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Open Bar Weddings

Wedding costs have a tendency to rack up quickly, and alcohol can easily become one of your largest expenses. If you’re in the beginning stages of planning your wedding, you’re probably asking yourself a lot of questions. Should you have an open bar wedding? Will the guests expect it? Does it fit within your budget?

If you’re having trouble deciding if having an open bar wedding is right for you, we broke down the pros and cons to help. Learn what to expect from open bar service, the important questions you need to ask potential venues, tips on how to save money on an open bar wedding, and much more.

Should you have an open bar wedding? Here’s everything you need to know:

We’re not in the business of telling you if you can afford your dream wedding. Instead, we’re here to help you figure out how to have the wedding day you’ve always wanted. So, start by getting a clear picture of the ideal wedding for you and your partner.

 

First things first, how much alcohol does your dream wedding include?

To get an idea of what your bar costs may look like, review the factors below to help determine the amount of alcohol that accompanies your celebration.

1. Determine a drink schedule.

  • Do you plan to host a cocktail hour after the ceremony?

  • Will you be serving drinks at dinner as well? At the reception only?

  • Do you want any events to be alcohol-free?

2. Detail your ultimate reception.

  • In your fantasy, is your reception a party, an elegant affair, or both?

  • Do you have a wedding theme? At a Great Gatsby-themed wedding, for example, your guests will probably expect the drinks to be flowing.

3. Consider your guest list.

  • How large is your guest list?

  • Who will be attending?

  • Do you have rowdy guests coming?

  • Will you be catering to a more conservative crowd?

  • Do you anticipate needing to help your guests “loosen up”?

 

What’s the difference between an open bar wedding and a cash bar wedding?

Once you have a clear vision of the alcohol requirements, it’s time to look at bar options. To put it simply, hosting an open bar wedding will allow your guests to get as many drinks as they like, at no cost to them. The host pays for the cost of the alcohol, the bartending services, as well as tips. On the other hand, a cash bar operates like a public bar; guests order their drinks,  then guests must also pay for their own drinks and tip the bartender.

Is it a faux-pas to have a cash bar at my wedding?

To be fully transparent (and blunt) - a cash bar at your wedding actually is pretty tacky! If you are hosting an event that you expect people to attend, you should be financially prepared to cover the costs. A cash bar is a bit like inviting people to your home for a nice dinner and offering them a glass of wine to go with their dinner...but asking them to CashApp you the cost of each glass of wine they drink. If someone were to go out on the town with friends or a date night with their significant other, they most certainly expect to pay for their own drinks...but most guests don't go to a wedding prepared with cash and certainly don't expect to have to pay for their own drinks for an event that someone else is hosting.  If you want alcohol at your wedding, you should budget for it but if it's just not in the budget, it is better to not have one at all.

Can you have a partially open bar wedding?

Combining an open bar and a cash bar is an alternative option and is one where the host covers a up to a predetermined dollar amount of total alcohol sales, leaving guests responsible to purchase any additional alcohol for themselves.

 

No matter which option you choose, be sure to set your financial parameters early so that you can select a bar option that fits your budget and limits the cost to your guests.

What are the cons of an open bar wedding?

Every wedding will see its fair share of unique challenges. Make decisions that help manifest the big picture, but also fit your budget restrictions. Sure, open bars are tried-and-true crowd-pleasers, but consider the pitfalls before placing a deposit on bar service.

1. A big open bar can leave you with a big tab.

The last thing you want to do is start your marriage off with wedding debt. Again, set a bar budget and stick to it. If your alcohol budget doesn’t accommodate a full, premium open bar, don’t force it. Instead, consider a limited selection of bar offerings and set a cap on what you feel comfortable with your ending bill being.

2. Guests could take advantage.

Unfortunately, open bars can be taken advantage of at weddings by those guests (or wedding party) that use this as a free way to get hammered. A seemingly endless supply of alcohol can easily lead to overconsumption and overindulgence. Licensed bartenders are great at mitigating the risk of guests getting overserved but they can't hand-hold every single guest.

3. Unlimited booze = unforeseen complications.

Not all couples are looking for a rowdy wedding. Be aware of the potential issues that could arise as a result of unlimited alcohol. If you have a lot of family tension or a group of wild friends, it may be more beneficial in the long run to limit available alcohol offerings.

 

How expensive is an open bar wedding?

The cost of an open bar is largely determined by the number of guests in attendance, who is providing the alcohol, and what drinks the bar will be serving. Answer the following questions to help you narrow down a number:

  • How many guests are coming? It’s fair to assume that the larger your guest list is, the higher your bar bill will be. Many venues and catering companies charge per drink. Get quotes from various venues and bar catering services to determine which per-person price range fits your budget.

  • Who is providing the alcohol for the wedding? Bar expenses will vary based on the alcohol provider.  If your venue holds a liquor license, they may require alcohol to be purchased from them. Other venues may let you bring your own alcohol but most will require you have a licensed bartender and that you obtain alcohol liability insurance for your event.

  • What will you be serving at the bar? Things can become costly very quickly, especially if premium spirits are being served. Custom cocktails with a large number of ingredients or premium liquor are likely going to cost more. Look up cocktails that you may want to include and research the standard bar pricing for each. You can expect to pay a similar amount for these cocktails at your wedding as well.

 

How much does an open bar cost per person?

Below, you will find generalized per-person pricing for open bar service. Keep in mind that depending on your location, venue choice, and area catering services, you may only be able to get a few different quotes on bar service. With that in mind, go into negotiations with a fair understanding of reasonable price points and what amenities should be included.

Appropriate per person open bar pricing:

  • Limited open bar — beer and wine only: $20-$40 per person

  • Full, premium open bar: $40-60 per person

How can I save money on an open bar wedding?

Strike the right balance between providing everything your guests could ask for and staying within your designated budget.

  • Bring your own alcohol, if possible. Not all venues allow this, but if you don’t have a bank balance that allows for a fully-stocked venue-provided bar, you may need to get creative. If you find yourself in this position, start your search by locating venues that allow outside alcohol

  • Design festive labels! A great way to save money on tight booze budgets is to replace the labels on affordable wine or spirit bottles. Of course, we don’t recommend that you replace one brand’s label for another’s, but rather that you get creative with DIY labels. Add a funny picture, quote, or your wedding hashtag to a decorative label and slap it on top of budget alcohol.

  • Use drink tickets to regulate consumption. Provide each guest with 2-3 complimentary drink tickets. Once they’ve used their tickets, they can purchase additional drinks if they choose. Drink tickets are easy to make, provide, and are a simple way for the bartender to keep track of separate tabs.

 

How much alcohol is needed for a wedding?

As a general rule of thumb, plan to serve two drinks per guest in the first hour, then one drink per guest per hour after. 

Now you know the basics about open bar weddings!

Hopefully, this post helps steer you in the right direction when it comes to deciding whether or not you should have an open bar wedding. Remember: There’s no right answer. Every wedding is different. It’s all about weighing the pros and cons and making a decision from there.

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