Top Shelf Santa Barbara Wedding Blog

Jude Callahan

January 2019

What to know when planning your wedding bar/beverage portion of your reception

Santa Barbara and Santa Ynez Wedding bar service

During the past 15 years, I have had the pleasure of working over 1,000 weddings. In this time, I have seen many trends come and go; trends that were once the main stay of every wedding we coordinated or catered have gone by the way…or definitely should have! In the following post, I will share with you the trends that I see currently and one that needs to be done away with, how to know what to purchase for your event, what drinks are most commonly ordered, where to purchase your beverage supplies, and a few veteran wedding coordinator and beverage catering tips to help make your wedding reception’s beverage service a success.

As the wedding season for 2019 begins to ramp up, I am beginning to get those same questions from my brides and grooms. What about the bar? What are brides and grooms doing today?  There are a few trends that are currently being practiced at a lot of weddings that we coordinate and cater. The first is the use of “Signature Cocktails” or “ His and Hers” cocktails. When a bride asks what I think of “ Signature Cocktails”, my reply is always the same. “Great idea, but do not premix it and make them with the most popular liquors currently.”  I recommend this because if you were to choose two cocktails that sound wonderful to you and your significant other, but those cocktails end up not being very popular among your guests, you still have the alcohol in it’s original unmixed form. This leads me to my second recommendation, choosing two popular alcohols that will be the base liquor for your cocktails. For instance, if you want to serve a Strawberry Lemon Drop Martini as one of your signature cocktails (which is made by mixing vodka, triple sec, fresh lemon juice, fresh muddled strawberries and a pinch of sugar), should your guests not want a drink that is on the sweeter side, they can opt for the always popular vodka and soda or vodka and tonic. If you were to premix all of those ingredients for the 100 plus guests you have invited, you would not be able to serve any other cocktails. It is my recommendation that you create an amazing signature cocktail; just make sure it is not premixed and that it is made with one of the three popular base alcohols.

The one trend that I recommend needs to be done away with is the champagne toast for speeches. I say this for multiple reasons. First it is a huge waste of your money. You will need to rent a Champagne glass for everyone in attendance (0.75 from Top Shelf- .90-1.05 elsewhere). In addition to that, you will need to purchase enough champagne to pour a glass for every guest, not to mention you will need to have more service staff on hand to pour it table side or deliver from the bartender at the bar. It is nice if you want to have bubbles for yourself and those who specifically want champagne. Most of your guests, if given the opportunity, would prefer to toast with what they have already been drinking since the cocktail hour and are not likely to want to mix in bubbles. This option is better known as the “ Glass in Hand” toast. So if you are going to have bubbles at your reception I would recommend getting only 30 glasses and 6 bottles for a 100 person headcount. If you know you have a large number of ladies between the ages of 21 and 35 you may want to go with more than 6 bottles.

When it comes to planning the beverage portion of your reception it can be completely intimidating. What do I want to offer? How much do I need? What type/brand should I purchase? What if I am not from the area and cannot take the left overs with me? How do I get it to the venue? How much ice do I need? Where can I get it from? How do I keep the ice from melting away? What garnishes should I get? This is what 15 years and over 2,000 events has helped me gain the experience to answer these questions. Let’s take them one by one:

