How to Set Up a Self-Serve Bar for your Holiday Party

Entertaining for the holidays can have you juggling many roles: chef, bartender,  performer – even family mediator. Setting up a self-serve bar for your holiday party gives you more time to enjoy your guests, but it may not be as simple as you think. Here are some tips to DIY a successful self-serve bar for the holidays. 

Keep the drink selection simple

As the party host, it’s up to you how many drink options you’d like to supply for your guests. You can stick to just beer and wine, add in a themed cocktail, or stock all the basics of a full bar and allow guests to create their own drinks. Here are some staples to consider:

  • Scotch
  • Vodka
  • Gin
  • Tequila
  • Rum
  • Red and white wine
  • Beer
  • Mixers like: club soda, cola, diet cola, tonic, lemon-lime soda, ginger ale, orange juice, and cranberry juice
  • Extras like: champagne, brandy, and pimms
  • Garnishes: orange peel, lime, lemon wedges, or other fruit

Pre-mix drinks

If you’d like to serve a signature cocktail hassle-free, you can pre-mix ingredients and serve them in a large beverage dispenser. To keep drinks cold without diluting them, chill ingredients thoroughly before mixing, then: add ice cubes made out of your non-alcoholic ingredients, add frozen fruit, or choose a beverage dispenser designed to keep liquids cold.

Write cocktail recipes for guests

If your guests like to be a bit more hands-on, you can provide the cocktail recipe and let guests mix their own drinks. Choose a signature cocktail or two and print the recipes on paper or cardstock, write them on a chalkboard, or even on a mirror. If a drink requires an exact measurement, be sure to have that measuring utensil available. Don’t forget to provide any garnishes.

Choose drinks that complement your theme or occasion

This is the fun part: brainstorming signature drinks to suit your party theme or occasion. Warm, rich drinks are welcome at a cozy fall or winter party. Traditional drinks like mulled wine are a festive addition to holiday parties. And fresh, fruity drinks are ideal for summer get-togethers. For ideas and inspiration, check out our list of eight signature cocktails for your next event or five fall-inspired cocktail recipes.

Purchase the right amount of alcohol for your party

Party duration, number of guests, type of alcohol, and type of party all affect how much alcohol you’ll need to purchase. This drink calculator from Evite is a great place to start.

Have supplies readily available

The supplies you’ll need depend on the complexity of your drink offerings. Even the most basic self-serve bar will need:

  • Glassware or cups
  • Corkscrew (if serving wine)
  • Cocktail napkins
  • Bar towel
  • Ice (and a serving utensil)
  • Trash can

Other supplies to consider include:

  • Jigger (measuring glass)
  • Shaker
  • Fruit and garnishes (pre-cut)
  • Drink stirrers
  • Cocktail shaker
  • Strainer
  • Champagne flutes
  • Short and tall glasses
  • Wine glasses
  • Stemmed cocktail glasses

Keep your guests (and yourself) safe

With a self-serve bar, you won’t be able to keep track of how much alcohol each guest consumes. Look for signs of intoxication (loud speech, slurred speech, stumbling, rude behavior, etc.) and discourage any guests you suspect to be impaired from driving. Be ready to call ride services, offer a room for the night, or even to call police if things escalate. Check your local and state laws: As party host, you may be held responsible for the actions of impaired guests, even after they’ve left your property. 

Sound like a lot? With some planning and drink prep, anyone can provide their own self-serve bar this holiday season. But if you’re short on time or just don’t feel ready, you can book all of these services with On the Rocks

You’ll get a consultation with us to discuss drink ideas, how much alcohol you’ll need to purchase, and delivery coordination. On the day of your event, our TIPS-certified bartenders – trained in safe service and preventing drunk driving and underage intoxication – will serve your guests, so you can be worry free.

Book now at while holiday availability lasts. 

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