The bar will be the heart of your wedding reception, fuelled with electric conversation between loved ones over champagne and delectable cocktails… a seductive soiree setting the scene for lifelong memories. Guests will undoubtedly find their own way there, but designing and styling a bar that imbues the intimacy and atmosphere of our favorite haunts can be difficult at best. So, we’ve asked some of the industry’s best wedding stylists and caterers for their exclusive tips and tricks to styling a bar for your wedding to make it a night to remember.
Image above: Roaming bar by Eleven Events Wedding Stylists & Caterers
“Rather than hiding the bar away in a corner, make it a focal point with some intentional lighting that will make sure all your guests know where the party’s at” says Valentina Ring of London wedding stylist, The Stars Inside.
Designing the right lighting plan will influence the overall atmosphere and your guest’s experience, so first define what mood you want to create. Whether it be an intimate and elegant feel with scattered lamps, flickering candles or subtle backlighting or, a more dramatic atmosphere with suspended chandeliers or canopies of fairy lights, “Ensure that it sits cohesively with the entire aesthetic and mood of your day” advises Sydney stylist, Lisa Madigan.
Further, set your ambience with your choice of bar seating, or in some cases, lack thereof. Freestanding bar tables (with or without seats) will set a lively mood buzzing with conversation, while lounges will invite a sense of intimacy throughout the night and provide the perfect place for guests to kick up their feet between dancing. Either way, seating enough for every guest within the bar area will be impractical and costly, so ensure you allow plenty of space for guests to gather, mingle, and roam.
“Intentional lighting will make
sure all your guests know where the
party’s at.” – The Stars Inside
Make it Practical
Whether planning an outdoor wedding or designing a custom bar, be sure to keep practicality and the safety of your staff and guests top of mind to keep the day flowing. “It’s really important for there to be a comfortable amount of space for guests to stand, lean, and pick up drinks – and also room for the bartenders to safely operate while in a rush” directs The Stars Inside. Sydney and Byron Bay based Amy and Jessamyn of Eleven Events also add, “There needs to be plenty of storage or a separate cleaning station for bartenders to put used glassware. You want your bar to look elegant and beautiful throughout the whole day, not just when your guests first arrive.”
“Champagne buckets, wine chillers, bottle openers, cocktail shakers, glassware, straws are all the practical items to your bar which can also be styled for impact. Place the smaller items such as straws at the front with the larger items at the back for easy access.” highlights Brisbane & Byron Bay Wedding Planner and Stylist, Emma Scott of For Love & Living.
Furthermore, being both caterers and event stylists themselves, Eleven Events highlighted the importance of preparing yourself and having all staff briefed and on the same page “The bar staff, venue, and external catering will all be working together on the day. Make sure they all know what their roles entail, this will ensure the bar and overall space is constantly swept for dirty glassware and rubbish.”
One of the worst things that can dampen your guest’s experiences is having to que for a drink at lengths at the bar. To avoid this, Eleven Events recommend having additional bartenders and servers circulating with beverages and/ or a second bar station “It can be something small and beautifully styled, or specific to a drink (ie cocktails or alcoholic beverages only) but it will take the pressure away from the main bar and can be an opportunity to add another style element to the day.”
Before selecting or designing your bar, Georgina Van Hee, Director of event styling extraordinaires George & Smee, recommends speaking to your caterers and bar staff in advance about how much space they’ll require. Overestimating the size of the bar would be a good place to start and will also further avoid crowding adds The Stars Inside “If you have a particularly large guest list, opt for a bar design that guests can access from all sides, such as a square or circular bar that you can place in the middle of the space. Much better to have the extra space – which you can use for flowers, menus, or some gorgeous glasses – than for your guests to need to queue and crowd the area”.
Alternatively, a freestanding wine cart, self pour barrel-aged cocktails or scattered ice buckets with champagne and beer will also ease the foot traffic to the bars, just ensure to consider the overall locations for the flow of the guest’s journey and to not block passages.
Unity throughout an event is much more than just matching colours or following a ‘theme’ (which we strongly advise against – always go for a mood, not a theme). Every detail of your wedding must connect and make sense with the next to create a harmonious story that will transport your guests to an otherworldly experience.
Giving your guests the best experience comes down to clear planning and harmonious design. “When you have a clear idea of what your style or concept is, it flows through into all your decision making.” says Eleven Events. “Creating and developing mood boards helps make every aspect of the day clear and easier to execute. Refer back to your mood boards with every decision you make, from the type of venue, style of flowers, cocktail or sit down setting, all the way through to the bar and signature cocktail creation.”
If working with an existing bar, select one that will be harmonious with your venue or location through the lens of the vision you’re trying to create, keeping in mind the textures, the colour palette, and overall mood of your wedding. “One simple way to unify the styling of the bar with the rest of the wedding is to introduce at least one floral arrangement on the bar itself so that it continues telling the same story as the blooms of your dining tables and your ceremony” points out The Stars Inside.
“Additionally, if you don’t like the surface of the bar in your venue, you can always look into cladding it with a different material,” says George & Smee, “this could be a removable decal to add a print or simply change to a colour you like, or even with something textural like timber, metallic acrylic or even rattan. This can completely transform a daggy bar, to the ultimate focal piece and connect the bar with the overall design of your wedding.”
Design a Custom Bar
“For a truly unique mingling hour experience, start from scratch with a customised service bar design” says wedding stylist and planner Heidi Cansdell of The Romance. “The imagination is the only limit here. Whether it be an unusual shape, a particularly interesting use of materials, an unpredictable colour or simply something outside the realms of hire opportunity that you or your stylist is excited to execute. Within the beautiful world of weddings and events, customised design can be the difference between a nice event and a visionary masterpiece.”
