times.

If the place where you are holding your wedding allows you to bring in your own liquor for the wedding, do it. Reception facilities and catering companies charge a lot more than just for the alcoholic cost. You can save a lot of money if you pick up the alcohol yourself for the wedding from your local liquor store, just make sure you pick a high quality liquor store. The best liquor stores generally keep the store spotless and tend to feature different liquors in different parts of the store (beer aisle, wine aisle, hard liqueur aisle, etc.).  Usually a standard bar features whiskey (crown or jack), vodka, gin (mostly for martinis), rum, tequila (mostly for margaritas), and scotch. A good website that has a liquor guide for guest counts is www.alexanderpartyrentals.com

Some tidbits about liquor and bartenders. Plan on 1 bartender per 75 guests, for if the bar is more geared to beer and wine, 1 per 50 for a full liquor bar.  If you are working on a stretched budget, plan on 1 bartender per 125 guests if the bar is geared to beer and wine and 1 per 75 for a full liquor bar. Remember kegs are cheaper than bottles, but bottles offer more variety. Kegs should be considered once you have at least 80 drinking guests. But remember, unused bottles can be taken home, whereas keg juice is wasted. Figure 2-3 drinks per person. Also if the bartender is preparing the toast glasses, provide the bartender with the time of the toast and give him about ten minutes beforehand to ready the drinks.

Some couples don't drink alcohol and prefer to have no or very limited alcohol at their weddings. Many people though, expect alcohol at the wedding and are very disappointed if none is served. The best weddings always have an open bar. Some of your guests have the alcoholic craving, when they come to the wedding, they will leave early and seek alcohol elsewhere in a restaurant, bar or hotel, if it's not offered at the wedding. 

A good way to operate the bar, is have an open bar and have a cocktail hour before the reception, close the bar done during the formal reception and open the bar back for the wedding cake and dessert time and the dancing and entertainment part of the event. A cash bar should be avoided if at all possible, only if the couple is severely financially strapped, they strongly announce a cash bar and they have a lot of drinkers in the family that insist on it.

If the place you are having your wedding, offers wine, the wine is probably sold at a high price. Ask if you can bring your own wine, you can pick up cheap wine that tastes really good at a local liquor store, try to pick up both red and white wine and you save significant money, maybe even with better tasting wine than the venue has. Sangria is good too. A lot of weddings offer liqueur for the coffee, this adds a lot of expense. If the budget is there, the liqueur in the coffee is great but if you are pinching pennies forget the liqueurs with the coffee, espresso, lattes, and cappuccino.

If the budget is tight you can just offer bear and wine and contact a couple of your heavy drinkers and ask what drinks they like. Offer only three drinks from the bar and serve only those drinks at the reception. This allows substantials savings to your drink bill. If you decide on having a limited three drinks on the bar menu you could think of color scheming the drinks. If the color scheme is red you could serve three different types of red drinks one with a dark red rum, one with a candy apple red liquor, and maybe a bloody Mary. You could use a red dye and offer a whiskey and drop some dye in the drink. A red Killian beer could be offered too. You can color scheme your drinks to your wedding with almost any color, pink, violet, aqua, maroon, white, light blue, dark blue, green, yellow, gold, purple, orange, brown, or white. Just make sure the three drinks are of different liquors, whiskey, vodka, gin, rum, tequila, scotch.

Don't forget drinks for the little ones, make drinks that look like alcoholic drinks, like grape juice, apple juice, orange juice, fruit punch, lemonade, iced tea, and maybe sprite with some dye. Don't forget the basic sodas like Coca Cola, Diet Coke, Pepsi, Mountain Dew, Root Beer, and have bottled water available too.  

Make sure you coordinate the liquor with your bartender, tell him/her your thoughts and he/she might offer their thoughts, coordinate ordering the liquor and the embellishments and ice and make sure he/she has all the glasses and bartender supplies that he/she needs. To make your wedding a success, make sure you find a great bartender, for some of your guests it's the most important thing at your wedding! See you on the other side!

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