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Alcohol at Weddings

Alcohol at Weddings? Let’s Chat.

As a wedding photographer, I’ve seen all sorts of weddings. Weddings that serve alcohol can range from the reserved sipping of champagne to the rowdy guzzling of beer. Or guzzling that famous East Tennessee moonshine. There’s nothing wrong with including alcohol at weddings. You only get married once, and it is the perfect opportunity for everyone to cut loose and celebrate with you. In fact, if you are celebrating a New Years’ Eve Wedding, it’s expected that you have alcohol. Heck, I even had alcohol at my wedding and it certainly wasn’t a decision I regretted.

Now, here comes the BUT. Things can get out of hand sometimes. And, alcohol can certainly affect your wedding photography. In this post, I’m going to take a look at some of the issues that I see pop up during a wedding. And give you some pointers on what to think about when planning alcohol for your wedding.

bride and wedding guest dance at wedding
Black and White Wedding Showcases Party Vibes

Drinking to excess

This is the big one. The entire wedding party getting sloppy drunk isn’t the only consideration to make when planning for alcohol but it is the most obvious, so I’ll start here. Two groups of people are in most wedding photographs: the wedding couple and the bridal party. For that reason, it is important that members of these two groups are careful with their alcohol consumption.

The wedding couple

You hired a professional wedding photographer so you could remember your wedding day for the rest of your life. These are the pictures that you will look back on long as your venture into old age. I can’t take any pictures at all if one, or both, or you can’t stand up. This might not happen at many weddings, but it does happen. And some of this is not just drinking to excess, but it’s drinking without eating. Just a few sips of champagne on an empty stomach can make any bride pass out.

Most often, the happy couple is able to remain in an upright position. However, drinking can leave a very distinct and dopey look on the eyes and facial expressions. It is certainly not the look you want for pictures that you are going to want to cherish forever. And it’s something that Photoshop can’t fix. So, what do you do? You work with your wedding photographer to plan a timeline that allows you to get all of your photos out of the way so you can celebrate with your peeps. If this idea appeals to you, consider a First Look option for your timeline.

The bridal party

While shooting my first wedding, I got ONE photo of the entire bridal party before one of the groomsmen fell completely over. I’m not kidding. Thankfully, most groomsmen and bridal parties are not like that. But when picking your bridal party is a big deal. Especially if you are adding in alcohol, alcohol consumption habits and tolerance levels of your bridal party’s major members are things you should consider. Again, we don’t need dumpster fires on your wedding day.

Just like the wedding couple, we need the bridal party members to be standing for photos. But where the biggest problem occurs when we have to direct or pose an intoxicated group of people. Obviously, people who have drunk too much aren’t very good at focusing. So, trying to round up a group of them for a photograph feels like herding cats. And when you herd cats, you lose time. And time that could be spent taking freaking awesome photos. If you have concerns about your bridal party (and alcohol), again consider the First Look option. This way, your photos are done before the reception begins.

Meaningful Feet-Washing Wedding at Ramble Creek Events

Alcohol at the Reception

Planning alcohol at the reception involves more than deciding whether or not you want to serve it. Will you have a near-unlimited supply of booze for your guests to consume, or will you have a simple champagne toast where everyone gets a glass, and it is put away? Let’s talk about some of the ways to make that decision.

What kind of vibe do you want?

This is the easiest decision to make. Clearly you would choose the unlimited supply of cheap booze if you are looking to throw down and par-tay and go with the champagne toast if you are looking to ensure that everything stays respectable and dignified. There’s usually a middle ground in there somewhere that matches the vibe of your friends and family.

Know Your Crowd 

Can your guests actually handle alcohol? I mean, can they handle it…well? We’ve already talked about the importance of keeping the people who will be in the most photos upright and relatively sober, but you also don’t want black sheep Uncle Bob’s passed out lifeless body photobombing the candid shots either.

Although depending on how much of a black sheep he is, passed out Uncle Bob might be preferable to fully awake but also fully smashed and causing a scene Uncle Bob. The point is that you need to know who is going to be at the reception and how they respond to alcohol.

Length of Reception

Alcohol is one of the main reasons that people STAY at weddings (aside from an awesome DJ or Band). This means that the more alcohol you have, the longer your reception will last. If you want to party into the night to celebrate your wedding, then there’s no problem with that! But if you need to wrap things up early or only have the venue for a limited time, you may want to consider how much alcohol you make available so that you aren’t kicking everyone out towards the end of the night like a bar at closing time.

Alcohol at Weddings
Modern Champagne-Fueled Wedding

The Number of Bars and their Locations

If you’ve decided to have alcohol, you do not want your guests stuck in long lines to get a drink. You may choose to have a cooler filled with ice and beers for your guests to grab on their own. Or you may choose to have an actual bar with a bartender. If choosing the latter, you must coordinate some things with them.

Your bartender can tell you how many bars you’ll need to set up at the venue. A large wedding reception cannot efficiently be served by just one bar, but more than one is overkill for a smaller reception. Your bartender will have experience with crowd sizes and be able to guide you on this.

You’ll also want to choose the location of the bars carefully. You want your guests to be able to quickly move from the dance floor to the bar and back but do not want to crowd the dance floor with people waiting to get a drink. Don’t be afraid to ask your contact point at the venue what the common setups are for their space.

Alcohol at Weddings
The Press Room Knoxville

Signature Cocktails

When deciding what types of liquor to provide, you may be tempted to think only of the types of drinks that you prefer. Do not fall into this trap. The tastes of your guests will vary wildly, and you want to have popular drinks to suit all of those palates available. This is another thing that your bartender can help you with, should you choose to have one.

If your reception has many drinkers, it can be a good idea to premix some of the more popular cocktails. This will greatly reduce people’s time standing in line and give me a more lively and active crowd to photograph! Yay!

Heartland Meadows Wedding Knoxville
Planning a Dry Wedding Reception?

Check with your Venue

It’s possible that your venue does not even have a liquor license, which makes this whole thought experiment moot. This is certainly one of the things that you will want to check for when selecting a venue. Venues with a liquor license may have rules you will need to follow to serve it there.

Let me rephrase that last statement. Every venue will have rules regarding how and when alcohol is served. Each venue must comply with state laws to maintain its liquor license. Be sure to ask what those laws are and understand that many rules are not within the venue’s control.

If you are planning a wedding and need a photographer, I’d love to have you look at my portfolio. I’ve photographed everything from the rowdy to the reserved, so you can feel comfortable being yourself in front of my camera regardless of the event you are planning. My goal is to bring out who you are and capture the joy you feel in the moment, no matter what form that comes in.


Natural light + honest photographer for all humans.


Knoxville, Tennessee



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