How-To: Make A Self Serve Bar

When gatherings at home feel too intimate for a bartender, self serve bars are the name of the game. They’re an ideal option for guests to help themselves to their beverage of choice, without overwhelming the host with drink orders. Follow these steps on how-to make a self serve bar that’s just as aesthetically pleasing as it is convenient.

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Select Beverages

The best piece of advice I could give to determine which beverages to include on a bar, is to think in terms of “knowing your audience.” I pose that phrase to clients and myself all the time, because it’s true!

As a host, you can recount occasions with your specific group of guests that remind you how popular Aperol Spritz’s are, or inform a decision to purchase one pack of beer because you know only two people will drink it.

Consider the guests, their go-to drink orders, and your favorite recipes to share and introduce via a welcome drink or signature beverages at the bar.

Standard Bar Guide

Spirits: Vodka, Tequila (I prefer Blanco), Bourbon, Gin, Cognac, White Rum

Mixers: Club Soda, Seltzer, Lime Juice, Cointreau, Bitters, Vermouth

Garnishes: Lime Wedges, Lemon Wedges, Orange Slices, Maraschino Cherries, Mint, Salt & Sugar

Barware: Ice Bucket & Scoop, Bar Spoon, Cocktail Shaker, Strainer, Muddler, Jigger

Glassware: Rocks, Highball, Red Stem, White Stem, Champagne, Martini

There’s a method to the madness! There are about five, five-ounce glasses of wine in one bottle… A 750 ml bottle of liquor will account for about twenty-five, one-ounce shots… And so on and so forth. Pro-Tip: When in doubt, plan for three drinks and three glasses per person for a two hour event.

Create Mini Vignettes

Once your beverages and barware accounted for, the next step on how-to make a self serve bar is all about organizing.

Group like items together that compliment one another in color, texture, and most importantly, use. Functionality is key for a self serve bar to operate like it’s intended to. Guests will be more inclined to ask the host for assistance, or skip the drink altogether, if beverages and barware are too far out of reach.

Choose tableware that coincides well with the event theme and color scheme. My list of Most Loved Sites for Party Supplies is a great resource for unique finds.

Prepare Cocktail Recipe Cards

Everyone appreciates drink recommendations! Even self-proclaimed bartenders.

There are dozens of vehicles for presenting drink recipes to guests. A picnic might call for a chalkboard, while a cocktail party might opt for acrylic signs in stands. Either option would double as decor on a self serve bar.

Here’s a cheap and cheerful way to create cocktail recipe cards...

  • Format a Word document to a 4×6 layout
  • Add the drink name, along with a photo, to the first page, and list the ingredients and instructions on the next page
  • Design each cocktail card with the font and colors of your choice
  • Save as a PDF
  • Email the file to Staples to print each cocktail recipe double sided (picture on the front, ingredients and instructions on the back), on a high-gloss cardstock. Request they laminate each card to protect them from inevitable spills.

I created three cocktail recipe cards for just under $14. Click the Download button below to view some pretty stellar recipes.

Form a Back Bar

The last thing that any host wants to do is restock a bar, especially in the middle of a party.

Use a ledge, table or shelf as a back bar to house extra bottles of club soda, seltzers and mixers. Keep like items together by grouping beverages according to brand, flavor and use. Juices in one spot, sodas in another!

Get Welcome Drinks on Deck

Welcome drinks with an unexpected twist are a fun way to kick off a celebration. For my Twenty Fifth Birthday Bash, mini margaritas in Patron Silver bottles were a must!

Miniature Bottles of Patron Silver with Pink Flamingo Straws inside
Photo by Mel Barlow & Co. Click here to find Pink Flamingo Drink Straws

I also filled an inflatable pool with a variety of spiked seltzers and a metal cooler with beers.

I left tumblers on the bar, each with their own unique design, for guests to choose from when they first arrived. The tumblers doubled in use as guests refilled water bottles from drink dispensers throughout the party, and took them home as gifts upon departure.

Add Surprise and Delight

Lastly, don’t forget to incorporate some form of Surprise and Delight.

Unique drinks in unexpected places can activate a space, and add value to a design-driven concept. I left guests to discover Jello shots stacked up in a retro cooler that was nestled among lawn games.

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