Your Guide to Hiring a Bartender For Your Wedding

Ready, set—pinkies up! Here's how to hire a great bartender for your big day.
lindsay tigar the knot
by
Lindsay Tigar
lindsay tigar the knot
Lindsay Tigar
Wedding Planning Contributor
  • Lindsay contributes articles to The Knot Worldwide, with a specialty in honeymoon travel and creating wedding planning.
  • Lindsay owns a content agency, Tigar Types, to help businesses of all sizes grow their digital footprints.
  • Lindsay freelances for a plethora of publications, covering many topics, ranging from wedding advice and planning to travel, health and more.
Updated Mar 08, 2023

Some couples geek out over the food for their big day—and others can't wait to dream up their signature cocktail. If you're Team Booze, you will need to learn how to hire a bartender for your wedding—and not just a bartender, but the very best mixologist you can find in your area. In addition to sampling drinks and selecting the wine, you'll also need to ensure you meet the local and state laws regarding alcoholic beverages, ensure your bartender is insured—and, of course, read reviews before signing on the dotted line. Here, we spoke with wedding experts to provide the 101 guide on how to hire a bartender for your wedding reception:

In this article:

Do I Legally Have to Hire a Bartender for My Wedding?

As you will quickly discover as you plan your wedding, putting together every piece of the puzzle requires paperwork. While liquor laws vary from state to state, most state liquor regulations insist anyone serving alcohol at a licensed venue is required to be TIPS (Training for Intervention Procedures) certified, or hold equivalent certification, explains Stephen Kilroy, the senior vice president of Table & Banter Hospitality at The Park in Berkeley Heights, New Jersey. "While it doesn't necessarily have to be a bartender serving the alcohol at a wedding, they are the ones who will most likely have the required certification," he continues. "If a couple isn't sure about hiring certified staff, they should speak with the catering contractor to gather more information on their bartenders' certifications."

In short? There would be very few situations—apart from a backyard wedding at a friend's place—where hiring a licensed bartender wouldn't be necessary. The last thing you want on the most special day of your life is a police raid—so make sure your I's are dotted and your T's are crossed.

When to Hire a Wedding Bartender

As soon as you realize you need a bartender, it is time to hire a bartender, says Tonya Hoopes, the owner and lead planner at Hoopes Events in Park City, Utah. Jokes aside, a good rule of thumb is to have your bartender selected at least six months before you walk down the aisle.

If you and your soon-to-be spouse have selected a full-service venue, chances are high that they have either staff bartenders or a list of preferred bar service vendors they've worked with in the past and can recommend. "These bartenders will know the location, the location's rules and how to serve your guests best," Hoopes says. Your wedding planner, through the venue or separately, may also know who to hire to make your cocktail dreams come true.

Another way to find a bartender is through your caterer since some caterers will offer bartenders as a part of their service, and if they don't, they can share ones they have worked with before who do a great job, Hoopes adds.

If you are hiring each vendor individually, you can book directly with a bartending service that provides staff and necessary items to stock the bar—from mixers and cups to ice and beyond.

How Much Does It Cost to Hire a Bartender for Your Wedding

As with most vendors for your wedding—you typically have to spend a little more to have the optimal experience you crave for your wedding day. When hiring a good bartender, don't go the cheapest route since it's worth your investment to hire those with experience, Kilroy says. "High-quality bartenders will have the ability to work fast and hold an immense knowledge of mixology," he says.

But how much does it cost you? According to Jamie Chang, a destination wedding planner, the budget for a bartender depends on four things:

  • The number of guests.

  • The number of hours they'll be working.

  • The drinks you plan on having (i.e., beer and wine, limited bar, full open bar, etc.).

  • What the bartender is providing (i.e., just service, service and alcohol, service and alcohol and glassware, etc.)

Location and seasonality also play a factor here: Miami will definitely be more expensive than a small town in Ohio. But, for the average five-hour wedding where the bartender provides full bar service and alcohol in a middle-tier package, the range is about $40 to 70 per person, Chang estimates.

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How to Hire a Bartender for Your Wedding

If you'll need to hire a bartender for your wedding, talk to your venue first. Many venues have approved vendor lists that you're required to use to hire outside pros. Your caterer, planner and other vendors may also have recommendations for bartenders and bar services. Either way, head to The Knot Marketplace to read reviews and compare bar services near you. Once you've narrowed the list down to a couple of solid options, reach out to learn more about each company's pricing, availability and other details (see below for more on that!). When you've found the right bar service for your big day, ask for a contract and review it closely before signing and officially booking your bartender.

What to Look for When Hiring a Wedding Bartender

Hiring a bartender for your wedding is an important decision—especially if you want your guests to remember your big day as a ridiculously-fun party. As you and your partner begin the process, the experts recommend making these considerations when you hire a bar service for your wedding:

Ensure they're insured.

It may not be the sexiest item to check off, but perhaps the most important thing you are looking for in a bartender is that they're licensed and insured, Chang says. "This means they're professional and do this for a living, whether a big company or a small one," she continues. "It also means they're legitimate and take their job seriously. And both of these things are important when you're dealing with alcohol."

Watch them in action.

