Party 101: Drink Station

So the party is at your house? Here’s how to set up the drinks station

Setting up a drink station at your party allows people to serve themselves and creates a conversation spot. Here are some tips that will help you prepare in advance, so you can enjoy the gathering once the guests arrive—and enable self-serve vs. host-bartending. 

(How any host can manage to make conversation and eye contact and watch to see if drinks are bottoming out is beyond me!)

Adding a sprig of mint or another herb to the water at your drinks station will look appealing.

How To Set Up a Drinks Station – Tips for the at-home Host

1. Location, location, location.

For a house party, set your drink station in a different room than the food. This forces people to move around the house and helps you avoid a situation where you’re three people thick to get to the buffet. Also, people tend to chat as they pour drinks, so you’re setting up a conversation area in addition to a watering station. 

Wacky P.S. to Tip 1: A friend who recently remolded her bathroom set up her drinks in the bathtub (freshly washed, and full of ice) so that everyone could admire the tile work while serving themselves. Just an idea. 😉 

2. Gear up.

If you’ve read this far, you are probably looking to avoid the cooler under the table situation. No judgment, right. That said, you don’t need a full bar or bartender, and I am not suggesting that you spend a fortune on gear. That said, there is some gear that will elevate your drink game and give your guests independence. Here’s what’s useful to me:

  • Pitcher or dispenser with ice water. Add a branch of mint or another herb, and you’ll make someone smile.
  • Tub for bottled drinks that are served on ice. If this is a party for twenty or more people, use multiple troughs and separate your drinks by group – i.e., sparking waters and sodas, beer, wines, juice boxes for kids
  • Ice tongs & Ice bucket. No, we’re not grabbing the ice out of the tub.
  • Cups/glasses. By the way, you will need many more than the number of people. Even if they are glass. Humans are funny that way.) Practical tip, and I have to throw it in even if it’s not the most elegant solution: If you are going with plastic cups, include a Sharpie on the bar area so people can mark their cup with their initials.
  • Paper napkins. I love fabric, but I find that people avoid taking them unless at a seated dinner.
  • Corkscrew/bottle opener that does not require a PhD to use. 
  • Dishtowel or two. Place it next to water bucket, next to trough to allow people to wipe a wet beer, etc. It also drops a hint and perhaps a twang of guilt for people who choose to ignore the splash they just made as if it will evaporate immediately.

3. Have the basics on hand.

As much as we love a theme, for most large events, the basics are the basics. In the 80s, we’d always have sodas and iced tea. Remember those days? I have since edited sodas out of my list of ‘basics,’ since bubbly water has gained in popularity. For a house party, you could also be super practical here. After all, who wants to buy a case of something that you don’t want leftovers of? Anyhow, for a first event, or for a crowd you don’t know well, here is a good starter plan.

  • A large pitcher of ice water 
  • Bubbly water, especially flavored waters
  • Beer (offer two types)
  • Wine (one red option, one white option)
Any corkscrew at a drinks station should not require a PhD to use!

4. Offer a signature drink.

Whether you make a batch of cocktails or set out a menu for folks to mix their own, it’s a good idea to offer a non-alcoholic ‘signature drink’ or punch. This allows you to match a drink to the meal or season. Also, from a practical standpoint, a big punch bowl or pitcher of a special drink helps direct traffic and streamline decision-making. I find that, unless someone has an immediate aversion to the drink that you’re featuring (i.e., “I don’t like fruit in my drinks, so ‘no gracias’ to the sangria”), most people will choose your feature. This helps you gauge how much of what to serve, too.

Top Drink Options – Non-Alcoholic 

  • Winter: Wassail (serve warm)
  • Fall: Apple Cider / Ginger ale punch (chilled) 
  • Spring/Summer Minty lemonade, Agua fresca, Hibiscus tea

Top Drink Options – Alcoholic 

5. Set the tone for self-serve.

I do this in two ways. As people arrive, you can invite them to, “Grab a drink through here,” and “Drop your coats there…” Another tip, for a sit-down dinner, is to invite everyone to the table and ask them to top off their drinks before they are seated. Have water (and water glasses) at the table, but guests will know to serve themselves for their other choices.

Wacky P.S. to Tip 5: If your goal for the event is for people to mix and mingle, set a rule that no one is allowed to pour their own drink. This will force everyone to “grab” a guest every time they want a refill. You’d be surprised how willingly people follow such quirky rules. I believe I heard this tip from Priya Parker as one of her clever “pop up rules,” but don’t quote me on that. Anyhow, super fun idea.