Everything You Need to Know About Having an Open Bar Wedding

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:

Here at Wedding Spot, 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 any standard bar; guests order, pay, and tip for their own drinks.

Can you have a partially open bar wedding?

Combining an open bar and a cash bar is also a great option for weddings, especially during the reception. Hosts can opt to cover a certain amount of total alcohol sales, leaving guests responsible to purchase any additional alcohol for themselves.

A popular combination includes hosting an open bar for a portion of the ceremony that turns into a cash bar later in the evening. In this scenario, you could host an open bar from 6-8 pm and note that the bartender will be available during the entire reception. Use your wedding website to alert your guests that additional drinks will be available for purchase after 8 pm.

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.

Are cash bars at weddings tacky?

Providing a cash bar for attendees isn’t tacky, but not telling them ahead of time is. Make sure you notify guests in your invitations or on your wedding website. Inform them that a cash bar will be available so that they can prepare accordingly. Allowing your guests to show up unaware that they’ll have to pay for drinks is not a good look. They won’t appreciate it, and it could lead to unwanted wedding day drama.

What’s the difference between a limited bar and a full bar?

A limited bar offers a limited bar menu. A limited bar can serve beer and wine only or include a few cocktail options. A full bar boasts a variety of beer and wine options, as well as a full liquor supply with premium cocktails available.

What are the benefits of hosting an open bar wedding?

There are three primary benefits that come with treating your guests to an open bar.

1. It’s considerate for your guests.

Take the amount of time and money your guests have spent on attending your wedding into consideration. Have they traveled for a destination wedding? If so, they’re also paying for travel costs, accommodations, and other expenses outside of the event itself. Acknowledge the effort and expense you’re asking for when you send out invites. If you’re asking for a lot, it’s polite to provide an expense-free wedding day.

2. Open bars help create a fun, party atmosphere.

If your perfect day includes fun music, dancing, and lots of laughter, an open bar wedding can help your guests loosen up. Additionally, a great bartender will energize your guests and help promote conversation between friends and family who may have traveled alone.

3. It makes the planning process a bit easier.

Perhaps the greatest benefit of hosting an open bar wedding is that it takes a lot of detailed work off of your plate and out of your hands. We know how much time, energy, and effort goes into planning a wedding, and we want to help make the most of your time by cutting the excess fat.

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 outstanding tab.

The last thing you want to do is start your marriage off with wedding debt. Again, set a budget and stick to it. If your alcohol budget doesn’t accommodate a full, premium open bar, don’t force it. Your loved ones don’t want to see you sacrifice your financial well-being to provide them with cocktails.

2. Guests could take advantage.

Unfortunately, open bars are often taken advantage of at weddings. A seemingly endless supply of alcohol can easily lead to overconsumption and overindulgence. It can also leave you with an astronomical bill if your contract allows for an open tab.

3. Unlimited booze = unforeseen complications.

Not all couples are looking for a rowdy ceremony. 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 try and limit consumption.

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 longer your guest list is, the higher your open bar bill will be. Many venues and catering companies provide per-person pricing. Get quotes from various venues and 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. Catering companies sometimes offer package deals for bar service and catering. If you’re considering booking a caterer, ask about their bundle discounts. Venues may require alcohol to be purchased from their service staff, or they may let you bring your own alcohol or hire an off-site bartender. If your venue requires using their services, putting out a tip jar for the bartender may be able to help offset your out-of-pocket costs.

  • What will you be serving at the bar? Open bars can become very costly very quickly, especially if premium spirits are being served. Custom cocktails with a large number of ingredients or a complicated preparation process 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: $15-$20 per person

  • Full open bar with limited beer and wine options: $20-35 per person

  • Full, premium open bar: $35-45 per person

What questions should I ask my venue or catering company?

Effective wedding planning is all in the details. The more information you have, the more prepared you are to plan, afford, and execute the wedding you’ve always wanted. When booking your bar service, ask your venue coordinator or catering contact the following questions:

1. What is the “consumption rate” (# of drinks per guest, per hour) factored in by the venue?

2. Does the venue offer a “max cap” on alcohol service, ending service after an agreed-upon tab amount is reached?

3. Do they offer an open bar flat rate?

4. Is gratuity built into their pricing or in addition to it?

5. What tax rates or other additional expenses will be added to the quote?

6. Do they charge a fee for event setup or tear down?

7. Can you exclude non-drinking guests from the price?

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 food, alcohol, and vendor setup.

  • 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 a partially open bar. 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.

What should be included in open bar service?

Bar service from a venue or catering company should include a variety of items. In addition to your beer, wine, and spirit selections, an open bar should also provide glasses or cups, corkscrews, shakers, tongs, bottle openers, ice buckets, garnishes, and napkins.

How much alcohol is needed for a wedding?

As a general rule of thumb, plan to serve one drink per guest per hour. For example, if your reception is three hours long, and 100 guests will be attending, you should plan to provide 300 servings of alcohol.

Should I add information about bar policies to my wedding website?

It’s better to be safe than sorry. Be considerate and provide your guests with clear instructions for events, venue rules, and outline expectations for different wedding day events ahead of time to prevent potential mishaps.

Now you know all there is to know 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.

Up next, find out even more ways to give your guests a memorable experience with our post on 33 ways to wow your wedding guests.

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