Many brides-to-be are showered with wedding advice from their friends and family, such as with this classic saying:
and a small ice maker at your wedding bar.
Isn’t that how it goes? If it doesn’t, it should, because a countertop ice dispenser is, excuse the pun, truly indispensable at wedding receptions. It will ensure that one of the seven deadly sins never happens at your wedding: running out of ice.
What’s the point of a wedding bar?
Guests come to weddings to wish their friends and loved ones a lifetime of happiness. However, they also come for the drinks. A wedding beverage station provides them with easy access to these. Beverage serving areas range from a table set up with cups and a bucket of beer bottles, to a full-blown bar stocked with aged whiskeys and ancient vintages deftly served by tuxedo-clad bartenders.
In fact, you should take the middle ground between these two disparate set-ups: have a self-serve beverage station with simple selections, like ice water, lemonade, and mixed non-alcoholic drinks, located near an open bar where a bartender can tend to guests’ more complicated drink requests. This frees up traffic at both locations and ensures that the servers don’t get overloaded. At its core, the drink center should function as the life of the wedding reception: it gets guests up and interacting with each other, and ensures that the party never grows stagnant.
If you’re building your own drink center for a backyard wedding, you can make it look great with a few supplies, no matter your planning budget. For the basic structure, all you really need is two tables: a typical 6’ long plastic folding table from your beer pong days will suffice for the bar, and a 4’ round table would work for the beverage station. Then simply cover the serving surfaces in linens that complement the rest of your color scheme. Add a dash of vibrancy and freshness with a few hydrangea bouquets, and your beverage station is ready to be stocked with drink accessories.
Wedding drink station basic supplies
To provide drinks at a wedding drink station, you need supplies to serve those drinks, whether it’s lemonade or a Bloody Mary. Keep back-ups under the tables, hidden from the view of guests, and replenish on the table-top as needed.
•Plastic cups and stemware: At least 3 per guest
No matter if you write names on cups in permanent marker, everyone is going to forget about their glass. Make sure you have more than enough cups set out for guests to access. You don’t want to get plagued with questions about Where do you keep your cups?
•Cocktail napkins and straws: At least 3 per guest
The same logic applies here. While wedding guests may have their cloth napkin to use at their table, they’ll need something to carry their sweating beer with and to dab up small spills. Straws aren’t a necessity, but they’re affordable and add a level of detail to the drink presentation.
•Waiter’s corkscrew: 2 per bartender and one attached to the beverage table
You should leave most of the bottle opening to the bartenders. However, if you have a beer bucket for guests to grab from, you need to provide at least one accessible bottle opener. Preferably, attach this to the drink station (with a lanyard or something similar) so that it doesn’t accidentally get pocketed when people get a little tipsy.
•Bar towels: At least 5 for the night
There’s no point in making your wedding bar look pretty if it ends up dirty after the first rush of alcoholics — I mean guests. Provide fresh towels to your bartender to help sop up spills before they can sink into the woodwork.
How can a small ice maker help at a wedding bar?
An ice machine can be used for replenishing ice in the drink tub
Many of the drinks you provide at a wedding will need to either be served on the rocks or chilled on ice prior to serving. And no matter how much you plan, you can bet that if you just buy ice bags, you’ll either run out of ice and/or all of your ice will start melting before the best man toast has even been made. A countertop ice maker allows you to completely avoid this problem during the reception, and it makes setting up the wedding bar beforehand a lot easier.
That’s because any such bar should have at least two large party tubs filled with canned and bottled beverages, including beer, soda, and water — all chilled on a sufficient amount of ice. More buckets are better, because you can sort your beverages accordingly. Almost all beers and champagnes should be served chilled, and while you won’t be able to reach the exact temperatures for best taste with just a big pile of ice (you need a beverage cooler for that), you can at least ensure that your beverages are cool enough for guests not to shudder at.
These drink tubs can be made available beside/on the beverage station table or you can have them set up behind the bar for only the bartender to access. The tubs range in size and capacity. For example, a 17 gallon drink tub can easily hold 30 pounds of ice and 48 bottles of beer. On average, you’ll need about 10 pounds of ice per 18 bottles you want to chill — but be aware that this is not an exact science. Your ice needs are going to vary hugely based on the temperatures that day, whether you’re outside in the sun, etc. That’s exactly why even a small ice maker is helpful — if you don’t get the estimated numbers just right before the wedding, you’ll still have enough ice on the day of with this appliance.
