Open Bar Costs For A Wedding

Let’s face facts. Weddings are a costly affair and no matter what way you look at it the overall cost is not going to be cheap. This is, of course, unless you decide to elope or have a court wedding with only a few people by your side.

The highest costs of your wedding are normally attributed to venue hire and food, but if you have decided to have an open bar the amount that you are going to be paying for your wedding is going to land up being substantially more than you had bargained for.

An open bar is when the bride and groom or the hosts of the wedding fit the bill for the alcohol that has been consumed at the end of the wedding. This means that there are no cash transactions taking place between the guest and the bar staff and the bill is paid at the end of the wedding by the bride and groom or the hosts of the wedding.

Sometimes the bride and groom will choose to have a cash bar at their wedding. A cash bar operates in much the same way that it would at a pub or a restaurant, and guests will run a tab or pay for their drinks are they are served.

In this article, we are going to discuss what you need to consider before you decide on an open bar, and how to calculate the estimated cost if you are going to have an open bar at your wedding.

How Much to Budget on If You Decide on An Open Bar

If you are purchasing a drinks package through your caterer then they will be in charge of the drinks that are served at the wedding. In this case, you will more than likely be charged an amount per head.

Non-alcoholic drinks will of course be a fraction of the cost of any alcoholic beverages. In other words, if your guests are not alcohol drinkers then you might get away relatively lightly with the bar bill.

Unfortunately, if your friends are party animals and like to drink at functions then you are going to have to cough up and pay quite an exorbitant bill when all is said and done.

Working Out The Alcohol Budget for Your Wedding

Bear in mind that the cost of an open bar at a wedding can account for up to 20% of your budget, lest we not forget that the tip or service charge to be given to the bartenders at the end of the evening can account for about 20% of your total bar tab.

Here is an example of how to work out what your bar bill is going to be:

Let’s say for example that you are going to have 120 guests attending your wedding. Typically you shouldn’t normally pay more than $20 per head for drinks. This would cover at least four drinks for each of the guests. This would make the bill plus or minus $2,400. Don’t forget to add up to 20% for service fees and taxes to your total.

How Much Alcohol Do I Need to Host My Wedding?

If you are trying to get an idea of what your total bar tab is going to be after the wedding, then there are a few factors that you should consider.

Here is what needs to be considered when trying to create a budget for an open bar at your wedding:

1. Your Vision of Your Big Day

When you picture your wedding reception did you picture an elegant affair, a party vibe, or perhaps both? Do you have any specific themes for your wedding?

This may seem like a strange question, but if your wedding theme is going to be the Great Gatsby or A Royal wedding theme then your guest are going to expect an unlimited number of drinks.

2. Draw Up A Drink Timeline

A wedding traditionally follows some kind of sequence and drawing up a drink timeline can help you to get an idea as to how much alcohol is going to be consumed throughout the wedding.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. When the wedding ceremony is done, and you are taking photos with the bridal party do you plan to serve your guests cocktails?
  2. Will drinks be served only at dinner, or at both dinner and the reception?
  3. How long is your wedding reception going to last and at what time will you ask the bartender to call for the last rounds?

3. The Number of Guests that Have RSVP’d

The more guests that you have the more the bar bill is going to be. Many venues offer you a price per head, so it is a good idea to get a few quotes from various venues to determine what best suits your particular budget.

Work out exactly how long your guest list is and how many people have let you know that they are attending the wedding. The personalities of your guests will also have a lot to do with the price of the bar bill! Are most of your friends and family rowdy or are you dealing with a more conservative crowd?

4. Where You Are Getting The Alcohol From?

Remember that the cost of alcohol will vary depending on the alcohol provider that you choose, whereas catering companies will normally offer you a package deal for both the catering and the bar service.

Find out from the venue if you are allowed to bring in your own alcohol or hire an offsite provider for the alcohol and bartending services. Some venues require you to use only their services whereas others may charge a corkage fee per head.

