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How to do a DIY wedding bar

The Canavan - WedShed

Planning a DIY wedding bar? We bet there’s a few things you haven’t thought about. We asked Anika and Adam, the legendary duo of  The Canavan, to shed some light on some of the most commonly overlooked parts to planning a bar so that you get it right.

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So you’ve chosen your venue, you’ve got your caterer locked in, now to think about that all important social lubricant we all love (possibly a little too much at weddings, let’s face it) – alcohol.

Setting up your own bar at your wedding is easy right? A couple of trestle tables, some eskis, a few champagne buckets, a bunch of glassware and everyone will  be cheers-ing their way to the dance floor? Wrong.

When Adam and I got married on a family property a few years back, we thought the same thing. So it came as a bit of a shock when we were hit with the reality of a DIY bar by Adam’s sister (who runs her own event hire company):

  • What if it rains? You’ll need a pop-up bar tent.
  • Have you organised staff? You’ll need at least 3 people serving for that many guests.
  • What about a wash station? You’ll need somewhere to clean the glasses that has access to hot water. And somewhere to dump the dirty water.
  • Oh and you’ll need a coolroom. 40 cases of beer and wine won’t chill themselves.
  • You want Margaritas?! Well that’s another table, another staff member, and about $200 worth of cocktail glassware. And be prepared to spend a day juicing limes…

It went on.

So what we thought was a simple exercise turned out to be a major component (and cost) to our wedding.

The idea for our business, The Canavan, was born from this experience. We came out the other side of our wedding totally buzzed on how we might possibly be able to make the whole wedding planning escapade a little easier for couples. And it seemed (back in 2011) that no one else was really offering an all-in-one bar package.

Our dream was not just to run a sexy mobile bar, but to help couples create a bar ‘experience’ for their big day. When you think about it, with catering costs upwards of $80 a head these days, why wouldn’t you spend an extra $20 a head to make the drinks service super special too?

So with or without a Canavan on hand, there’s a few considerations when designing your DIY bar and deciding how much you want to invest into the experience:

It’s a wedding, not a house party

An open-eski free-for-all might be the vibe you’re after, but if tripping over bottles before the speeches start is not your cup of tea, you need service staff. That’s more than one guy with a bottle opener by the way. A general rule of thumb is two for behind the bar, one glassy, then add another staff member for every 40 or so people over 80 guests to keep things running smoothly.

Self serve vs. table service

This comes down to how casual your wedding is, and will generally follow how your food service is run. If it’s formal sit down table service for food, then you can’t expect your guests to get up and down every time they want to wet the whistle. Things like ice buckets on tables and funky ice tubs of beers dotted around the place are a good middle ground if you don’t want to fork out for extra service staff.

Defining the space

One of the greatest pleasures of our job is providing a fun environment for guests to hang out in, and having a good old yarn through the hatch. People just really LOVE going to the bar… and not just to get a drink. So think about how you define (and design) your bar area with lighting, furniture, plants and plenty of free standing area. The biggest difference between us and using a caterer to do your drinks service is that the van serves to define the space, and the bar becomes an experience itself.

There’s no more beer?!!

These four words (especially when uttered in the first 2hrs) instil the mortal fear into most wedding parties (particularly the groomsmen). Be realistic when ordering your alcohol. Divide your guests up into heavy vs. light and male vs. female drinkers, and estimate the number of each drink type you think will be consumed over the duration of your wedding. You’d be surprised how it adds up (especially when it’s free). Look for alcohol suppliers that allow you to return unopened cases, or have a back-up plan (i.e. someone sober who can do a bottle-o run) if need be. It’s always better to have a little too much – those bottles of wine and cases of beer are excellent bargaining tools for next-day helpers and general gestures of thanks.

Cocktails, mocktails and punches

Simplicity is key here. Cocktails that sound fancy, but are really just mixed drinks (such as Vodka, Ginger Beer and Lime – a Moscow Mule) are much easier to prepare (and serve) on the night. Easier still is having a large non-alcoholic fruit punch for the non-drinkers, that can be easily spiked with spirits or champagne. Keeping cocktail service to a specific time of the day (such as the welcome drink, or pre-dinner aperitif) will ensure you’re not blowing the budget on spirits and just need to cater to one drink per guest.

Amenities, amenities, amenties!

Be sure to check out what amenities are on hand for drinks service when scoping out your venue. Things like washing up facilities with hot water and on-site coolrooms or refrigeration facilities will save you a lot of trouble (and money).  Access to power is also a must if you want coffee urns or blenders going. And of course these amenities need to be close to where you’re hoping to have your bar set-up (and not over the field or across the barn).


Yes. Believe it or not, but once all the speeches are spoken, the dance floor is vacated and everyone goes on their merry way, there will be rubbish, and LOADS of it. 100 people drinking bottled drinks for 6hrs straight generates close to 8 wheely-bins full of glass recyclables alone. And, more often than not, it’s the bride and groom (with a few gold star friends and family) who are there the next day picking up the pieces. If you don’t have rubbish management and removal included with your caterer or venue (or us… it’s an added service we offer), you’ll need to hire extra bins and deal with it the next day. Be sure to check this.

That’s definitely not everything, but it’s a pretty good wrap up of the boring logistical stuff that we find people tend to ignore (or not even know about).

Now if all this makes you go ARGHHHH, don’t fret. Many caterers offer drinks service, but be sure to read the fine print on what that entails, otherwise you could be paying extra for just staff and glassware, and having to take care of all the logistics yourself. Then of course, there are more and more mobile bars popping up all over the country. These ought to be more than just a pretty service space, and provide solutions to all of the above for you.

And if you are tying the knot in the Byron/Gold Coast/Brisbane region, be sure to give as a shout. There’s way more exciting things to think about (seriously… have you pinned a Mobile Coolroom to your wedding board yet? I don’t think so), and we’re here to take the (ahem) headache out of drinks service.

Looking for more bar inspiration? Decided you’d prefer just to get an awesome team to cover it for you? Follow The Canavan on Facebook, and Instagram (@thecanavan) – their feed is full of great bar and styling ideas.

The Canavan - WedShed
The Canavan - WedShed
The Canavan - WedShed
The Canavan - WedShed
The Canavan - WedShed
The Canavan - WedShed


Looking for more honest-to-goodness wedding advice? We’ve got stacks to share right here

5th June, 2015

Leave a comment


  1. Great to know how you entered into this business. That’s interesting. Recently, I had been to a wedding and saw a bar service named Mister Bartender at the event.

    They were good at handling the event and made it entertaining with their bar services.

    Good to read about your journey. Keep writing such good content.

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