If possible, Kilroy says couples should see potential bartenders in action, observing specifically how they interact with their clients. After all, personality is part of the package, and they contribute to how your guests remember your big day. "A weak bartender can bring down the energy of an event, which is definitely something we don't want on the wedding day," he says. If you're not sure on how to see a pro in action, keep in mind that caterers and agencies should be able to give couples the opportunity if they ask.

Read reviews.

Since a wedding bartender cost isn't cheap, you don't want to waste your hard-earned pennies are someone who will ultimately disappoint. That's why, as with every vendor hire, it's important to do research and look at reviews. Kilroy recommends using a site like The Knot to look at previous reviews of different agencies if you're hiring through a bartending service. "Couples tend to leave insightful and thorough reviews of their vendors, especially considering this is one of the most important events of their life," he says. "Additionally, bartending services should also be able to provide references upon request."

Consider a mixologist.

When hiring a bartender for your wedding, one vital aspect is determining if you truly need a bartender—or if, instead, you're seeking a mixologist, says Diane Kolanović-Šolaja, the creative director and owner of Dee Kay Events in Howell, New Jersey. To figure this out, she says you must consider the type of experience you are looking for for your guests and your wedding.

Here's how to know what you're looking for:

  • Do you want someone who is heavy-handed on the vodka pour and simply takes a pre-made mixer to a plastic glass? This is a bartender.

  • Or do you want someone to make a fresh mixer with freshly squeezed limes for that margarita rimmed with sea salt on the beautiful glassware? This is a mixologist.

While a bartender can pour wine and beer and make standard drinks, a mixologist will add the "wow" factor for your guests. "A mixologist creates an experience for everyone by creating unique cocktails and drinks, and they will help you review a personally crafted menu for your guests," she adds.

Look for experience and knowledge.

Regardless if you go the bartender or mixologist route, you'll want to hire someone who has experience with weddings specifically. "This will ensure that they are familiar with all aspects of bartending, from mixing drinks to interacting with guests," says Jacqueline Vizcaino, the founder of Tinted Events Design and Planning in Atlanta, Georgia. They should also have extensive knowledge of cocktails, and be able to make them upon request—without having to look them up on the fly with many guests in line.

Don't skimp on the number of bartenders.

There's nothing that kills a party's buzz faster than a very, very long wait to get a drink. Your guests should be able to keep their tipsy going with ease, and if you don't hire enough bartenders, you'll suddenly have an unpleasant backlog that keeps people away from the dance floor—and increasingly grumpier. As a general rule of thumb, hire one bartender for every 35 to 50 guests, Kilroy suggests. "It's better to over hire than under hire, so guests don't have to face long lines for the bar," he says. "Keep in mind, though, that the number of bartenders hired depends on whether the bar is full service, serving beer and wine only, and whether there will be passed wine or champagne service at the event."

How to Coordinate With Your Wedding Bartender

Once you've made your bartender hire—woohoo!—now it's time to iron out the details. From going over the timeline and setting expectations, here's how to coordinate and manage your bar staff:

Get specific.

Repeat after Hoopes: You can never, ever get too specific with your wedding vendors—bartenders included. For example, if you have specialty cocktails—such as his and hers drinks—make sure they have the exact recipe you want them to use. This way, your drinks turn out exactly how you want them to. Other questions to ask yourself and then clue your bartender in on your preferences include:

  • Will you allow guests to take shots?

  • Will you pay for all of the drinks—or cut it off at a specific time?

  • Will you pay for top-shelf liquor or offer it as an upcharge to guests?

  • If you are purchasing the liquor yourself, where do you want them to store it for you?

Communicate the timeline.

Alcohol and food can move an event along—and pause the fun, too. As Hoopes says, nothing is worse than you are ready to start the speeches and the champagne is not poured. A great way to avoid this is by making sure your bartender has a solid timeline.

"The timeline should include when you want the bar closed for special moments or when the bartender needs to prepare special cocktails, such as right after the ceremony," she says. "A great timeline allows the bartender to be prepared and gives them a good idea of the flow of the bar for your wedding, allowing them to be prepared for times the bar could be slammed."

If your caterer is separate from your bar service, go ahead and connect them ASAP, Chang says. Or, if you want your wedding planner to handle the fine details, introduce them to your bartender. "They'll be able to discuss any logistics or responsibilities between themselves so that the execution of the wedding day goes smoothly," she says. "Doing this also means you don't have to be the middleman, and there will be less chance of miscommunication."

Let your bartender know about potentially problematic guests.

We all have that friend or family member that goes too hard, too fast, causes a scene, or requires extra care. To help your bartender give you the best experience (and the least amount of drama), Kilroy says couples may want to let bartenders know if some specific relatives or friends tend to overdo it at events. "Provide the best approach to slowing these guests down, establishing a limit, or stop serving, if necessary. While guests should have a fun time, everyone's safety is most important," he adds.

Set out a tip jar.

One last thing: a tip jar! It's often forgotten but really appreciated by the bar staff. Chang says really good bartending companies will ask you how you feel about a tip jar so they can plan. "Make sure you ask them about the tip jar ahead of time and let them know your preference on the matter," she says. "You don't want to have to deal with that uncomfortable situation on the day of if you can avoid it."

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