Couples have plenty of options when it comes to providing alcohol to guests on this special day – including making it a dry ceremony. So is it an open bar, a cash bar, or a DIY affair? Options abound, with two main schools of thought:
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 our guests who have traveled and spent money on gifts, so they deserve some free drinks.
When it comes to making this decision, lifestyle and cost play the largest role. For couples who regularly hit the bars or throwback lots of drinks when celebrating with friends, an open bar 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.
There are still plenty of folks around who are perfectly happy having a dry wedding. That being said, in this day and age, most people have come to expect alcohol at a reception, so it’s a good idea to spread the word if you’re planning a dry event.
The Open Bar
Let’s face it: We’re all part of the problem when it comes to understanding why open bars 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. That cuts down on all the adventure-seekers, and most folks are going to be content enough with beer, wine, or Jack and Coke. 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.
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 selection of regional favorites from places like the Outer Banks Brewing Station or check out the Outer Banks Brew Dolly, a portable Kegerator system that is perfect for any occasion.
A big challenge when doing it yourself involves figuring out how much alcohol to buy. Generally, experts say five to six cases of beer for every hundred guests, 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 take home extras if you ask nicely.
Couples also can bring in liquor and mixers as long as 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, but the cost difference will be worth it to some couples as long as bar troubles don’t put a damper on the celebration. You may even consider booking the OBX Trolley to transport your guests to and from the reception for this very reason.
The general consensus on this one is that it’s 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 so 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 themes surrounding the couple or 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