  1. What do I want to offer? Traditionally wedding bars had everything under the sun or a very minimal selection of simply beer and wine. These methods made for two different outcomes: a lot of wasted money on unfinished alcohol or a reception that is not as fun as the one with hard alcohol. With this in mind I began to guide brides and grooms to offer the 3 main base alcohols: vodka, tequila and bourbon/whiskey. By offering these three alcohols and going with a Top Shelf bar rental package, your guest could now order 90% of the most ordered cocktails at any event we do. Granted, there are those events that have different circumstances like the age of the guests, location, men to women ratio, a theme or “Uncle Frank must have his scotch” can all have an effect. You will always want a selection of two to three types of beer. I recommend a Mexican beer like Corona, an IPA like Lagunitas or Stone,and then something like an 805, Sam Adams or Sierra Nevada Pale Ale for the mid level. As for wine I recommend two reds and two white. Cabernet and Pinot Noir are favored reds, while Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio are the go to for whites. Santa Barbara and Santa Ynez has some of the world’s best wineries, so making a recommendation is quite difficult. The following are wineries that we have had wonderful reviews from our clients about their wines. Sunstone, Gainey, Sanford, Firestone, Fess Parker, Saarloos and Sons, Honea/ Margerum.  These are just a few of the amazing wineries in the Santa Barbara and Santa Ynez regions.
  2. How much do I need? This is a number that only comes from working with someone like myself to work through your event’s specific details. You know your guests best. So I always ask my brides and grooms to sit down and answer a couple of quick questions like: What age are your guests? What do your friends and family actually drink? What time do they start and finish drinking? Are they driving in, arriving by shuttle or Uber or Lyft? Any random facts that you believe are pertinent to knowing? The following facts will help to build a recommended shopping list.
  3. What type/brand should I purchase? When asked this questions I like to reply, “Your guests are drinking for free and very rarely does anyone turn their nose up at what is available.” That being said I do not recommend buying the bottom of the barrel selections. Depending upon where you finally decide to obtain your alcohol, there are some great options that are affordable and great quality. I have to say that in the last few years I have seen a trend arising. Many of my events have more than one guest who is gluten intolerant, so offering a gluten friendly vodka option like Tito’s Vodka is great. Tequila is typically mixed (try to avoid shots, they make a mess of your guests) at most of our events so having the most expensive brand is not necessary. You can offer a wonderful margarita made with Sauza or Hornitos tequila that won’t break the bank and will keep your guests coming back. As for bourbon/whiskey Jack Daniels or Bulleit are the crowd-pleasers in my experience.
  4. Where can I get it from? In the Santa Barbara region you have a few options for obtaining your needed alcohol. At the end of the day, who you choose will depend on the following details.  Do you have vehicle to make the pick up? Do you have a place to store the alcohol? Do you care if there are left overs? Is price more important than convenience? The local options for obtaining your alcohol are: Costco, Bevmo, a local grocery store, or consignment liquor store. Costco is the most cost efficient and carries Kirkland brand Vodka and Tequila that are produced by Grey Goose and the Tequila is made by Cielo. Both of these are great brands. Bevmo is a great option if you want to have the alcohol delivered to your venue. They will deliver for free if your order is above $500 (as of 1/1/19). The grocery store can be a great option if you watch the ads and pick up the supplies when they go on sale. You can occasionally get 12 packs of Corona, 805, and Lagunitas (the most ordered beers at any event we do) for under $10. The final option is great for out of town brides and grooms. The consignment liquor store option allows for you to only pay for what you use. There are two different liquor stores in the area that will supply the alcohol that you need plus extra. They then return and pick up the remainder of unopened alcohol. You will be responsible for paying for the bottles that the bartenders open. This option will cost you more per bottle, but could save you money in the end if your guests do not drink as you believed they would.
  5. How much ice do I need? This depends upon the following details: cocktail menu, length of event, and if you are pouring water table side. That being said it is typically between 2.5 and 4 pounds per guest in attendance.
  6. Where can I get it from? Top Shelf supplies ice for $15 per $40lb bag plus tax and includes delivery for events that we are working. If you wish to supply it yourself you can purchase it at Costco, Santa Barbara Ice and Propane, grocery stores, and Smart and Final.
  7. How do I keep my ice from melting away? Top Shelf rents 100 quart coolers to hold 100 lbs of ice for $15 or you can supply your own coolers or freezers to hold it.
  8. What garnishes should I get? Garnishes are based upon the final cocktail menu you choose. Typically you will need limes, olives if you want dirty martinis, oranges, cherries and bitters if you want an Old Fashioned, and lemons if you want twists or Lemon Drops.

As you can see from the post above, there are a lot of details that go into planning the perfect beverage catering experience for your wedding. These details may seem a bit trivial, but in the end they will make for a more precise and cost effective beverage service. Should you decide to hire Top Shelf for your event’s beverage services, I will personally work with you to get all of these details squared away. After 15 years of events Top Shelf has seen all types of crowds and cocktail menus. Let us help create your night’s amazing drink menu that will keep your guests have a great time and the party going strong.

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Top Shelf Santa Barbara Wedding Blog

Jude Callahan

November 2018

Wintertime Wedding Wonderland

Winter Wedding Wonderland – Planning the Perfect Santa Barbara Winter Wedding

As the rest of the United States is covered in the freezing cold from winter blizzards, Santa Barbara becomes the destination for winter weddings. What is it about Santa Barbara that makes it the winter wedding destination? Maybe it’s the amazing weather that gives you the ability to still have your wedding reception under the stars without wearing a parka. Maybe it’s because the cost drops for most of the vendors you need to make your wedding affordable. Whatever it is that drives brides to decide that Santa Barbra is the location for their winter wedding wonderland, there are definitely some details that will make your event a bigger success that you will want to remember for a lifetime.

