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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Building the Perfect Welcome Bag

A guide to an all time favorite topic, welcome bags! From whether or not you need one, to which guests receive them, how much to budget, what contents to purchase, how to assemble the final gifts and tips for staying organized on delivery day. It’s everything you need to know on building the perfect welcome bag. Let’s jump in!

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To Do or Not To Do

The first thing to note, is that it’s absolutely not necessary or expected to distribute welcome bags. Guests that choose to stay overnight are looking forward to joining in your celebration, and not anticipating any kind of gifting experience in return.

The primary reason that past clients have opted to distribute welcome bags, is due to the number of out of town guests that require overnight accommodations prior to the event day. If guests are staying more than one night, some clients will also opt for turndown gifts in guest rooms.

Welcome and turndown gifts usually coincide with hotel blocks and villa rentals. So, if we’re arranging overnight accommodations for anywhere from 15-20% of out of town guests, they are usually given welcome gifts. They are almost inevitable for destination events, when the majority of guests travel domestically or internationally for a celebration.

Building the Perfect Welcome Bag for Destination Weddings and Events. Pictured: Plane traveling through pink and blue ombre sky
Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger on Pexels.com

How Much Does it Cost?

Depending on the number of guests receiving welcome bags, the cost of contents can accumulate quickly. Budget restraints are perhaps the most common reason why some clients decide to nix them altogether. Generally speaking, welcome gifts can average between $15 – $100+ per bag, for the vessel and the contents.

The variance in price is contingent on a number of factors:

  • Cost to hire a company to curate contents, assemble and distribute bags (there are some AMAZING companies out there, but this service doesn’t come cheap!)
  • Fees imposed by the hotel to hold and distribute bags (typically $1 per bag, but some properties will charge more)
  • Range, type and quantity of contents
  • Paperie enclosures (think: welcome notes, itineraries, maps, suggested activities / restaurants to try during down time)

Contents

NecessitiesSnacks!Fun Stuff
Basics:
Welcome note, water, mints
Fresh bakedApparel, or accessories like sunglasses
Warm Weather Essentials:
Sunscreen, insect repellent, chapstick
SeasonalGames / Activities:
Think: golf balls or a deck of cards
Travel Goodies:
Aspirin, antihistamines, mini toiletries
Locally madeMini bottle of bubbly

Think about little luxuries that guests can use in the event environment. Solemates are always well received by guests that wear heels to outdoor weddings or events.

These heel protectors are designed to prevent heels from sinking into grass or cobblestone and inevitably getting ruined.

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Reminders

Keep it Authentic Don’t Go Overboard
Stay true to the locationNice to have vs. need to have
Locally crafted or inspired bag / box
(think: pretty & functional)
Quality > quantity
Contents that speak to the destination or represent the host
(add a touch of personalization here!)
Ask yourself, “Would I use this?”
Sweets and other edible contents are perfect items to include when building a welcome bag. Pictured: Robbin's egg blue ribbon with blue and pink macaroons
Photo by Jill Wellington on Pexels.com

Assembly

Track the quantity of guests slated to receive welcome gifts within a separate column in your guest list spreadsheet.

The general rule of thumb is one bag per room. Although, some clients will purchase two of certain items, particularly water bottles or apparel / accessory items, such as baseball caps or luggage tags. Paper goods can definitely be limited to one per bag.

Pick a spacious room in your home to spread out all of the contents and take Inventory. Once everything is accounted for, remove any wrapping, stickers, or tags from the items. Form an assembly line, placing all of the bags in the beginning, then organize the contents in piles, followed by paper goods, and final touches like ribbon at the end. One by one, complete the bags by following the assembly line.

Pro-Tip: It can be tedious process to assemble bags all in one day. Spread out the workload over the course of a few days to make sure each bag is assembled correctly, without any stickers left unturned or contents left out.

If you’re planning a destination event, it’s not advisable to pre-assemble welcome bags and ship them to the destination (cost being the number one factor, plus items can shift in the delivery process). Work with the event manager to ensure they will accept and store deliveries of the items at the destination, shipped directly from the source. Ask the hotel to confirm receipt and label boxes on your behalf.

Plan to arrive to the destination at least a full day in advance to unbox, unwrap, and prepare the bags. Trust me – this process takes a lot more time than one might anticipate, and the more time to prep, the better. It’s ideal to reserve a conference room for assembly, as there’s typically not enough space in guest rooms for a project of this size!

The Beverly Hills Hotel
Photo by Erica Zhao on Pexels.com

Getting Gifts to Guests

This phase is best left to an event planner, especially for weddings. If you don’t have a planner, delegate this task to a trusted relative or reliable member of the bridal party. It’s not the kind of task you want to do the day before an event!

Request the reservation list from hotels with room blocks arrangements, and triple confirm the number of guest rooms coincide with the quantity of welcome gifts for each location. Work with the group sales manager to identify which rooms will receive gifts. Confirm if they charge a holding or distribution fee, and inquire if guests will need to mention the hotel block to receive their gift upon check in, or if gifts will be placed in guest rooms prior to their arrival.

If you know of certain guests that are staying at rental properties, reach out to confirm where they’re staying and when they’re checking in. Create an itinerary of your drop off route to save time, along with addresses and whom to contact upon arrival.

If a welcome party is hosted prior to the event, it can often be easiest to distribute the gifts as guests depart that initial celebration, especially if guests are spread across various lodging facilities.

Then, celebrate the completion of a massive undertaking – You’ve earned it after this process!

Champagne toast
Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

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