The cost of the bar is a real factor when planning a wedding. Does the host pick up the bill? These days, the usually don’t, although they can help out in a few different ways that we discuss below.
Does the guest pay full price? In some wedding venues that can be expensive. The options range from leaving everything to the venue and guests to having the host families provide the bar from scratch. Weddings nowadays usually have a cash bar, especially when receptions are held in venues such as hotels that already have their own commercial bar.
The Full Cash Bar
Having a cash wedding bar stops guests from drinking too much, and cuts down on waste. When people pay for their own drinks, they don’t leave so many half-finished drinks lying around. Very few couples can afford an open (also called banquet) bar these days.
Still, very expensive drinks at a wedding reception can spoil the fun a little. Hosts should remember: Your guests are here to celebrate with you, and nursing one drink all night isn’t going to make the reception go with a swing. How can you help?
A popular way is to pay for two or three bottles of wine on the table, then have the main bar serving free beer, cider, and / or sodas. It’s always a good idea to have something free, even if it’s non-alcoholic. The really expensive stuff can be sold from a separate cash bar to those who want it.
Full Open Bar for a limited time
Another way is to start the party with a full free bar, up to a set budget. Even easier, set a fixed limit on free liquor. You could arrange 4 bottles each of gin, vodka, whisky and when it’s gone, it’s gone.
Have a separate cash bar for the pricey stuff. When the budget is reached or the stock is finished, guests can switch to the free drinks (sodas, beers, whatever the arrangement is) or go to the cash bar.
Be warned, though – if guests are aware that there is a limit on the free drinks, they may drink a great deal very quickly! If they aren’t aware, there’ll be some resentment when the free bar closes. A generous gesture from the hosts can end up causing bad feeling.
Half Price Wedding Bar
Generous hosts could also subsidize drinks, especially if the venue prices are quite steep, so that guests aren’t paying the full price. If a shot on the rocks costs $15, the hosts can pick up $5, or even$10 of that, so that guests aren’t sitting nursing one or two drinks all night.
Keeping Tabs on the Tab
The tab can just run, or it can be done to a fixed limit. If you estimate $10 a head – or $2000 for 200 guests – the drinks would only go to full price when the tab hits $2000.
Most venues offer to keep an eye on the tab as part of the service. Only the
heaviest drinkers should end up paying full price, and it might be time they slowed down anyway!
It can be really effective to add a cocktail wedding bar – a full range of cocktails would be very expensive, but you can have a lot of fun with something much simpler, such as a vodka theme.
To play up the fun the cocktails can be colored to match the wedding color-scheme, with the bar itself color-matched. After all, cocktails can come in purple, red, pink and other popular wedding colors!
Wheel it on in!
Adding a cocktail bar is a fun way to spice it up for the younger friends of the bride and groom. You can wheel the cocktail wedding bar in after the speeches to jumpstart the rest of the evening.
Say Wow with Color
Let’s say the wedding theme is purple. The formal part of the reception is done; the party is starting,and through the doors comes a wedding bar decked out in purple, with purple LED lighting, offering cocktails such as a Purple Nurple! (That’s one shot of tequila, 1/2 shot of sloe gin and 1/2 shot of blue curacao in a cocktail shaker with a few cubes of ice).
You prefer pink? How about Kinky Pink, which is one quarter raspberry vodka, one third cranberry juice, 2 measures of Peach Schnapps – mix with ice beforehand, the longer it stands, the pinker it blushes.
If there’s a commercial bar at the venue, the bar people will know all about mixing up cocktails to match any color scheme, just ask them at the time of booking.
On the Wild Side
Some wedding venues have no bar facilities at all – quirky offbeat sites are getting very popular and setting up a wedding bar becomes the responsibility of either the hosts or their catering company. Get the bar wrong, and you risk putting a dampener on the party.
Key Wedding Bar Considerations
Staff and equipment
Don’t rely on friends and family, they want to be having fun too. Hire a couple of experienced bar staff, even if they get helped during the rush by friends. Hiring a mobile bartending service or caterer with a portable bar. For a really big crowd, use trestle tables as well, and don’t forget you’ll have to hire tablecloths and skirts.
Stocking the bar
You can buy the drinks wholesale, or talk to a liquor store about a sale-or-return deal. Using a professional liquor store, with party experience, is not only better, it can even work out a bit cheaper, and they can help you with glasses.
Double Check Local Laws and Regulations
If you’re going to operating in a state that you’re not intimately familiar with, it’s essential for you check local liquor laws for events to make sure your compliant. The best way to do this is by talking with a caterer or even planner well in advance. They can advise you on how things should be set-up so that you avoid any potential legal or insurance issues.
Regulations vary dramatically from state-to-state. In Texas, you’re required to have a TABC certified bartender and a security guard for any event serving alcohol! As the saying goes, don’t mess with Texas(‘s extremely strict liquor laws).
How much liquor will you need?
If you don’t go through an experienced liquor store, get advice as well if you can or you’ll either have the party ending early or you’ll be drinking the leftovers for weeks!
What else does your wedding bar need?
You’ll need to be well supplied with ice, lemons, limes, one sharp knife per barperson, glass cloths and, if you are running a cash bar, one good cash float for every ten feet of bar frontage. Your bar staff are going to be busy enough with the first rush without struggling to find change for the third $50 in a row.
If you are a regular caterer for weddings or similar events, portable bars are your friend. They are supremely portable, they fold down to easy-transport sizes, and they’re on wheels for maximum mobility!
The Big Day
Whether the celebration is in a venue with its own cash bar, handled by caterers, or done by the hosting families, the wedding bar is an important part of the fun. Getting it right helps ensure the success of this very important day.