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How to Build a Self-Serve Bar

glasses filled with ice, alcohol, and cocktail accessories
Bruce Gibson

We use self-serve bars at many of our parties. Whether we’re hosting a casual Sunday brunch, a mixed grill barbecue, or a more formal cocktail hour, we find them a stress-free way to present drinks to our guests. With a self-serve bar, you don’t have to worry about running around and making sure your guests’ glasses are always full, and you can spend more time with your guests. Self-serve drink stations can be set up quickly and don’t need specialty liquors or garnishes, making them perfect for impromptu get-togethers. We’ve come up with a few key ideas to get you set up a self-serve bar in no time.



Set up your self-serve bar somewhere central. Keep in mind that guests tend to congregate wherever the drinks are, so make sure it’s not blocking any seating or food. We typically set ours up at the end of a buffet bar or on its own on a small table set against one wall.

Setup + Equipment

Set up your drink bar in the way a guest would make their drink. That means glasses first, then alcohol, mix-ins (juice, soda, etc. ), and garnishes. There’s no right or wrong way to set up the bar, but we like to place the glasses on a small tray and place the alcohol in an ice bucket (except red wine, of course). Right beside the alcohol, we have the mix-ins in glass pitchers. You can also serve these on ice, but it’s not essential. At the end of the bar, we place the garnishes in small bowls alongside some cocktail napkins and stir sticks.

Related: How to Be a Better Host: The Best Tips for Entertaining Family and Friends

Cocktails mixed with fruit juice, blackberry , lemon slices and herbs

What You Need to Set Up Your Own Self-Serve Bar

  • A large tray, placemat, or cutting board to ground the drink station.
  • A small tray for glasses
  • Glasses.
  • 2 Large Buckets. One filled with ice to use in the drinks and one filled with ice to hold the cold drinks.
  • 3 Pitchers (for the mix-ins)
  • 3 small bowls (for the garnishes)
  • Cocktail napkins
  • Small tongs or toothpicks for picking up the garnishes.
  • Small spoons or stir sticks for guests to mix their drinks.the drinks

Tips to Remember

  • Self-serve bars should not require your guests to become mixologists.
  • Keep it simple with one to three alcohol options, three mix-in options, and three garnishes.

Drink Options and Garnishes


  • Champagne
  • Vodka
  • Tequila
  • White wine


  • Orange juice
  • Cranberry juice
  • Grapefruit juice
  • Lemonade
  • Soda water.


  • Sliced grapefruit
  • Sliced lemon.
  • Sliced lime
  • Pineapple chunks
  • Cherries
  • Strawberries
  • Blueberries
  • Blackberries

Related: How to Make Your Own Gold Tumbler & Glasses for Your Next Entertaining Gig

Friends toasting cocktails

Drink Combination Ideas

Be sure to try some of our favourite combinations to make from the self-serve bar for your next party!

  • Vodka + lemonade +lemon slice
  • Tequila + orange juice + lime slice
  • White wine + soda water + blackberry garnish
  • Vodka + soda water + cranberry juice + frozen cherry
  • Champagne + grapefruit juice + pineapple

Feature image courtesy of Bruce Gibson. Additional photos courtesy of Getty Images. 

Excerpted from Eatertainment: Recipes and Ideas for Effortless Entertaining by Sebastien Centner and Sheila Centner. Copyright © 2022 Sebastien Centner and Sheila Centner. Book design by Jennifer Griffiths. Photography by Bruce Gibson. Published by Appetite by Random House, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.

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