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Catering Drinks

Organising drinks for your catered event

This article takes a look at organising drinks for your catered event, and some of the things you will want to think about when planning your event.

Why are drinks important?

Drinks are a crucial part of your catered event. Communal drinks (as apposed to drinks at the meal or at the after party) are one of the main times when people come together to mingle and chat. At whatever event you conceive, the act of getting people to talk is probably the most important element of the event, and determines whether it will be successful or not; at a corporate event you want people to network, at a wedding it is important that the different parties meet, and even at a funeral you want people to talk and reflect on the deceased.

How long should the drinks take?

There is, of course, no perfect answer to this question. Don't be worried that people will get bored or get too drunk – meeting friends and mingling will always be enjoyable, and you should always give people credit and assume that they won't take thinks too far. Therefore, the basic answer is probably that about half an hour is too short, an two hours is too long. A bit under an hour and a half is generally right, and is in line with what most people go for.

Non-alcoholic drinks

Non-alcoholic drinks should never be ignored, as it is likely you will have non-drinkers, children, those who cannot drink due to medication, religion and so on, as well as people who are simply a bit hot or thirsty, and don't need anything alcoholic to quench their thirst. When it comes to what non-alcoholic drinks to provide at the event, catering companies are usually pretty good guides and can help you select an effective non-alcoholic drinks menu. Other than that, fruit juice, cordials and squash and soft drinks are the usual choices.

How do I go about sourcing the drinks?

Your catering company may well be able to source and transport the drinks to your event, as well as helping you find wait staff to serve the drinks. Equally the venue you use will probably also give you the option of using their drinks (be warned, however, as these drinks can sometimes be expensive and low quality). Alternatively the venue could let you bring your own drinks, however it is likely they will at least charge corkage (although you should not be afraid to negotiate to reduce the price). Buying through an external supplier is usually the best way to save money, as the volume you buy can lead to significant discount – also, if you do buy through a supplier make enquires into getting the drinks on a sale or return basis, so you are not left with hundreds of pounds of drinks after the event if the guests do not consume as much as you thought they would.

One important factor to think about if buying from an external supplier is that you may need to organise how the drinks will be transported to the event itself. This is usually best organised with the drinks supplier themselves, as private vehicles are unlikely to be able to hold the volume or weight of drinks (and essentials like drinks glasses, ice, mixers, refrigeration for drinks that must be kept cold and so on) needed for even a medium sized event.

What drinks should I serve with the meal itself?

This is largely your choice, however it goes without saying that the drinks should be tailored to the food. Speaking to your catering company is a great idea here as they should be able to advise you on what drinks go well with the various options they have provided you with. If you're buying the drinks wholesale, then the shop or company you buy the drinks from may well be able to offer some suggestions too.

Drinks are a great opportunity to really let your creative instincts run riot, as there are so many different flavour combinations you can go for. You could serve a different drinks with each course (mojitos with mint lamb jelly for example, or mulled wine with cinnamon flavoured curries for a Christmas feel), and have flavoured liqueurs with dessert. You can also introduce cocktails (including non-alcoholic 'mocktails') and tastings throughout the meal – see our page on hiring wait staff to see some good ideas which combine wait staff and drink making together.

Drinks before and after the meal

Of course, the meal itself is not the only time you'll need to think about drinks at your event. You may want to present guests with drinks as they arrive, for example most hosts generally provide people with some drinks as they arrive at a wedding reception, with popular choices being wine, Pimms (a nice twist in the summer), champagne or sparkling wine. You can tailor these drinks to the seasons, with lighter more refreshing drinks in the summer and 'warmer' drinks in the winter like mulled wine.

Similarly, you will want drinks at any evening function you may have planned as part of the event. At many functions the hosts, whether corporate or private, will usually put a certain amount of money behind the bar for the guests' enjoyment, and then will expect the guests to pay for the rest of the drinks themselves. Beware that guests will drink the free drinks extremely quickly, and the money you put behind the bar won't last long!

How much will the guests drink?

This is a very hard question to answer properly, and you must remember that many guests will drink heavily at most events (especially at weddings) and even more so when they know that the drinks are free! An often quoted formula is that guests will drink around 3 – 5 drinks per hour, with more white wine drunk that red wine (and note that guests will also drink a little more in warmer weather). You can plan on around five glasses of wine coming from each bottle, and each case of wine will have twelve bottles in. So one case is good for 60 glasses of wine, or around two hours of fairly heavy drinking from ten guests. Each beer is usually seen as one drink (and when buying beer remember that continental, imported beer is both usually a bit stronger and also more expensive than domestic beer). If beer is to be a big feature, then kegs can often turn out a lot cheaper.

If this seems too high, consider the fact that guests may not finish one drink before starting another, and may simply try to sample each drink on offer without giving much thought to how much the drinks cost to the event organiser. Finally, it is undoubtedly better to over buy than to under buy, as guests going thirsty is not what you want your event to be known for (if you have bought the drinks on a sale or return basis then anything that is not drunk will be credited back to you anyway). So, as a basic rule, you should assume that the guests will be drinking more than you think, and buy accordingly.

Finally, it is necessary to think about the nature of the event itself, and modify the amount of drinks accordingly; a sports social, an evening corporate event or a wedding will likely require lots of drinks, an afternoon event where people will do be expecting to go home late will probably not. People will also drink more if they are staying in a nearby hotel and have easy access to public transport or taxis (as if they are driving people will naturally drink far less).

Miscellaneous Drinks Tips

There are a few other miscellaneous tips when it comes to serving drinks successfully at a catered event. For example, you must not forget about ice, which is not just used for putting in people's drinks; you will also use it to cool the drinks throughout the event. The general formula is about 1 lb of ice per person, with due thought given to the weather as if it is hot and the drinks are likely to be in the sun then the ice will melt more quickly.

Another good idea is to speak to local taxi companies in advance of your catered event, as some guests may be the worse for wear, or may not be fit to drive. You can take the taxi numbers and make sure they have availability and are not potentially booked out in the night in question.

Finally, you will need a variety of glasses for the catered event. Wine glasses will of course be used for wine, and you will need some type of beer glass (often with a handle) for the beer. Young children will need children's mugs with handles on, and those drinking soft drinks, fruit juices or water will require tumblers. Of course, if you are preparing cocktails then you'll need cocktail glasses which match the various cocktails on offer (e.g. tall glasses for tall drinks or martini glasses). Finally, it is likely that you will want jugs for the water or the fruit juices to be poured into, as if they are left in bottles or cartons they can look a bit disorganised as well as possibly leaking.

We hope you found our article on organising drinks useful. Remember that you can always speak to your catering company to get more tips and advice on drinks - they are the real experts, as they will have plenty of experience when it comes organising drinks for catered events.