How Much Alcohol Should I Buy for a Party?

Use our formula to avoid guesswork and prevent the party from running dry.

Published Dec. 16, 2022.

Hooray, you’re having a party!

You may already have the snack situation well in hand and a cocktail or two in mind. But the question remains: How many bottles of alcohol do you need to buy? 

You don’t want to be left with an ocean of unused booze after the guests go home, but you also don’t want your party to run dry before it’s over! 

We have the answer.

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The Formula

We consulted with bartenders, alcohol experts (including ATK’s own Miye Bromberg), and wedding planners. Although their approaches vary, we derived a single basic formula.

  1. Figure out how many alcohol-drinking guests (G) you’re going to have. (For everyone else, here are some tasty alternative drinks!)
  2. Figure out how many hours (H) the party will go on.
  3. Provide enough drinks (D) for every drinker to have one drink per hour, plus one bonus drink! The bonus drink accounts for the fact that many people knock back the first couple of drinks in less than an hour and then slow down, or they may misplace a drink during the party or just need an extra at some point. (Some experts advise TWO bonus drinks per person. You know your guests and their habits, so you can tweak the shopping list accordingly.)

Our formula: Drinks = Guests x (Hours + 1)

How Many Drinks Are In a Bottle?

Bottle of beer = 1 drink

Bottle of wine (750 ml) = 5 drinks

Bottle of spirits (750 ml) = 12 drinks*

Handle of spirits (1.75 liter) = 30 drinks*

*calculation based on 2 fluid ounces of spirits per typical cocktail or neat glass of liquor

How to Use the Formula

Let’s start with a simple situation. You’re having a wine party! You’re expecting 15 guests, and the party won’t go any longer than 3 hours. 

Applying the formula D = G x (H + 1):

D = 15 x (3 + 1)

D = 15 x 4

D = 60

You need to buy: With 5 drinks per bottle of wine, you know to stock your bar with 60 drinks ÷ 5 servings per bottle of wine = 12 bottles of wine.


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Balancing Wine and Beer

But suppose your 15 friends are a heterogeneous crowd who like wine AND beer. You still need to serve them 60 drinks, but how much of each type? 

For an even split, you need to buy:

Bottles of beer: 30

Bottles of wine: 6 (30 glasses of wine ÷ 5 glasses per bottle)  

For an uneven split, you can build in a cushion by adding approximately one quarter more to each. You need to buy:

Bottles of beer: about 38 

Bottles of wine = about 8

There’s your shopping list!

Balancing Different Cocktails

Balancing works the same if it’s a cocktail party and you’re serving a gin drink and a rum drink. Split it down the middle, and pad each by a quarter to be safe.

Say you’ve invited 40 people to your house for 3 hours of Southsides and Daiquiris.

D = 40 x (3 + 1)

D = 40 x 4

D = 160

Anticipate 80 of each cocktail. Erring on the side of extra, be prepared to make 100 Daiquiris and 100 Southsides. 

You need to buy: For 1.75 handles, 100 ÷ 30 drinks per bottle means 3 bottles of gin and 3 of rum. (You better grab an electric citrus juicer too.)

Balancing Wine, Beer, and Cocktails

It’s an intimate affair. Your 5 besties are coming over (why don’t they ever bring drinks?) and you want to stock wine, beer, and liquor for all, 4 hours worth.

D = 5 x (4 + 1)

D = 5 x 5

D = 25

Call it 9 glasses of wine, 9 beers, 9 Old-Fashioneds. Make it 10 of each to be safe. 

You need to buy: 10 beers, 2 bottles of wine, and one 750-milliliter bottle of whiskey. 

You’re all set. Relax! Have fun!


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