A Boozehound Wedding or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bar

It has been nearly a full year since either Shanna or I posted here on I Prefer the Term Boozehound, though in that time we’ve been anything but idle. Here’s a list of things that have kept us from the blog we swore we wouldn’t allow to die over the past 11 months.

1)   Shanna finished grad school with a shiny new MBA.

2)   Shanna got a new job.

3)   Matt got a second job.

4)   Matt and Shanna hunted, found, and moved into a new apartment.

5)   Shanna got an even newer job!

6)   But most importantly, Matt and Shanna quit procrastinating and finally tied the knot.

Now older, wiser, more educated, more employed, and happily married, we finally find ourselves with some spare time and free weekends. Not only that, but thanks to the miracle of wedding presents and the generosity of friends and family, we now have a brand new home bar that is positively brimming with delicious spirits and liqueurs.

So we decided that for our re-inaugural post we’d discuss one of the most important aspects of wedding planning, the bar. Being the avid cocktail enthusiasts that we are, I’ll admit to a bit of uneasiness, knowing that we had some fairly lofty expectations to live up to. I probably shouldn’t admit this, but of everything that went on that day, the bar was what I worried over the most.

Right from the beginning though, I was given reason to worry. Though Shanna and I live in Pittsburgh, for a number of reasons we decided to hold the wedding at my parent’s home in the suburbs surrounding Reading, Pennsylvania. While the Reading area has some very nice suburban towns of varying affluence and character, “cosmopolitan” is not a word that comes to mind.

We were, however, extremely lucky to find an excellent caterer. If you ever find yourself hosting an event in Berks County, Mayo’s Classic Catering has our full and enthusiastic recommendation. Among Chef Phil Mayo’s services: providing a bartender from his staff. Chef Mayo himself is nothing if not competent, so initially I was unconcerned.

I did, however, want to speak with this bartender, whom we will call Bartender A. In the course of a single phone call, and without intentionally quizzing her, Bartender A had fallen short of every standard that Shanna and I use to rate bars and bartenders. Horrible visions ran through my head. Manhattans garnished with olives, flavored vodkas, bottled sour mix, and a host of other abominations plagued my nerves.

In order to avoid such atrocities, I resorted to meddling. I put together a cocktail menu that would be both suggestions for our guests and a guide for our bartender. More importantly, I provided Bartender A with recipes and instructions for each drink on the menu.  This may have been overkill, and I certainly risked becoming a micromanaging, asshole client. But after learning that in 20 years behind the bar, Bartender A had never once been called upon to mix a SidecarOur Unity Cocktail? Whiskey and soda. (one of our featured drinks, and the bride’s favorite), I was concerned.

Perhaps I was a tad overbearing, because the big day arrived and Bartender A did not. Instead the caterer sent Bartender B.  Now even more worried, I printed another copy of the drink recipes and had a quick discussion with Bartender B. It must have been a wedding day miracle, but Bartender B was tremendous. Not only did he know how to mix a drink, but he was also quick, neat, and patient with a groom who stopped by every half hour or so to make sure things were going smoothly.

Like a lot of things that day, the bar worked out better than we had hoped. Though at the time we stumbled through it, we did pick up some tips to help anyone hiring a bartender for a large event.

First and foremost, know what you want. Do you want the focus to be on cocktails? Beer? Wine? Is it a Martinis and stemware kind of party, or Margaritas and tiny umbrellas?

Second, talk to your bartender ahead of time. Once you’ve figured out what you want, make sure the bartender knows it. He or she can help you figure out what’s feasible and how much booze to buy. And of course make sure your bartender knows how to mix and serve the drinks you want.

Third, and this was a tough one for me, be flexible. More than likely you’ll have guests at your event who won’t want classic cocktails or alcohol at all. It’s important to make sure that these people don’t feel neglected. This doesn’t mean you have to compromise your plans for the bar, but make sure there are other options available.

And finally, make sure you have everything the bartender will need. This may seem obvious, but it’s more involved than you might think. Are you renting stemware or buying disposables? Do you have stirrers, toothpicks, garnishes, mixers, ice, etc? Find out what the bartender will and will not be bringing, and don’t make any assumptions. We assumed the bartender would bring his own shakers, bar spoons, and strainers. We were wrong.

The most important thing to remember though is to enjoy yourself. Planning events, and especially weddings, can be stressful. But the point of boozehoundery is to enjoy yourself and to share that enjoyment with friends and family.

ADDED BONUS: We included a Unity Cocktail as part of our ceremony. Read more about it at Offbeat Bride.

If you have your own tips, tricks, or horror stories, post a comment!


2 thoughts on “A Boozehound Wedding or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bar

  1. First off Congrats on getting married and congrats on all those big events during the past year. This is my first time on your blog….thanks to discovering you from twitter. I look forward to reading pieces from the past along with your newer writings.

    As to hiring a bartender for your wedding or any event for that matter. Wonderful suggestions. We have run quite a few bartending schools around the country including our Pittsburgh Bartending School and all of them provide bartenders for weddings, parties, graduations and special events. We are in total agreement with you…on a number of points and would add one additional point.

    1. Definitely speak with your bartender beforehand. Get comfortable with him or her. Geez…you might want to meet with the person, if the event and the bartender service is that important to you….as it was in your case.

    2. I’d add….speak to the caterer/bartender provider. We have lots of people who could service an event. We have great great people and we have people who aren’t great. If we’re aware of very specific needs we will definitely get you someone with terrific experience and terrific customer service skills. It sounds like the caterer you chose would have done the same….if he didn’t arrange it…based on that initial phone conversation with bartender A……;)

    3. Definitely think about your guests. Some are just going to drink juices or sodas. They aren’t “boozehounds” or drink afficianado’s. You want to make sure they enjoy the experience. Prepare for them just as you will for the one’s with tastes similar to yours’.

    4. Oh yeah!!! Think of the details….like the list you provided. Biggest problem I often find…..running out of ice. Get lots of extra ice. (1 lb/per guest usually works—> so long as it doesn’t melt) (hey ice is cheap!!!!). Add the little fine points. I love straws and sip sticks. I love love love bar naps.

    5. IMHO its a shame the bartender didn’t come with mixing gear. That should be a 100% necessity, again IMHO.

    6. BTW: Hope it was a great wedding!!!!

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