I’ll Drink To That: 2020 Bar Basics For Your Wedding Reception

Steve HanfCatering, Trends4 Comments

wedding alcohol tips

Couples can spend endless hours designing an unforgettable wedding day. How much alcohol they serve at the reception, though, can help determine how many guests actually remember everything that happened between “You may kiss the bride” and the closing notes of the “Cupid Shuffle.”

So is it an open bar, a cash bar, or a DIY affair? Options abound, with two main schools of thought:

1) It’s OUR special day, so people shouldn’t need to drink to have fun and celebrate with us. Or…

2) These people are your guests who have traveled and spent money on gifts, so they deserve some free drinks.

wedding bar ideas

Outer Banks Productions

Lifestyle and cost tend to play the largest role when it comes to deciding how to entertain wedding guests on your special day. For couples who regularly hit the bars or throw back lots of drinks when celebrating with friends, an open bar probably seems like a no-brainer. Others used to more modest consumption may tone it down a bit at the reception and just serve beer and wine.

And despite those pro-alcohol arguments about Jesus turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana, there are still plenty of folks around who are perfectly happy having a dry wedding. Because there are so many (at times) funny scenes from Hollywood of drunken excess in weddings, most people will expect alcohol at your reception. Hence it’s a good idea to spread the word if you’re planning a dry event.

wedding alcohol tips

Outer Banks Productions

The Open Bar

If you’ve been to weddings with an open bar, you’re probably one of the reasons they cost so much. Normally, you’re perfectly happy drinking a simple rum and Coke. But since these drinks are “free” – to you! – you get fancy.

So because you caught “The Big Lebowski” on cable last weekend, you start ordering White Russians. And then you have hazy memories of those fancy drinks you tried for the first time with that fake ID in college: a Long Island Iced Tea with its five different liquors, the Tom Collins your ex used to order, a Lemon Drop because it was almost like you were drinking a martini … You get the picture – until everything goes dark in a few hours.

Because it takes so much alcohol to stock it and a bartender to run it, experts put the cost for an open bar at 10 to 20 percent of your reception expense: some $16.50 per person. But the scary thing – perhaps even scarier than that drunk relative offering an embarrassing story to your new spouse – is that you might not know what the final tab is until the end of the night depending on how your contract is written. Some are flat fees, while others are consumption based.

Still, if you want to let the drinks flow, there are ways to cut down on the cost. Couples may choose to offer a set variety of drinks such as beer, wine and a cocktail or two. Another option is to limit the open bar to a set time, such as during the cocktail hour and dinner. That way, people are still imbibing to their hearts’ content, just on your schedule – and all that liquid courage should still work its magic for guests on the dance floor as the reception goes on!

DIY wedding bar

Left: Outer Banks Productions. Right: Lori Douglas Photography

D.I.Y. Bar

Depending on the location, couples can choose to bring in their own alcohol for guests to enjoy. For an OBX wedding, that could mean visiting one of the great local breweries for a couple of kegs and a local vineyard for a selection of reds and whites for the wine crowd.

A big challenge when doing it yourself involves figuring out how much alcohol you need. Generally, experts say five to six cases of beer for every hundred guests. Furthermore, two to three cases each of red wine and white wine, and half a case of champagne. Know your guest list, of course: If you’re expecting a thirsty crowd, err on the side of excess. Someone probably will take one for the team and help you with extras if you ask nicely.

Couples also can even bring in liquor and mixers. Being that they have a bartender who can help them keep everything straight. Beyond deciding what to serve and how much to have, there are other considerations on the DIY route. The ABC Board requires a Limited Special Occasion Permit (for $50) to serve alcohol at a wedding reception as long as you have permission from the owner of the building. And be aware of extras your venue might charge such as corkage fees.

You might even have to worry about liability insurance should someone drinking at your wedding cause an accident on the ride home. There’s a reason open bars run by professionals are expensive: The DIY route doesn’t let you press the easy button. Nevertheless the cost difference will be worth it to some couples as long as bar troubles don’t put a damper on the celebration.

wedding bar tips

Sarah D’Ambra Photography

Cash Bar

The general consensus on this one is that it’s simply bad form to make guests pay for their alcohol. If you’re worried about costs associated with a bar, consider an earlier start time for your wedding and reception. If you do decide on a cash bar, it’s important to let your guests know ahead of time. Therefore they can plan accordingly.

Eat, Drink, and be Married

Remember that this entire day is built around celebrating you, so have a little fun with every little detail. It’s becoming more and more popular to have signature drinks at the bar with lovely nicknames – Bloody Marry (Me), Blushing Bride, Tar Heel Tea for a good Southern wedding – so get the creative juices flowing before the bartenders get pouring.

Now you ask, but what about cannabis bars at weddings in states where it’s legal? Unlike here in North Carolina, it’s a thing. Maybe we’ll include more about it in next year’s issue? Who knows.

Top feature photo by Sarah D’Ambra Photography

4 Comments on “I’ll Drink To That: 2020 Bar Basics For Your Wedding Reception”

  1. Hello, your blog is really nice! I like your creative ways to approach the wedding bar ideas within the budget. Your all tips are awesome. I think these ideas will surely make our party memorable. Thank you and keep sharing!

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