A Corkage is a service fee that is charged by a wedding venue for their staff to open and serve bottles of wine, champagne, and even spirits that have been bought externally by the bride and groom with the intention of their guests consuming it on site.

5. What Beverages will The Bar Serve?

The cost of an open bar can add up very quickly especially if expensive spirits, wines, and champagnes are being served. Cocktails are also often ordered by guests at weddings and if there is a large number of ingredients in the cocktail it is going to cost more than the average drink.

You as the host can decide what stock is going to fill up the open bar, so try to stick to alcohol that is not too costly if you would like to stay within your budget.

The Pros and Cons of an Open Bar

Still not sure what type of bar to have at your wedding? Let’s have a look at the pros and cons of having an open bar to help you with your decision.

The Pros of An Open Bar

Guests don’t Have To Pay Out of Pocket

An open bar can be a wonderful and memorable experience for the guests who are attending the wedding.  Many of your guests would already have spent money on gifts and travel or accommodation costs and an open bar is a perfect gesture to thank them for making the effort to attend your special day.

The events of the evening can be seamless and a lot more enjoyable if your guests don’t need to worry about paying for their drinks.

The Overall Planning is Easier

This is one of the greatest benefits when it comes to hosting an open bar. It takes a lot of work to bring in your own alcohol and organize a cash bar. An open bar will save you time and effort especially when you have so many other things to plan and prepare.

The Creation of a Party Atmosphere for The Guests

If you have envisioned your wedding reception as an evening filled with fun, dancing, and laugher then an open bar can work to loosen up the guests and get them to dance and mingle with each other.

The Cons of An Open Bar

Paying for The Rest of Your Life

Imagine this. You are freshly married knowing that you are going to be paying off the money that you spent on your wedding well into your married life. This is no way to start your lives together as husband and wife just because you chose to have an open bar that you could not afford.

If you can afford it then go ahead, but most people cannot afford a full premium open bar. Those who care for you will understand that you are sticking to a budget and would not want you to sacrifice your financial well-being by hosting a wedding that you simply cannot afford.

Guests Might Take Advantage and Become Rowdy

The last thing you want at your wedding is to have rowdy guests and potential bar fights. This could destroy your entire reception.

Unfortunately, if there is an open bar, guests that are known to be rowdy are going to take full advantage of the unlimited alcohol and will end up causing tension amongst some of the guests. At the end of the day, your reception is going to be cut short and the bar bill is going to be astronomical.

How To Save Money When Hosting An Open Bar

Here are two helpful and creative ways in which to save money on your alcohol budget without your guests knowing. The guests will more than likely find it to be an elegant touch that has been added to accentuate the ambiance of the wedding reception.

Design Personalized Labels 

This is a clever way in which to save money on your alcohol budget. Buy bottles of affordable wine, champagne, and spirits and replace the labels on the bottles with personalized wedding pictures, quotes or thank you messages to your guests.

Consider Using Drink Tickets

Drink tickets are easy to make and are a great way for the bartender to keep track of the guest’s tabs. Once your guests have entered the reception hall provide each guest with two or three drink tickets. These drinks will be complimentary.

Thereafter if your guests have used up all of their tickets and would like some more to drink then they have the choice to purchase their drinks without it impacting the bride and groom’s budget.

The Best of Both: A Partially Open Bar

If you are worried about what impact the bar bill is going to have on your total wedding budget, then why not combine an open bar and a cash bar?

This option allows the hosts to cover a certain amount of the bar bill. In other words, the hosts get to choose exactly how much they are willing to pay towards the bar bill.

Once this amount has been reached the bartender will usually tell the master of ceremonies to notify the guests that the open bar is closed, and guests will need to pay for any additional alcohol themselves.

One of the most popular scenarios at a wedding would be to open the bar for a few hours of the reception and then turn it into a cash bar as the evening progresses.

Remember to state on your wedding invitation that there will be an open bar until a certain time and that guests will be paying for their drinks after such time as indicated on the invitation.