Planning a Great High School Graduation Party – Part 3 of 7 – Planning the drinks

In the last installment of this series we discussed tips on the menu for your party. Today we discuss hydration and libation as we work our way through the drink list.

It’s June, and hopefully a nice day for your party. You will want your guests to have plenty to drink that will keep them refreshed. Our parties always featured a selection of carbonated beverages, a large jug of iced tea or lemonade, ice water, wine and beer. Here I will talk about the merits of each, and how to plan right.

Soft drinks. At the top of the soft-drink planning problem you will want to address two important questions

  • Cans or 2-liter bottles?
  • Name Brand or Store brand?

Both of these questions have implications on cost, and also on convenience for you and your guests. Let’s look at each

If you decide to use 2-liter bottles, you will spend less than if you go with cans. This seems like a plus. But, if you are using bottles you will have to maintain a supply of cups, and ice for those cups. If your guests are like most, some of them will lose their cups over the course of the day, so you will go through more cups than you originally planned. Also, pouring warm soda over a cup of ice will always make them foam up and increase pouring difficulty. So, you will either create inconvenience for the guests, or you will have to keep the 2-liter bottles cold, which means more ice cost.

Cans cost more, and if you are in a state with a can deposit, that cost goes up even further (at least until you re-claim your deposit). The plus side of using cans is that most guests will just drink from the can. You ice down the cans in a cooler, and all is well. You end up saving by using less ice, and eliminating most of the cups.

When it comes to the name vs. store brand discussion, it is really a matter of tastes and the message you want to send to guests. Generally speaking, store brands offer the advantage of lower price. Most of your guests won’t care if you go a little cheaper on the soft drinks, but make sure that it isn’t a sign of things to come. Most of the time, the first experience of your hospitality will be the drink you help them with when they arrive. You don’t want your inexpensive soft drink to be a sign that you cut corners everywhere.

For our parties we learned that cans were the way to go. We watched for sales on the name brands in the weeks leading up to the party, and went that way. Watch the ads for Memorial Day weekend, and you are sure to save money on all of your beverage purchases.

Other non-alcohol drinks. As mentioned above, we always kept a large jug of ice water at the party, as well as either iced tea or lemonade. All of these are refreshing and make your party accessible to those who wish to avoid carbonated drinks.

Many years ago we bought a ten gallon igloo cooler. We have used that as our ice water source for many occasions, including all of our parties. Ask around. Chances are good that you have friends who have the coolers you need.

alcoholWine and Beer. If you choose to have alcohol at your party, you will want to do one thing in advance. High School graduation parties feature a lot of late teens, all of whom are underage to consume. You want to make sure that you send a clear message to them that alcohol consumption is strictly forbidden to them. At our parties, we went so far as to create signs similar to those seen in restaurants and bars reminding patrons of the drinking age. We also asked our graduates to inform their friends in advance that ours would not be the party that had alcohol for them.

Once you have that figured out, the next thing to consider is what to serve, and how to serve it. Wine is actually an easier discussion, because you can get inexpensive bottles of wine, and keep them chilled for guests. Our suggestion would be to have a simple red and white available.

The debate with beer starts with the question of having a keg, or having bottles and cans. Like the discussion around soft drinks, part of the discussion here is about cost. There is a perception that having a keg is the least expensive way to serve beer. And, if everyone likes the same kind of beer, and you have just the right amount in the keg to serve your guests, that perception is probably correct. But, there are drawbacks to the notion of a keg. Unless you have a professional grade keg tapper, and a fool proof way to keep the keg chilled, you will likely be fighting foam all day in the beer. Our experience also says that you will have waste from unused beer in the keg at the end of the party.

After much consideration, we decided to go with cans of beer. There were 2 major advantages:

  • Variety – we could have regular and light beer, and could have different brands based on our guests tastes.
  • Convenience – by using cans, we eliminated the need for extra cups. Our guests were able to just keep their cans with them.

Chilling the drinks. Ice is your best friend for a party like this. We were fortunate enough to have a convenience store less than a mile from where we hosted, so even if things ran low, we could send someone out for more ice. Your next best friends are coolers. Because we are also campers, we have a couple of good coolers. For a party of this size, you will need more.

Every year I see giant coolers on sale at places like Target, Wal-Mart, and Costco. My first thought is always “wow, that would be great for a big party.” That thought is usually followed up with “but what would I do with it the rest of the time?” The fact is that all of your friends have coolers. My advice is to borrow them. Having multiple, smaller coolers allows you to sort out the drinks. It helps keep the alcohol away from the soft drinks, and allows you to label the coolers for their content. Unless you have a photographic memory for which cooler belongs to which friend, I recommend a piece of masking tape inside the lid to mark the owner.

Party-079-aOne final word on using cans. If you live in a state where there are can deposits (like Michigan), you will want to make sure you have a place to capture them. We always had a box or can near the trash that was clearly marked for returnables. In our case, we had guests from states that had curbside recycling, but no deposit. We had to educate them to not crush their cans for us.

As I have said in other parts in this series, planning ahead is the key. The sooner you make your beverage decisions, the sooner you can watch for them to be on sale at your local stores. Now that you have the basic plan, and have your menu and drink plan in place, you are ready to tackle some fun things. In the next installment we will talk about tables, chairs, tents and activities.

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