Food for Thought: Beverages at Receptions

cvent sales kickoff 2012One thing most receptions have in common is that they usually include alcoholic beverage service in addition to food.  Another common trait is the fact that they are rarely scheduled during business-day hours; normally a reception does not begin before 5:00 PM.

Receptions are often both social and business events. People love to socialize. Receptions provide a relaxed environment for networking, sharing, and bonding.

It’s a little easier to estimate the amount of beverage alcohol you will need for a reception than it is to forecast food requirements.  

If beverages are served, the bars and nonalcoholic-beverage stations should be spaced around the room. Ask the caterer to place them sufficient distances from the food stations so that people have to change locations in order to get a drink.  This further increases mingling.

Liquor Laws: These days it is very unusual for a beverage function to offer only alcoholic beverages.  In many states liquor laws will not allow alcohol to be served unless food is also available to help slow down intoxication.  So, there will typically be at least a few hors d’oeuvres and dry snacks.

Liability: In view of increasing host and host-facility liability, you should not plan and purchase any event that offers only alcohol .  They are socially irresponsible and ripe for liability lawsuits. The caterer and the meeting planner should never consider accepting this type of risk.

Trends:  Fewer open bars at receptions. Many companies that used to offer or sponsor these types of functions are not willing to be exposed to liabilities anymore.

Par Stock:  Usually bars are set up with a par stock of beverages, ice, glassware, mixers, garnishes, and other necessary supplies about a half-hour to an hour before the event is scheduled to begin. The normal par stock used is influenced by the:

•    Number of attendees expected.
•    Experience with similar events and/or group history.
•    Amount of storage space available at the bar.

How much to order:  Divide the amount of liquor per 750-milliliter bottle by the serving size. This will tell you how many potential drinks you can obtain per container.

◦    . 750 milliliter¸148 milliliters = 5.07 potential drinks per bottle

Divide the number of servings needed by the number of potential drinks per container. This will tell you how many containers you will need to special order.

◦    275 servings¸5.07 = 54.24 750-milliliter bottles, rounded to 55 750 milliliter bottles needed.

Your history is the best guide, but if you don’t have a group history,  Joseph E. Seagram & Sons Inc. suggests that during the typical reception for 100 guests, 50 percent of them will consume three spirit drinks apiece.  Consumption trends indicate that the basic portable bar should be stocked with:

Par Stock for Portable Bars
Type of Spirit # of Liters
Blend 1
Canadian 1
Scotch 2
Bourbon 1
Gin 1
Vodka 3
Rum 2
Brandy/Cognac 1

Cocktail Servers:  Labor costs will increase significantly.  A server can usually make only three or four passes per hour through his or her assigned floor area. During each pass, he or she will usually be able to carry, at the most, 12 to 16 drinks. Count the time needed to take the order, wait for the drinks at a service bar, and to find the attendees and deliver the drinks, it takes at least 15 minutes per trip. One cocktail server to handle 48 to 64 drinks per hour. This type of service is less efficient and requires more coordination and effort, you often will have to pay for more bartenders to handle the workload.

Neutral Beverages:  These are nonalcoholic products.  Many are also referred to as “soft drinks.” You should consider ordering the following options for the group: effervescent or still waters, juices, flavored sodas (regular and diet) herbal and decaffeinated teas, regular and decaffeinated coffees, and nonalcoholic beer and wine.  I learned this the hard way.  I scheduled a wine and cheese tasting during a conference that was sponsored by a wine company.  I didn’t even consider ordering any other types of beverages until an irate attendee got in my face – literally – letting me know in no uncertain terms that I was thoughtless and didn’t consider recovering alcoholics and other people that did not drink alcohol. I immediately called room service and had bottled water sent to the meeting room.  I never made that mistake again.

Most venues have odds and ends of broken and leftover cases of wine in inventory that they would like to get rid of.  Ask the caterer – you could get a bargain.

See also: Outdoor Events, Part IV: When Beverages Need a License to Chill  and 6 Types of Labor Charges for the Bar and With a Bevy of Bevvies to Choose from, Which Beverage Function Is Right for You?

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