Many high-end styling and or planning companies offer custom build opportunities so do your research and start early. Take advantage of the opportunity to build a bar to the size needed, and something that will be completely harmonious and adaptable with the space.
“Within the beautiful world of weddings and events, customised design can be the difference between a nice event and a visionary masterpiece.”
– The Romance
“Never underestimate the value of adding fresh blooms to your wedding bar space. It will instantaneously elevate it, providing a sweet aroma and fresh palette to the eye” says For Love & Living
“A bar is often quite masculine in its appearance, so adding stunning florals is an easy way to soften the aesthetic and surfaces” says George & Smee. “It’s also one sure-fire way to make the bar an awe inspiring focal point throughout your reception” adds The Romance, creating a beautiful place to sip cocktails and meet other guests.
Work with your florist on the bar arrangements so it doesn’t become an afterthought, but give them the creative freedom to work their magic. Think bold blooms bursting from the ground along the edge of the bar, hanging above, spilling from counters or lining shelves… just ensure it won’t interfere with guests’ accessibility to bartenders’ surface space. “Combining these florals with some signage, such as a bespoke cocktail menu, offers a fantastic photo opportunity as well” adds The Stars Inside.
Introducing signage to your bar can not only serve as a practical element for guests to peruse the drinks on offer but too can add depth to the styling so don’t let it be an afterthought. “Add awesome signage with your names or the drinks and cocktails list, whether this is a cool laser cut bar menu in acrylic, bespoke signage attached to the front of the bar, or a personalised hanging neon sign. Even a beautifully written chalkboard for the more traditional ‘whiskey bar’ setting is perfect.” says George & Smee.
No matter your choice, always refer back to your mood boards to stay true to your vision and consider how you can unify the bar signage with that of your menus, seating charts and place cards by incorporating the same palette, font and design. Simple and subtle is usually best here, but if creating signage to serve as your focal point at the bar, be sure to not go too over the top with the florals or decor which would take away from your message.
As another practical suggestion, Sydney based Wedding Stylists and Florists Pia + Jade recommends to “Have a bar menu on each table in addition to having a larger one on the bar that is easy to read… especially as the night goes on.”
Design a Signature Cocktail
Get creative and design a delicious beverage with your caterer or bartender that captures the essence of you as a couple. “This is a really great way for couples to be involved in the drinks menu and is a nice personal touch” says Eleven Events. “It can be as simple as adding a healthy twist to your favorite cocktail using essential oils to add depth of flavour, adaptogens such as reishi to add an element of healing or even hemp oil to boost nourishment for your body while your soul has a good time.”
Consider your favorite flavours and drinks when designing, but too what your guests will enjoy. “Use beautifully distilled non-alcohol spirits such as Seedlip to create something unique and delicious for all those guests wanting to steer clear of alcohol for the day” recommends Eleven Events. “Your day is about creating a sensory experience on every level, and taste is certainly no exception. Wow your guests and make it special” adds Lisa Madigan.
Focus on the Small Details
“Not everyone wants to ‘go big or go home’ and for these couples, my suggestion is always to place importance on the little things.” recommends The Romance. “Whether it be the addition of tiny edible flowers in your drinks, spherical ice cubes, artful sugar garnishes, or tempered chocolate additions to your cocktails, luxe serving trays of marble or brass or glassware to catch the eye. These little additions are subtle yet noticed and appreciated by your guests and often provide the sweetest of detail images to be captured by the keen eye of your photographer.”
“A simple yet very effective styling secret, don’t hide away those beautiful fresh garnishes. It creates an interactive guest experience, being able to view & select garnishes of choice” adds For Love & Living. “Think edible florals and fruit for cocktails, sphere-shaped ice cube for whisky or personalised swizzle sticks. Each item is the finishing touch and will elevate your beverages to the next level, whilst complimenting the overall look and feel of the event” says Pia + Jade.
Eleven Events goes further to, “If you have touches of brass throughout your table decor, for example, your candle holders, then have touches of brass throughout the styling of the bar, such as the trays the bartenders serve from. The thoughtfulness behind these finer details makes a huge difference.”
Furthermore, Eleven Events reiterates to consider the small details of the practical elements for the guests when styling too, not just the aesthetics. For example, the placement of the water dispenser at the bar for guests to easily access without needing to queue, or will servers instead be circling around with bottles throughout the day? Food for thought.
“Your day is about creating a sensory experience on every level, and taste is certainly no exception. Wow your guests and make it special” – Lisa Madigan
Don’t Forget Glassware
“Glassware is one detail that can sometimes be overlooked, but selecting the right glassware is key to your guest’s experience” says Lisa Madigan. “Along with crockery, linen and furniture, glassware can really set the tone for the style of the event as it is an en-masse feature on the table, as well as harmoniously compliment the styling and florals” adds Pia + Jade.
“See it, feel it, sip from it… define what the feeling is you want to evoke. Fine and elegant, or wild and free? It’s often the small details that stay with people, adding to the overall impact and magic of the night” suggests Lisa Madigan.
Consider what will compliment your drinks menu on all fronts – “For a summer soiree, perhaps classic coupe glasses with peach martinis? A minimalists wedding may require a touch of grey smoked glass, for that added ‘something’. Your European inspired bar will shine with delicately embossed flute glasses. The list goes on, but it’s all about choosing just the right pieces to refine your overall bar design and wedding style” suggests The Romance.
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