This year will mark the 15th year Top Shelf has had the pleasure of helping brides create their dream wedding. During this time, I have had the opportunity to be a part of hundreds of winter time wedding receptions – let me tell you, they are remarkably beautiful. This time of the year your venue choice makes a huge difference. Santa Barbara wedding venues are plentiful in number, but which one is best for those cool nights? Do you want to be outside all night? Part of the night? Not at all? Will your DJ, Photo booth, or caterer require anything different? What about your flowers? Should you rent the tent? Should you spend more money on the rentals to include heaters and cut back on something else? Where do I get 150 blankets?

Outdoor venues such as Santa Barbara Historical Museum, Casa de la Guerra, Unitarian Society, Elings Park, Sunstone Winery, Gainey Winery, Firestone Winery, Fess Parker Winery, Villa Verano will require a bit more planning and execution. All will require the rental of propane heaters. When you are at a completely outdoor site, you will likely be contemplating the use of a tent. The Santa Barbara region traditionally receives most of its of rain during the winter season. That being said, we have had pretty dry winters for the last 5 years (unfortunately). So with tents being considered, I personally lean towards waiting until the month of and seeing what the weather is looking like. Tents offer more than just the guarantee of a dry reception. They also give you an enclosure that will trap more heat and make for a more comfortable evening for your guests. Tents also allow for the ability to add lighting accents that would not be possible without a roof and walls. There are many rental companies that rent tents in the region.

Blanket and shawl rentals are a great option for outdoor receptions as well. If you and your guests will be completely outdoor, you will need to consider how your flowers and cake/desserts will handle the direct sun. When To Shelf coordinates a wedding, we typically wait until 10 minutes prior to guest arrival to place your flowers on the tables. In an outdoor reception where the sun is going to present (and an issue,) we recommend hiding your flowers under the tables until the last moment. Any buffet, coffee service, photo booth, and bar flowers can be handled the same way because each of these services will require the use of a linen covered table. Umbrellas are a wonderful option as well. If you do not have a tent, you will need to account for he possibility of high winds at dusk. Table clips are a must; lean chairs folded against the tables if possible and place all glassware upside down at the last moment to avoid them from being knocked over or filled with flying debris. Don’t bother to light candles(if allowed) until the winds have died down. All of the above mentioned venues have bathrooms on site and electricity for the DJ, photo booth, caterer and lighting company.

There are some amazing outdoor- indoor venues as well. Venues such as the Lions Park in Carpinteria, Cabrillo Arts Pavilion, Carrillo Recreation Center, Rockwood Womens’ Club, Dos Pueblos Ranch, Orchid Ranch, and Chase Palm Park offer many wonderful benefits. These venues make it easier for your caterer, DJ, photo booth, rental company, to operate because the power supply and layout are typically readily available and known to your vendors. You will also have access to a refrigerator and other appliances should they be needed by for catering or beverage service. Most of these type of venues have access to a sink. This is advantageous if you are having coffee service. It is also great to have should you need to rinse off any of the table settings or other rentals. Flowers and cake/desserts are not a worry at these venues either. When you choose a venue such as these you will have the option of heaters or not, definitively less than you would need for the completely outdoor and tented venues. Some of these venues will include your tables, chairs, and their set up based upon your desired arrangement. This represents a savings on rentals of over $500 for a 100 guest reception. Many of these venues are great because they have an outdoor area for your ceremony that can be turned into a lounge set up for after dinner gathering. You should definitely get a few heaters for this area. Companies like Elan Rentals have wonderful furnishings for rent. Much like a tented event, the indoor event venue will allow for the DJ to set up lighting for accented color in the room. All of the above mentioned venues have bathrooms onside and electricity for your DJ, photo booth, caterer, and lighting company.

In my experience, the colder your guests are, the quicker your wedding reception will fizzle out. It can be quite expensive to get a tent set up, but at times it is completely needed if you want your guests and yourself to enjoy the evening. You will want to make sure you arrange for coffee service. Both of the above mentioned type of venues are wonderful for a Santa Barbara wintertime wedding as long as you plan for the variables that will affect your enjoyment and bottom line.

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