Organising any party comes with huge expenses, especially when it comes to drinks. It can feel awkward asking friends to ‘bring your own booze’ (BYOB). If you’ve ever wondered how to have a bar at a BYOB party and feel comfortable running one, you’re not alone.
As the party host, you’ve got the weight on your shoulders of organising a really great event. But you shouldn’t feel you can’t ask your friends for help, when your wallet can’t stretch.
Most guests, when invited to a dinner or cocktail party, will usually ask if they can bring something, it’s just a natural reflex. I’ve been asked a few times at dinners I’ve hosted what type of wine would best complement the food.
A party is a party, after all. Guests expect good food and drinks, but ultimately they just want a good time together. Memories and relaxation are what count. You shouldn’t feel bad about going the BYOB route.
That said, there are some steps to ensure an event like this runs well. If you don’t know how to have a bar at a BYOB party or organised one once and it was a disaster, keep reading.
How to ask people to BYOB
Before we dive in, again I want to reiterate – if you feel unsure about asking people to bring their own drinks, don’t be. In my experience, guests often feel flattered about getting the chance to contribute, it makes the event even more personal for them.
As to what to drink, it’s up to you if you want guests to bring only beer, only wine or a mixture. Make sure not to exclude any nondrinkers. You can ask these guests to bring soda, juice or other alcohol-free drinks.
If you want to ask people to bring drinks, just ask them flat out in your invitation. There are several ways you can do this:
Ask friends to bring a drink for a communal bar
People love the idea of contributing to something that allows them to show off a special something they themselves love. We’ve all got our favourite drink, right? And our favourite drinks usually come with a story which we can’t wait to tell! The idea of creating your party around a communal bar can help your guests bond with each other more easily.
Host a drinks potluck
A potluck is an anything-goes style of party, where guests bring whatever is to hand for the night. Potlucks are usually associated with food, so make sure to call it a ‘drinks potluck’ so everyone is clear what do. You can provide your guests with a list of what drinks to bring.
Make sure you keep an eye on the list to see what you can buy to balance things out. This way, if you learn a lot of people are buying red wine, you can make sure to buy some white or a beer.
A delicious wine kitty
This idea depends on the type of food you’re providing. If you’re hosting a gourmet dinner party, and you want to feature some lavish wine that goes beyond your budget, you can ask your guests beforehand to contribute finally to a kitty. Not everyone will contribute but most will, especially as they know you’re spending a lot of money on the food.
One way to keep your drinks bill low is to buy in bulk. If you know the total cost of what you plan to buy, you can just ask everyone to contribute $2-3 each, and explain why. I’ve found, if you tell them you’re also throwing in bonus drinks and food, people won’t object to making a contribution. Making sure everyone feels respected (and so helps out) is a good tip to know when learning how to have a bar at a BYOB party.
Theme the drinks
If you want to disguise the fact you want to save money on drinks, you can organise your party around theme such as “share your favourite drinks” or “personal wine party”. That way, the onus on supplying drinks falls to the guest. Like the communal bar ideas, everyone’s got their own favourite tipple with a backstory they can share during the party.
What about you, the host?
That said, you as the host should still provide drinks, at least to get the evening started as everyone arrives. You can welcome everyone with wine or a small glass of spirits (or just a juice, if people prefer). Be generous!
Although this is a BYOB, you the host need to also, you know, bring your own booze! Don’t offer an empty bar or your guests will think you’re a scrooge. Keep your supply of beer and wine well stocked, in case everyone’s drinks start to run low.
You don’t want to be the party that runs out of drinks by 11pm. I’ve been to those parties and it’s embarrassing for the host (especially when the supermarkets have closed by then and they can’t restock their drinks table).
Make sure to also have sparkling water and alcohol-free drinks on hand for the nondrinkers.
One idea I like to do – and that’s always gone down well – is to provide a signature drink for the evening. This is usually my take on a classic cocktail or a punch, that’s prepared the day before and left in the fridge. I try to also make an alcohol-free version for the nondrinkers but also for drinkers just not in the mood for boozing.
How to set up your bar
If you’re not sure how to have a bar at a BYOB party, there are a number of locations you can consider.
The kitchen is the easiest place, especially if it’s right near the main party area. If you’ve got an open hatch between the two spaces, that’s perfect. Try and keep your bar close to the party action; having drinks nearby keeps the flow of the party going.
You can also set it up at the back of the main party area, with just a simple table.
Make sure you’ve got a supply of empty glasses, a corkscrew, an ice bucket, sliced fruit, tonic water and even a jug of water. Guests do have a tendency to misplace their glass during the night and it’s easier if you’ve foreseen that by providing adjacent replacements. Also make sure you have small bowls of snacks at the same table, for any guests who might be chatting there as they refresh their drinks.
If you need to keep your drinks cool, invest in an ice cooler, and place this at your table or nearby.
What does everyone eat at a BYOB
If you’re wondering how to have a bar at a BYOB party and feed everyone at the same time, this problem is easily fixed.
One way is to go down the potluck route again, and ask everyone to bring a dish. If you go down this route, plan your entire party as a potluck party, and give people the option to bring a drink OR a dish. Making your entire party a potluck means there will always be enough to eat.
Having said that, you will to make a contribution yourself, to round out what’s on the menu. This could include providing appetisers and desserts, making up a few salads and of course, supplying your drinks.
You can theme your potlucks as well, for example, as a cultural exchange or a dinner party of different dishes.
Another option for food is to simply make all the food yourself and throw a really great dinner party. This is like the ultimate trade-off: you make the food, your friends bring the drinks.
Don’t think you need to go overboard with how much you need to cook; whatever you provide will always go down a treat. Guests will always appreciate someone else cooking for them, especially if they’re hungry.
If you’re expecting a lot of alcohol, go for a hearty menu to help balance all the flavours. Stews or casseroles, heavy meats, quiches or pies, well-seasoned salads, breads and roasted vegetables are dishes I’d recommend. I like a chunky fruit cake for dessert or ice cream.
Other ideas for how to have a bar at a BYOB party
I’ve talked a lot about a BYOB party in relation to an evening event or a dinner party. But having drinks is of course not restricted to just those hours.
Instead of a dinner or an evening event, consider switching up your party to a lunch or a brunch instead. While it might sound strange to be enjoying drinks in the afternoon, having a few light drinks or a simple potluck can be more relaxing for friends. There’s also less work for you than organising a big party.
You can set up your afternoon BYOB by asking your friends to bring over ingredients you can use to mix an afternoon cocktail or punch together. You can also turn your BYOB into an informal cocktail party complete with silly cocktail party games.
Changing up your BYOB party to another part of the day also changes up the purpose of the party. A lunchtime grill or an afternoon with homemade pie puts the focus on the food. You won’t have any problem asking people to bring their own drinks.
Asking your guests and friends to contribute drinks should never feel like a problem. People do appreciate you for organising an event and know the hard work you’re putting in. I hope the tips in this post go a long way for you as you learn how to have a bar at a BYOB party.