There are many different options for serving alcohol at your wedding, and there are pros and cons to each. While traditional etiquette states that every wedding should be an open bar / host bar, sometimes this is simply not within your budget. It’s important to talk to your venue to find out what your options are and consider which is the best for your wedding.
Host / Consumption bar vs Open bar
Many of my clients are confused about the difference between a host bar (also called a consumption bar) and an open bar:
- A host bar is when guests are able to order whatever drinks they want, and at the end of the evening the bartenders will add up the cost and bill you accordingly.
- An open bar is when you pay a per-person fee ahead of time, and then your guests are able to drink as much as they want. When a venue offers an open bar option, they will generally give you a standard price or a premium price - this is in reference to the type of liquor they will be providing, either typical bar rail or top-shelf.
Which is right for you? Well, this largely depends on how much you think your guests are going to drink. For example, lets say that the venue is going to charge you $40 per head at your wedding. If drinks each cost $10, that means you are paying for 4 drinks per person. If you think that on average your guests are likely to drink more than this, the open bar is the way to go. However, if you know that a large number of your guests will not be drinking, or you don’t anticipate that most people will have 4 drinks, you may want to go with a host bar instead.
So, if these options are outside of your budget, what do you do?
Cash bar: guests pay for all drinks themselves
Ensure this is indicated on the invitation so guests know to bring cash
See if the venue has an ATM nearby
Limited bar: Provide a host / open bar but only for certain drinks, typically beer and wine
Some will also include a “Signature drink” in this bar
Typically other drinks will be available as well for guests to purchase
Cocktail hour: Provide a host / open bar during cocktail hour only
You can also combine this with wine on the tables or a champagne toast
Wine on the tables : Provide wine during dinner only
Champagne toast: Provide a glass of champagne for each of your guests
Create a limit: Have a host / open bar up until a budget limit or only during certain hours
Remember that this means that at some point during the evening, the bar is going to switch from open bar to cash bar, often coming as a shock to your guests!
Drink tickets: Give each guest a coupon for a drink on you!
Send these with the invitations or provide them only to your close family and bridal party
Toonie bar: Each drink costs $2, and you pay the remainder of the cost
This can be a great option as it still gives guests a tangible reminder that they are purchasing a drink, making them less likely to leave half empty drinks around the room and get new ones, while still heavily discounting the cost for your guests
Daytime wedding: Guests are far less likely to over-consume alcohol if your wedding is earlier in the day. Consider an afternoon or brunch reception
Bring your own: Some venues will allow you to create your own bar
Keep in mind that you will likely also need servers, as well as a liquor license
Make sure you don’t run out! Order more than you need - you can return extras later
A couple of other notes:
If people are consuming alcohol, it’s a good idea to have some food available. A late night buffet is a great option for this!
Don’t forget about non alcoholic drinks! Some venues will charge $5 or more even for non-alcoholic drinks. You may be able to purchase an “non-alcoholic open bar” by paying a per-person rate for unlimited pop / water / juice.
No matter what bar option you choose, don't forget to make sure there is a way for people to get home safely. Call taxis, use responsible choice, or offer a room block at a nearby hotel.