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How Much Alcohol Do I Actually Need for a Party?

how much alcohol for a party
Don’t commit a party foul by running out of booze halfway through the night. Here’s how you can get the right amount, every time, from liquor to beer to wine.
You’re throwing a party, and you’re about to head out to your local liquor store for a booze run. But how much alcohol do you actually need to buy for a party? Will the type of alcohol change how much you need? If you buy light beer, will people drink it faster? And what happens if some of your guests are going sober for the evening? Before you get overwhelmed and consider cancelling the whole event, take a breath and relax. The math is simple, and we’re going to walk you through it.

What to Consider When Buying Alcohol for a Party

Before you head out on your booze run, here are a few things to consider. First, how many options do you want to provide to guests? Are you throwing a beer-only event? Do you suspect that some of your guests will be happier with a glass of red or white wine in one hand? Or are you planning on playing at-home mixologist all evening? Ironically, the more options you have at your party, the more limitations you’ll be setting up for yourself as the night unfolds. If you only get a few bottles of red wine because you spent the rest of your money on a wide assortment of local beers and liquors, you’ll run out of red wine faster, and your wine-friends will be straight out of luck in the beverage department. Keep things simple by sticking to a small variety of beverages to lessen the chance that you’ll run out of any one option.

The next things to consider are how many guests will be at your party and how long your party will last. These are the biggest factors when deciding how much alcohol you’ll need for your party. Generally speaking, you can count on your guests drinking one beverage every hour. If you’re serving mostly beer, be safe and increase that number by 25%, since beer typically is consumed more quickly than a mixed drink or glass of wine.

If you’re keeping your beverage options limited to beer and wine only, it’s safe to assume that 60% of your guests will drink beer, and the other 40% will have wine.

Wine for a Party

If you’re buying wine for your party, the math for figuring out how much to buy is fairly simple. One standard bottle of wine contains 5 servings. To figure out how many bottles you’ll need in an hour, divide the number of wine-drinking guests by 5. For example, if 20 of your guests are drinking wine, the math would look like this:

20 (guests) ÷ 5 (servings) = 4 (bottles for one hour of partying)

Then to determine how many bottles you’ll need for your whole party, simply multiply by how many hours you plan on entertaining for. Let’s say those same 20 people are hanging out for 3 hours. The math would look like this:

4 (bottles) x 3 (hours) = 12 (bottles)

You’ll need 12 bottles of wine to keep 20 guests happy and buzzed for 3 hours. Simple!

Beer for a Party

Beer math is even easier because bottles and cans are single-serve, so there’s no need to divide by the amount of servings per container. Since beer-drinkers seem to go through alcohol faster than wine- or mixed drink-consumers, let’s change the math formula to account for that, and bump it up to 1.25 drinks consumed per hour. Let’s say you have 20 beer-drinking guests for the same 3-hour party. The math would look like this:

20 (guests) x 1.25 (servings) x 3 (hours) = 75 (bottles/cans needed)

You’ll need 75 cans or bottles of beer for 20 guests at a 3-hour party.

Liquor for a Party

Liquor is a little trickier, since you’ll need to account for both the liquor and the mixer. Plus, liquor bottles aren’t sold in standard sizes, so you may have to do some on-your-feet math when you get to the store. Here’s some things to consider: A standard shot is about 1.5 ounces of liquor, and a standard mixed drink is 1 part alcohol to 4 parts soda/mixer.

Once you determine how many mixed drinks you can make from one bottle of liquor, the math is the same as before: Guests x Servings x Hours = The number of mixed drinks you’ll need

Non-Alcoholic Beverages for a Party

It’s a good idea to have some non-alcoholic beverages at your party other than just soda or water. The Designated Drivers in the group will appreciate it, and if the punch is really tasty, it could also be a hit with the alcohol-consuming guests, which would ultimately save you some money in the end. Here are a couple delicious, easy-to-make punches that are totally booze-free, and would totally be a hit at your party:

  1. Non-Alcoholic Spiced Sangria Punch
  2. Non-Alcoholic Orange Slush Punch
  3. Cherry-Infused Dr. Pepper™ Punch
  4. Sparkling Summer Limeade

Tips on How to Save Money when Buying Alcohol for a Party

Alcohol guarantees a lively party, but it also gives that party a pretty hefty price tag. Fortunately, there are a few ways you can cut costs when shopping for spirits:

  • Check for case deals: Some grocery and liquor stores will offer a 5-10% discount if you buy an unopened case of alcohol, versus buying opened bottles straight off the shelf. Ask a salesperson if this discount is available.
  • Keep your receipts: Unopened, unused bottles of non-refrigerated alcohol can often be returned to where you purchased them from. Just be sure to verify what your liquor store’s return policy is before you buy!
  • Avoid name brands: It can be tempting to want to purchase quality, high-shelf alcohol, but after everyone’s had a few drinks in them, no one will be the wiser to your off-brand booze. If you want to give off the impression that you have good taste, start the evening off with more expensive alcohol, and then sub out for cheaper booze as people get tipsier.
  • Don’t serve ultra-light beer: It’s far too easy to drink can after can of ultra-light beer, which ultimately means you’ll go through it faster. Find a balance between substantial and heavy beverages and drinks that will keep people light enough to want to get out on the dance floor.

Food to Serve with Alcohol

You can’t have a party without food. And you definitely can’t serve alcohol without food—not unless you want everyone sleeping at your house after the party is over. Your guests will get way too intoxicated without food, so make sure to provide a sustainable amount of snackable, carb-heavy treats. Here are a couple of our favorite party-food ideas:

  1. Creamy Bacon Spinach Artichoke Dip
  2. Spinach Artichoke Roll-Ups
  3. Slow-Cooker Bourbon Cocktail Wieners
  4. Buffalo Wing Chex Mix
  5. Pancetta and Mushroom Phyllo Cups
  6. Four-Layer Shrimp Dip

Five Party-Ready Drink Recipes

Looking for mixed drinks to serve at your next soirée? We’ve got some thoughts on that topic, too:

  1. Cranberry-Orange Prosecco Punch
  2. Blue Raspberry Spiked Lemonade
  3. Blood Orange Rum Punch
  4. Cherry-Infused Dr. Pepper™ Punch
  5. Watermelon Vodka Slush