Plan Like a Pro with This Ultimate Party Drinks Calculator

When deciding what party drinks to serve and how much you need, check out this easy party drink calculator.

As summer approaches and small gatherings are safe again (here's our complete guide to gathering post-pandemic), we're already planning our next outdoor soirée. After more than a year of social distancing, you may need a quick refresher on party planning basics—like how much wine do I need for my party? Don't worry, we've got you covered with the ultimate guide to planning the drink menu gatherings of all sizes.

You'll need to make a couple of decisions about beverages before you can decide how much to buy. For your gathering, would you prefer to serve wine and beer with an assortment of nonalcoholic choices? Or do you intend to offer a full bar with mixed drinks and specialty cocktails?

Especially for casual gatherings, serving only wine, beer, and nonalcoholic choices is perfectly acceptable and may be the preferred approach. Most guests will find a satisfying option, and for the hostess, a limited alcohol selection simplifies planning and allows you to match beverage choices to your menu. This simple guide helps you decide how much liquor and nonalcoholic drinks you should have to satisfy your party guests. Plus, get our free take-along chart to help you make smart decisions when you're shopping for party drinks.

Party Drinks and Mixer

When shopping for your party, include these beverages on your list:

  • White wine
  • Red wine
  • Beer
  • Water: mineral and bottled
  • Soft drinks: lemon-lime, diet lemon-lime, cola, and diet cola

Customize the list to suit your guests' preferences or to match a theme. For example, you may want to include a sparkling wine for a special celebration or focus on specialty beer choices for guests with sophisticated palates. Also, provide nonalcoholic choices, such as bottled water, juices, lemonade (like this tasty homemade lavender lemonade), iced tea, soft drinks, or nonalcoholic beer and wine.

Offering a Full Bar

Obviously, hosting a complete bar will require more thought and investment. If you already have a home bar, you may have a foundation of spirits, mixers, and accents. You'll need to review your home bar inventory to avoid duplicating purchases (a small bottle of bitters or vermouth goes a long way) or skimping on party favorites.

For a full party bar, include these elements on your list:

  • Wine: red and white
  • Beer
  • Bourbon
  • Gin
  • Rum
  • Scotch
  • Tequila
  • Vodka
  • Water: mineral and bottled
  • Soft drinks: lemon-lime, diet lemon-lime, cola, and diet cola
  • Tonic
  • Club soda
  • Juices: orange, cranberry, and tomato

Besides these basics, if you're making a signature cocktail (these are our favorite classic cocktails) or know guests' favorite drinks, add the appropriate ingredients to your shopping list.

Editor's Tip: If you plan to offer a full bar, make sure you have the necessary tools and appropriate glassware—if you're hosting an outdoor gathering, consider disposable wine glasses ($8 for 32, Party City) that won't break if they're dropped. You'll also want to be sure you have the appropriate drink ingredients to mix and serve a variety of cocktails.

Check Your Guest List

When it comes to knowing how much you need, the number of guests is the primary determining factor.

Expect one alcoholic beverage per guest per hour.

If you know your guests' preferences on drinks (beer, wine, spirits, or soft drinks), you can calculate what you need accordingly. If you're unsure about guests' preferences, purchase a mix of beverages with some to spare. Ask your beverage retailer if you can return unopened bottles. Even if you can't return them, most unopened bottles will keep well long after the party so you don't need to be concerned about waste. If you entertain frequently, you may want to shop in quantity to get discounts on large purchases

To help you with the calculations, we've made the party math simple. Our free Beverage Quantity Guide, available below, offers shopping recommendations for each item you'll need based on guest count. Whether you have six guests or 50, the chart lists how much of each beverage item you'll need. It also provides separate information for wine-and-beer-only parties and for parties that offer a full bar.

If you want to make your own estimates, start with these party assumptions.

  • Nonalcoholic beverages: Assume guests will drink two servings in the first hour and one for each additional hour of the party. If the weather is warm, expect guests to drink a bit more.
  • Wine: One 750-milliliter bottle of wine provides five to six glasses, depending on your pour. During a party, plan one bottle for every two guests.
  • Beer: Estimate that guests will drink about 12 ounces (one bottle) every half hour to hour during the party.
  • Cocktails: Allow 1-1/2 ounces of liquor for each drink. A 750-milliliter bottle (fifth) makes about 16 drinks. Figure about a quart of mixer for every three guests.

Remember, not every guest will want every option you offer. Our Beverage Quantity Guide is an easy tool to get the right mix for most parties.

Stock Party Supplies

Besides the beverages, you'll also need accompaniments and accessories such as ice, garnishes, glasses, and napkins. Add these items to your shopping list to ensure your party is well-stocked with all the essentials.

Buy ice. You'll need 1-1/2 to 2 pounds of ice per guest to keep beverages chilled. Fill a large outdoor cooler ($40, Target) or an aluminum beverage tub ($21, Target) with ice if you don't have room in the freezer. Keep coolers conveniently near the drink stations or bar, and be sure to keep ice for glasses separate from ice used to chill bottles and cans. When planning your party, here is a good estimate of how much ice you'll need:

  • 6 guests = 10 pounds
  • 12 guests = 24 pounds
  • 25 guests = 50 pounds
  • 50 guests = 100 pounds

Purchase or rent glasses. Whether you're using real glassware ($3, Crate & Barrel) or disposable cups ($5 for 50, Walmart), expect guests to use multiples. Start with these estimates:

  • 6 guests = 16 glasses
  • 12 guests = 30 glasses
  • 25 guests = 75 glasses
  • 50 guests = 150 glasses

Editor's Tip: Reduce the number of misplaced glasses by offering wine or cocktail tags. Purchase wineglass charms ($8, World Market), or make your own with wire and a cardstock name tag. Cut the cardstock into a shape that suits your party. Punch a hole and thread the wire through the hole. Write a name on the tag and wrap the wire around a wineglass stem. This technique can also work for some beer glasses. For cocktails, glue or tie a tag to a cocktail stirrer, and place in the drink.

Remember cocktail napkins. Even if you're only serving food at the table, cocktail napkins protect furniture, mop up minor splashes, and keep guests' hands clean. Plan for the following number of napkins.

  • 6 guests = 24 napkins
  • 12 guests = 48 napkins
  • 25 guests = 100 napkins
  • 50 guests = 200 napkins

Choose your garnishes. Especially if you're offering a full bar, you'll want accents to add the finishing touches to mixed drinks. If you're only offering beer and wine, consider including slices or wedges of citrus fruits, such as limes and oranges; they're a pleasing addition to certain beer selections. Consider these popular options:

  • Oranges
  • Lemons
  • Limes
  • Cherries
  • Pineapples
  • Green olives
  • Cocktail onions
  • Fresh herbs, such as mint, basil, or rosemary

Follow these tips to make planning drinks for your party an easy and stress-free party-planning experience.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles