This article was written in 2007, so some of this stuff is out of date and frat house focused. Please enjoy, I still come back to this for the memories.
In the last few years, my housemates and I have thrown a few keggers. I’ve learned a great deal in the process, and want to share some practical advice about these events. First and foremost, the success and failure of a party comes down to the planning and energy that you’re willing to commit. Some people make lots of money off keg parties, others (like myself) enjoy having people over, reconnecting with 100 friends at the same time, and cleaning up for a whole weekend.
The advice here is broken down into a few sections:
- Are keggers legal?
- The money exchange
- Getting into other trouble
- Underage drinkers
- Tell your neighbours
- Crowd control and house prep
- The Kitchen
- The Bathroom
- Budgeting and buying beer
- Tapping and pouring
- Picking good music
- Sample budget for a 100 people party
- The golden rule
Some of it applies specifically to Ontario, Canada. The situation with liquor laws is different everywhere, but the general themes always apply.
Are keggers legal?
Keggers CAN be legal; most are not. Unless you’re very specific about what you’re doing, you ultimately end up “selling beer.” Selling beer requires a license, one that you cannot get in a residentially zoned area (at least in Guelph, Ontario).
What IS legal: buying alcohol in bulk and sharing the cost with your friends at a private party.
This is what you can say to the liquor inspector when they come by:
Good evening gentlemen. This is a private party. My housemates and I purchased kegs, and are sharing the cost with some close friends. No, we’d rather that you didn’t come in. Oh. Come right on in Fire Inspector; let me put a shirt on. <sigh>
The intention it is to deny solicitation. So you cannot solicit people to come to your house and share a keg with you. So that means: no flyers, no posters, or advertising of the general kind. Even an open Facebook Event with the word “kegger” in the name can be considered solicitation.
Another part of “selling beer” is the exchange of money. Collecting money is different than selling cups, for example.
I recommend having a greeting table set up to greet people – say hello, explain some party rules, take money, and put it away quickly, safely.
Cash-boxes are generally nice things, but that’s definitely “selling.” Cashboxes may be enough probable cause for your party to be broken up. In any case, put the money away before a walk-through by the authorities.
The worst thing to do is “no money, no cup!!” Consider giving people wristbands instead, and have cups available by the kegs. It’s classier anyway.
Don’t rely on “donations,” that doesn’t save you any legal trouble.
Getting into other trouble
Playing the private party with no solicitation angle is only a small part of the battle. Usually, if LLBO or LCBO officials come by things have degenerated so have your greeting rehearsed.
There are many agencies that have an interest in your soire. In order of severity, here are some people you should try to make happy.
- Bylaw Officers – By far the most common complaints are noise complaints. There are noise ordinance/bylaws in any municipality, and it’s best to be familiar with them. In Guelph, 11:00pm – 6:00am is quiet time. Noise complaints can come in two parts: a warning by a bylaw officer, followed by a fine by a police officer about 30 minutes later if the complaint repeats, or the bylaw officer doesn’t notice any corrective action on your part. ($100 – 1000)
- Police Officers – They enforce both city bylaws, and provincial/state/federal laws, so if they’re around, you’re likely committing some sort of crowd-control error. I’ve devoted an entire section to Crowd Control below. The police are nice sometimes! Be sober.
- Fire Officials – Safety is the concern of fire officials, and they can put a world of financial hurt on you for things such as: no extinguishers, tampered alarms (huge, up to $50,000 fine), and over-capacity. There’s little you can do about capacity problems other than asking the drunks to leave; but make sure all of the fire-related devices in the house are in good working order. Buy fire extinguishers, clear the exit paths, don’t host a kegger on a 3rd floor of a house.
- Liquor Officials – Once again, if these guys show up, have a well rehearsed plan of action explaining what is going on. No open exchange of money-for-cup, any of that. Be very sober.
In terms of fines, they vary wildly. I usually budget for a $300 fine, though I’ve never paid for one yet. It’s not uncommon to get a fine multiplied by the number of inhabitants in the house (for example, $150 noise violation, x 4 housemates = $600).
Underage drinking at university keg parties has become more of an issue since the province got rid of Grade 13/OAC. Teenagers are loud, brash, and inexperienced partiers: they can get you into trouble by simply not doing what you ask them to.
If it was up to me, unless I know them personally, nobody under the age of 19 at my party. That’s my ideal underage policy.
Tell your Neighbours
Telling your neighbours may be counter-intuitive. Your neighbours are probably the people who are calling in noise complaints, so the best advice I can give you is: communicate your intentions to them before-hand, and be reasonable about noise levels.
We usually turn the music down by 1:00am. If you have bands, make sure they’re done by about midnight. People yelling in the backyard is cause for concern, and actually difficult to manage. Ask your guests to shut up, as there are children sleeping next door.
For the one big party we had (three bands, DJs, many kegs, hundreds of people), my cousin wrote a simple letter and hand delivered it to all of the neighbours within earshot. It said that we were going to have a party and that we’d keep the noise down after 1:00am. It included our phone numbers. No complaints!
Nobody likes to work at keg parties, but these are people you should have on deck:
- Door greeter – says hello, collects money, explains the situation. Deals with the authorities, so they should avoid drinking.
- Money – someone whose full-time job it is to deal with the money. Totally sober. Self-explanatory.
- Beer dispensers – have two or three people monitoring the kegs or even bartending. Self-service kegs are alright, but not ideal. These people prevent kegs from floating away, which is a common problem.
- Music heads – A DJ or two, a few people who know what’s up with the music.
- Floaters – Checking the back yard, front yard, bathrooms, and making sure all of the booze stays inside the house.
Crowd Control and House-prep
Controlling what your crowd does is difficult, and it has a lot to do with how you’ve laid your house out. You can affect the path and flow of people effectively with large pieces of furniture, while small furniture tends to just get in the way.
Establish some rules for a party and delivering them as people walk in. It makes a huge difference. People respect well-organised parties, they really do.
This is a somewhat random list of good planning ideas:
- Always keep the door and windows closed, with windows covered by curtains. Don’t cover windows with anything permanent, or even semi-permanent like garbage bags with duct tape. It’s a huge fire hazard.
- Keep people in the house, or in the enclosed back yard. No front porch, no front yard. Smokers will hate this, but drinking in the front yard is an invitation for bylaw violations.
- No lineups in-front of the house. Be quick with admission, move your “greeting area” further into the house if you have to. This is especially important in the winter.
- No drugs. Just say “No weed, no coke, no drugs.” Pick your substance abuse battles, ask guests to get high another day. You don’t need the legal hassle.
- Stairs = danger. If they aren’t obvious, mark stair edges. Tape down all of the cable and power cords running throughout your house.
- Carpets = ruined. Covering your entire house with cardboard is time consuming, but occasionally worth it if you have carpeting. We have hardwood floors with area rugs, so we rolled up the rugs and put them away.
- For the area around the kegs, consider laying down a layer of thick garbage bags or blue nylon tarps underneath the cardboard, as spillage will soak right through.
- The back yard is your best friend. Clean it up, clear it out, and put a few giant garbage bins back there. People will naturally want to go outside for a cigarette, or some semi-privacy. Patio lanterns and christmas lights can’t hurt! Noise concerns are key here.
Do not hesitate to brutally escort people out of your house for fighting, inciting trouble, or stealing things. Take their cup, their car keys, and ask them politely to call you in the morning to apologise.
Every party ends up in the kitchen, even keggers. There is usually a keg there, access to water, some seating, and good lighting.
Have water easily available in the kitchen. Set out three or four pitchers ($1 each at the dollar store) for water. Sounds like a no-brainer, but finding water at parties is difficult sometimes. If cost isn’t a concern, big jugs of juice are a great idea.
Set up a huge garbage can in the kitchen, and one by the entrance; that’s where people will expect a garbage to be.
If you’re worried about people stealing your stuff, use zip-ties to tie the knobs/handles of your cabinets together. Put a “don’t touch the fridge” sign on the fridge. People will eat your food.
Useful hint: For cooling canned beer, wine, coolers, and other things people bring set up a big, plastic moving box full of ice. Those plastic bins are $8 at Canadian Tire, and hold about 3 cases of beer + ice, way more than your fridge can handle.
Separate the two bathrooms into a girls and a boys. Mark them well. Seriously, I know it sounds stupid, but it works really well.
Girls sometimes go to the bathroom in pairs/trples, and dominate the toilet for about 20 minutes. Dudes will go outside/pee on your stuff unless you have a toilet free. Make the bigger one the girls washroom, especially if it’s on the 2nd floor. Ground floor bathrooms are occasionally scary at parties.
Have lots of toilet paper available, and hide the seran-wrap. Place a large garbage can in the bathroom, but there may be vomit in it the next morning.
Budgeting and buying Beer
There’s a golden rule for weddings: budget three drinks per person. You’d think Keg parties are different .. and they are .. but not by much. Four beers per person average is decent, five is safe, six and you’ll have lots of beer left over. This is based on a gender-balanced party. Keg parties full of Underarmor-hat wearing hockey boys … who really knows.
A keg has ~50L in it. 1L is roughly three beers. Thus, one keg can safely supply thirty (30) people for a 4-5 hours. Three kegs for one hundred (100) people will last til 9:00pm – 2:00am.
Where to buy beer? This varies wildly by province or state. In Ontario the company Brewer’s Retail (The Beer Store) has the monopoly on retail kegs. There is a legal lowest limit for the price of kegs in Ontario, and it’s around ~$150 as of 2007. Most name-brand kegs are about $220; some imports dip well into the $300 range. Ask around, you should be able to find $120 kegs from microbreweries through some connections. There are many Ontario micro-brewers that would love your business.
Typically, you’ll also drop $50 per keg as a refundable deposit. Usually untapped kegs can be returned for full price. Set a time for when the last keg is to be tapped (1:00am is safe), and don’t let anyone who doesn’t live at your house tap the kegs.
You’ll need a pump, or a CO2 system. The brewers are a good resource for that sort of thing. The Beer Store rents hand pumps for < $20, plus a refundable deposit. CO2 systems are less available, but far better than hand pumps. More on that below, in Pouring Beer.
To be honest, I haven’t paid more than 12,000 cents per keg in years. Delivered to my house, with CO2, no keg deposit. There’s a sample budget near the end of this article.
Tapping and pouring beer
Pouring beer often causes problems: there are crowds around the kegs, huge spills, lots of foam, etc. Tapping kegs isn’t difficult, this guide walks you through the process.
For a big party, we decided to close off the kitchen and hire three beer girls to pour beer into one of ten pitchers ($1.00 each at Dollarama), and people helped themselves to the beer in the pitchers. It was glorious, worked perfectly. No foam, because the bartenders knew how to pour and pump the beer.
With a CO2 system, set the pressure for 6-7psi, and enjoy the draught. That’s equivalent to 3 pumps on the handpump every two beers. THREE pumps every TWO BEERS. Got that, Pumpy-Mc-Foam-Face? Overpumped beer is foamy. Well-pumped beer comes out clear, but unfortunately slowly.
The cups also have a lot to do with whether the beer foams or not. This is why thin cups are usually better than sturdy thick red cups. The abrupt transfer of the cold/heat from the beer/cup causes beer to foam. Lightly chill your cups, or use thin ones for best results (counter-intuitive, I know).
Picking good music
Music is terribly important, and totally underrated in keg-party planning. The goals for keg party music should be:
medium groove, mass appeal, and dance-ability.
Nothing too fast, or too much of a downer. Pop is OK, but people like thinking “man, these folks have great taste in music!”
Spontaneous dance parties are totally awesome, but need dancy music. Dance parties create followings of fun girls; who then bring more fun girls to the next one. Truth.
So if you have a friend who is a great hip-hop DJ, just suck it up and pay the man his $50 and free beer. One DJ can spin for about two hours before things get kinda … bleh. Multiple DJs are better than one. Don’t play frat-boy rock: Tragically Hip, Nickelback, Creed, AC/DC .. any of that. It’s not good party music; it’s good hang-out-with-your-bros music, which are different things.
iTunes connected to a stereo is OK but everyone will try to change songs. It’s time consuming, but take the time to set a good playlist (or two, with different moods), set the crossfader to be 5 seconds or more, and lock the screen with a screensaver.
I’ve had bands at a kegger before. It’s a really great idea, people love it, but it’s a nightmare logistically. In that sense, I’d recommend against it unless you have experience with that sort of thing. Paying bands cuts into your budget; $100 is usually fair for a local band, as low as that may seem.
Sample Budget for a 100-people party
80 drinking guests x $10 – $800
20 non-drinking guests x $5 – $100 – Don’t let people in for free .. next time you have a keg party, as next time people will just show up with their own booze and not pay, either.
Beer in Kegs – $400 (3 kegs)
Hand pump – $20
Cups (200) – $30
Wristbands (200) – $40
Miscellaneous – $20 – Markers, garbage bags, pitchers, cleaning supplies, etc.
Ice and bins (8-10 bags) – $30
Would Be Nice:
DJ – $50
CO2 system – $30
Couple of bands – $200
Costs with refunds:
Keg Deposits – $150
Hand pump deposit – $30
Float – $200 (in $5′s and $1/$2′s) .. be mindful of your price. $10 is good, $15 is good with bands, $12 is inconvenient, $20 is too much.
Fine – $300
The Golden Rule
Oh, one last thing.
Don’t get drunk at your own party.
I know it sucks, but you need to be alert. Someone has to talk to the police, apply first aid, watch for kegs that float away. Get wasted off the left-overs in the kegs tomorrow, after a hard day of cleaning. You’ll deserve it!
I’m definitely not the first person to write a guide about throwing keggers. This excellent guide at WikiHow is worth a read.
Good luck! Leave a comment if this helped at all.