It takes about 1 hour for drink cans and bottles to chill if they were at room temperature. So you need to get your tubs going at least 60 minutes before the wedding party kicks off. You can start off by filling these tubs using large bags of ice from a nearby grocery store, but that will only last so long. Instead of having to send someone out to the supermarket every hour on an ice run, you can instead replenish the ice on-site for chilling bottles with an ice maker. Be aware that larger ice cubes melt slower. Relative to their mass, crushed ice and little ice cubes have more surface area, so they’re more exposed to warm air — which transforms them into water quicker. This means you want to look for an ice maker that can make different sized cubes, for usage in the party tubs and within drinks if needed (more on that later).
By regularly adding more ice to the party tubs, you’ll also prevent the rest of the ice from getting warm, thus slowing down the melting process. It’s a win-win situation. Compact ice makers that can make up to 50 pounds of ice per day, such as the Newair AI-215R Portable Ice Maker, are perfect for this purpose at a wedding. Since these units are freestanding, you can have the machine plugged in anywhere convenient to the tubs: just add water to the ice maker’s reservoir, power on the unit, select the largest cube size, and the machine will begin making cubes. And it will continue to do so as the day goes on, indicating when each batch of ice is ready. A server or bartender can grab cubes as needed to add to the party buckets.
A small ice machine is perfect for the beverage center tabletop
Once the ice leaves the clean interior of the portable ice maker and gets added to the party tub, it officially becomes dirty ice. While some guests will have no qualms about grabbing a handful from the communal beverage bucket and tossing it into their soda cup for added chill, we really recommend that you provide a fresh ice alternative to avoid contaminating the entire wedding party.
This is where an ice maker is also useful. You can set up a separate small ice maker on the beverage center table. Since this one will be more visible than the drink tub-specific one, you might be worried that it will clash with the rest of your wedding decor. However, ice makers come in a variety of colors, such as black, blue, red, stainless steel, grey, and orange, so you can select accordingly.
The ice cube machine will continually bust out fresh ice for guests to take and add to their drinks as-needed. We recommend setting the ice size to small or medium when it’s used in beverages. And make sure to place an ice scoop nearby so people don’t stick their grubby fingers into the cold stuff.
Also, wedding beverage stations traditionally have two or three drink pitchers with taps, filled with customized drinks. With a flip of the nozzle, guests can serve themselves beverages like lemonade, sweet tea, and more. These self-serve options should focus on non-alcoholic refreshments for the young ones and non-drinkers, especially if there’s also a bar. The ice maker can be used to produce fresh cubes to add to the dispensers when refilling them with the pre-mixed cocktails, and also for guests to add to their glasses.
The wedding bartender absolutely needs a countertop ice maker
An ice maker is going to be most valuable to the wedding bartender if you’re offering more than just beer and wine (which is always a good idea if you can afford it). Wedding receptions usually last 5 hours, and a lotta’ drinking goes on during that time frame. Using a drink calculator, we came up with an estimate of how much booze is needed. If you’re serving soft drinks, beer, wine, and liquor at a 5 hour party with 100 average drinkers in attendance, you’ll want to get:
•Water: 150 Bottles
•Soft Drinks: 38 Bottles – 2 liter
•Beer: 150 Bottles/Cans
•Wine: 30 Bottles – 750 ml
•Liquor: 8 Bottles – 1 liter
Don’t forget the mixers for specific drink recipes and garnishes too. If each guest has only 2 mixed alcoholic drinks served on the rocks during the reception, your bartender is going to need at least 100 pounds of ice. You can make a dent in this number with ice bags, but as with the scenario involving the tubs above, it’s going to start to melt as soon as you get it.
With an ice maker within reach in the bar area, the bartender will have a constant supply of fully frozen ice as a back-up to a larger insulated container filled with ice. They can complement the output of the ice maker with a few small ice buckets for ease of access to the cubes. This should keep the bar line moving and ensure that everyone gets properly served drinks.
In total, we recommend having 3 ice makers on-hand, to cover the full spectrum of your wedding bar needs. However, even having 1 would be useful for when ice starts running low. When the reception’s over, you can take the ice maker home and continue to use it for backyard parties with your new family for years to come.