When it comes to weddings, alcohol is one of those things that has become an unspoken requirement. I mean, how can you possibly celebrate your love without booze?! The truth is, alcohol at your wedding is totally optional and having an open bar is nice, but it is definitely not a requirement for your wedding to be a success. Take a careful look at your budget, and then consider the following recommendations before committing to an open bar.
Put Limits on How “Open” Your Bar Really Is
Even if you have the budget for an open bar, you may want to set limits on your guests’ alcohol consumption.
“If you can swing an open bar, swing it...but do so with expectations in mind,” says Pennsylvania wedding photographer La’Quitia Denson of Beyond the Pond Photography. “Definitely limit the open bar at a decent time.” Talk to your bar service or caterers about options for limiting service. This can include setting an earlier “last call” time or putting a cap on the total bar bill. One great way to budget for an open bar is to explore the possibilities of pre-purchasing your alcohol with your venue, caterer, or bartenders ahead of time. Some companies even offer a discount if you pre-purchase the alcohol, and then whatever is not consumed is yours to take home.
Another option is to avoid table service for alcohol and force your guests to actively approach the bar for a refill. Table service is a nice perk for your guests, but it does often lead to guests saying “Sure! I’ll have another drink,” when they don’t really need or want one.
Time Food Service Accordingly
Providing an open bar can be dangerous if you are not also providing enough food to your guests, as well as other non-alcohol beverage options.
“If you’re concerned that people will get too drunk on an open bar — let me assure you, they will get too drunk either way,” says New York City wedding planner Justine Broughal of Together Events. “Be intentional with how you’re timing the day, for example, don’t have an hour of open bar before the ceremony and an hour afterward without food available.”
An hour of no food, unlimited alcohol, and the possibility of high outdoor temperatures can lead guests to consume way more alcohol than they realize and can lead to dangerously high levels of dehydration for your guests. Always be sure to have some food and lots of water available to your guests during the cocktail hour.
“If you are having a cocktail hour following the ceremony with an open bar, be sure to provide hors d’oeuvres,” says La’Quitia. She also suggests that you can choose to close down the bar during dinner service and reopen it once dances and speeches begin. It’s your wedding, so remember that how you choose to structure the day is totally up to you!
Consider a “Reduced” Set of Bar Options
If your budget is tight, but you still want to offer an open bar to your guests, consider removing liquor and mixed drinks from the menu.
“You can choose to offer beer and wine only, or even just a champagne toast during the speeches,” shares Justine. This is a great option if you are considering a wedding that is a little more DIY. Buying beer and wine wholesale from suppliers or from wholesale stores like Costco allows you save money by only offering your guests a limited set of options. One to two beer options, a white wine and red wine option, and champagne for toasts may be all you need for your guests to have a wonderful time! It also allows you to have complete control over the alcohol budget, and when the booze is gone, it’s gone!
Not every venue allows you to supply your own alcohol, however, so talk with your venue about options before you make any alcohol purchases.
Don’t Be Afraid to Admit That an Open Bar Is Not in Budget
It’s great that you want your guests to have a blast, but again, free alcohol is not a requirement for a successful wedding.
“This day is about celebrating the love between you and your partner, not getting your friends and family drunk for free.”
“If you can’t afford an open bar and feel guilty about it — don’t,” reminds Justine. “Not everyone can afford an open bar, and a cash bar is just fine. This day is about celebrating the love between you and your partner, not getting your friends and family drunk for free. People are thrilled to be there and to celebrate you, and it’s not the end of the world if they need to pay for their own drinks.”
Trust us, your friends will still be your friends even if they have to shell out $8 for a beer during your wedding day. Having a cash bar also allows your guests to have full control over their drink options, from your friend that only drinks rosé to your family member that only drinks Scottish whiskey. If the bar stocks it, they have the freedom to order it and pay for it themselves.
Set Expectations with Your Guests Ahead of Time
If you do decide to go with a cash bar, just be sure to alert your guests to this ahead of time, either on the invitations or on your wedding website.
“If guests are unsure whether there’s an open bar, or are expecting an open bar, they might not budget for the extra cost or bring enough cash with them,” shares New York City wedding photographer and videographer Elizabeth Mealey. “Make sure the communication is clear either way so guests can prepare!” Whether or not you have a cash bar or an open bar, it’s always a good idea to remind your guests to tip the bartenders.
Encourage Your Guests to Drink Responsibly
Finally, no matter what the alcohol situation on your wedding day, remind your guests to make smart choices with regard to their alcohol consumption. “Encourage your guests to drink responsibly!” notes La’Quitia. “This is, after all, a day of celebration, not a frat party.”
There are a few ways in which too much alcohol at your wedding can get out of hand, but two common issues are making sure your guests have safe transportation home and that your guests do not become inconsiderate of the vendors working to make your day magical. “Be sure to have fun,” says La’Quitia, “but remember the people around you trying to do the job of capturing your day.”
Jen Siomacco is the CEO and Editor-in-Chief of Catalyst Wedding Co. She works to mesh together her love of feminism, love stories, accessibility, equality, and design into the Catalyst brand. When she’s not traveling the country working to make the wedding industry a more inclusive place, she’s writing on her couch and snuggled up with her husband and SUPER lazy cats.
Photo by Tiffany Josephs Photography