There are many types of special occasions and events where you might want to serve liquor to your guests at a rented or public venue — weddings, mitzvahs, conferences, graduations, birthdays, wakes or celebrations of life, family or school reunions, community festivals, manufacturer tastings, and any time you just want to throw a great party.

To plan your event, you’ll need to choose what you are going to serve (and in what amounts) and look at what to stock for different types of bars, while taking into account costs, special occasion liquor licensing, and the need for event liability insurance.

BC Special Occasion Liquor Licensing Steps

Step One: Determine the size of your event A Special Event Server (SES) certificate is required for all events serving or selling liquor to fewer than 500 guests. A Serving It Right (SIR) certificate is required for events serving or selling liquor to more than 500 guests. You may apply for the Special Occasion License before taking either training program, but cannot host the event until after completing the applicable certification.

In British Columbia, a Special Occasion Licence is required for any event where the host plans to sell or serve liquor at an unlicensed venue or in a public space. We recommend that you get the ball rolling by applying for a Special Occasion License and become certified as a Special Event Server.

For more information on who can serve what to whom, and who needs certification, see

Step Two: Timing Many SOL events can be applied for and approved within a short period of time, however, if your event falls into the “major” classification of over 500 guests, there are additional items that need to be contemplated and reviewed. Rising Tide highly recommends leaving yourself ample time to get through a security plan, capacity floor plans, and consultations with the various government bodies. Contact Rising Tide early, we recommend at least four months prior to the event.

For descriptions of the different types of events — Private, Private Family only, and Public — and how to apply for each, see BC’s Liquor Control and Licensing Branch website.

Step Three: Better safe than sorry If you’re providing your own alcohol and someone or something is hurt or damaged, you could be sued and held liable, so it’s always a good idea to hope for the best and plan for the worst. Many insurance companies provide short-term event insurance, so plan in advance for this expense and contact your insurance agent for the right advice.

Planning and stocking your bar: A brief guide

There are three basic types of do-it-yourself special occasion bars: full bar, modified full bar, and beer-and-wine bar.

Full Bar: For a full bar or cash bar, it’s a good idea to hire a bartender to cater and serve. A full bar includes all of the following:

  • Hard liquor: Gin, vodka, rum, whiskey, tequila, brandy, assorted liqueurs
  • Beer: Bottles or kegs
  • Wine: White, red, sparkling, vermouth, champagne
  • Full range of garnishes, fruit, juices, and mixes

Modified Full Bar: This bar type is far less expensive, and usually enjoyed just as much by guests.

  • Hard Liquor: Whiskey, gin, and vodka
  • Mixers: Juice (usually orange or cranberry), cola, tonic water, and club soda
  • Garnishes: Lemons and limes, at least
  • Beer: At least two types, dark and light. (Bottles can be more expensive, though kegs require a tap system, which you’ll need to rent from the liquor store.)
  • Wine: At least one red wine and one white, prosecco for toasting

Beer-and-Wine Bar: Depending on your guests’ preferences, this option allows you to serve more varieties and types of wine and beer for less cost than the modified full bar.

Servings Calculator

This calculator can be adjusted up or down depending on the type of event, age groups attending, and time of day:

  • For 100 guest for 6 hours = 600 servings (1 per guest per hour).
  • Divided between beer/wine/hard liquor or beer/wine only, change the ratio from 50% wine to 75% wine.
  • Allow for 4 glasses per wine bottle, 18 cocktails per liquor bottle, and 1 serving per bottle of beer (or 165 per keg).
  • Generally, people will probably drink a little less at daytime events, so round down the numbers to one case less than these calculations.
  • If you’re going to serve sparkling wine as a toasting-only option, you’ll need about 4-5 ounces per person, per toast.

Relax and Let the Experts Help

You don’t have to go it alone, though, because Rising Tide Consultants are experts in the world of liquor licensing. We’ll guide you through the application and certification process. Whether you need an event liquor license in BC, Alberta or Ontario our liquor licensing consultants can help.

Stay tuned for our August post where we will explain what you need to know about public major events Special Occasion Licensing.

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