The Open Bar Conundrum

This past week, Miss Powder Puff and I had the pleasure of meeting a number of you through the wonders of BeeTV! One topic that came up was the eternal bridal issue of the open bar. (Dun, dun, dunnnn.)

Alcohol in general can be a touchy subject for many brides throughout the wedding process. Some brides have families that are vehemently against alcohol period, while others may demand it. Of all the decisions that are often harshly criticized by those around us, alcohol can sometimes be the most closely scrutinized. For brides who can afford to offer alcohol at their wedding, the decision can be fraught with stress, especially if you have one or more guests that you know have an alcohol problem. For some weddings, the vast majority of guests do not drink alcohol at all for reasons of faith or culture, which definitely avoids the problems that offering alcohol can cause. In my case, many of our guests DO drink, and I definitely want to have one, MAYBE two glasses of champagne, tops. As Miss Powder Puff wisely pointed out – nobody wants to see a drunky bride. No bueno. (although you are free to disagree, of course!!)

Some brides would like to offer a selection of “drinks” at their reception, but are on the tightest of budgets, and the idea of a cash bar strikes their fancy. Often these brides get the monster smackdown from other brides-in-planning. (Do NOT bring up the cash bar on The Knot Message Boards – especially the Planning & Etiquette board – if you want to escape with your life.) For me – and this is just my opinion – I have no problem with a cash bar. I understand that many brides are on a budget, especially in a difficult economy. In no way do I see a cash bar as a slight. I see it as… the bride and groom are on a budget, and they’d rather offer a way to have a beer or a glass of wine, rather than nothing at all. The whole point of a wedding is to celebrate the creation of a new family, and that should be my focus, not an opportunity to criticize their party-throwing skills. That is just my take though!

In the end, you are the only one who knows your guest list the best. You know whether your crowd would appreciate a glass of wine or a cocktail at your celebration, or whether they would prefer a “dry” reception. It’s easy to get caught up in other people’s judgments of how you should plan your wedding, but take other’s opinions with a grain of salt. Someone who opines from a wedding article in a magazine or on a wedding message board is not your friend, and they see your wedding from a purely technical point of view. Your wedding guests (hopefully) love you and attend your wedding with that viewpoint. They are not going to go crazy because you are offering a cash bar or pull out their Emily Post reference guide. Remember that when you are reading the umpteenth article or message board post on the evils of the cash bar.

On the flip side, an open bar can provide its own set of problems, most obviously intake management. For me, Mr. Dragon and I are offering an open bar – with safeguards in place (hopefully some of you will find these tips helpful!)

  • The super-vast majority of our guests are responsible drinkers (we are 30, most people “settle down” on the drinking by that age.) However, when we go in for our final venue meeting, we are going to talk to our onsite coordinator about keeping people from getting sloppy – just in case. We plan to let her know that we FULLY support our bartender in cutting people off who are drinking too much. We are also going to tell her that displaying the standard sign that reads “We reserve the right to deny service” is absolutely ok by us, and we will back up the bartender if he elects to act on that policy.
  • We are setting up a soda station separate from the bar, so that my 12-year-old brother isn’t going to the bar to get a Coke!!!
  • Although we selected our hotel venue in an effort to make our out-of-town guests more comfy, an added bonus is that our guests that intend to drink more than a glass or two can get a hotel room. No driving required! (Thankfully, Chicago is super cab-friendly, too.)
  • Another tip I would offer  – and of course you have to play this strategy close to the vest to avoid hurt feelings – is to notify your bartender if “Uncle Sal” is an irresponsible drinker. Then your bartender can especially monitor the problem child’s intake to avoid any embarassing incidents. Although you may feel funny pointing one particular guest out – it’s better than the alternative; and there is no need for that guest to know he was especially brought to the bartender’s attention.

So this was a long blog post – but alcohol at weddings is a touchy subject, with many permutations. Cash bar, wine/beer bar, open bar, etc. etc. My take is… do what works for you and your crowd; be responsible; and don’t let other people make you crazy about it. Anyone have any other helpful tips for navigating this rocky road??


Mrs. Snapdragon

Wedding Date:
March 2012
Wedding Gifts on the Cheap
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  1. Guest Icon Guest
    Nicole, Guest @ 4:57 pm

    I’ve been to a wedding where it was open bar for a couple hours and the rest was cash bar, which was great!

  2. Guest Icon Guest
    S, Guest @ 11:04 pm

    I wanted an open bar, my future husband did not. We eventually compromised – we’ll do wine during the meal and each guest will get 2 drink tickets to use at the bar. If our guests want to drink more than that, it will be a cash bar. We’re doing a brunch reception, so hopefully that will be enough alcohol at that time of the day, and this way we have an idea of what our maximum bar tab will look like. Plus, making the tickets has turned in to a fun DIY project!

  3. Guest Icon Guest
    Jill, Guest @ 4:12 am

    My family is catholic and his is Baptist. His parents decided against any alcohol at the rehearsal dinner. We had it at a hotel and it worked out for us b/c the guests who wanted to drink just went to the hotel bar. That way his parents didn’t have to buy it and everyone who wanted to drink still could.
    At the reception we were prohibited from selling liquor. So instead of shelling out for liquor, we bought beer and made 5 batches of a vodka based punch. It was a hit although we should have made more… it ran out about halfway through.

  4. Guest Icon Guest
    Amanda71109, Guest @ 8:47 am

    are venue allows us to bring our own alcohol and bartenders to the reception therefore saving us a ton of $$.

  5. Guest Icon Guest
    Elle, Guest @ 10:38 am

    We will be having a cash bar because of money. I would rather spend my money on good food and have guests pay for their drinks. My FI does not drinkg at ALL, all of his friends do not drink and most of his family. I will be putting the words “cash bar” on my invites. I want people to come prepared. Free liquor should not be the end all, be all for a wedidng to be great. If not having free drinks at a wedding upsets people, then they are at the wrong place…in my opinion.

  6. Guest Icon Guest
    Starry-Eyed Barefoot Bride, Guest @ 11:57 am

    We originally started with an idea of champagne, beer, and wine are free, anything else you want is cash bar. My parents shot that down like a duck in season! I said that I wouldnt be insulted and then that way we werent paying through the nose for someone’s fancy scotch, and those who didn’t bring cash could still drink. I said that no one I know would be insulted or see it as tacky or a slight. My parents made the point that on OUR guest list are a lot of my parents friends and generation that might still be confused by a Save the Date or not understand why the wording on the invite was other than “request the honour of your presence”, and they really might be insulted and find it tacky. I think that if you are a bride on a budget and want a bar, it should be open, and limited. No one missed their fancy mixed drinks at a wedding we attended recently that was beer wine and champ only.

  7. Member
    avdillard0110 371 posts, Helper bee @ 5:47 pm

    The way our venue works is you pay a certain dollar amount up front for the general bar, choosing which type of alcohol you want to serve. (We are choosing beer and wine only to save money and avoid problems caused by hard liquor and certain family members and friends of mine…) Guests order and the dollar amount of each drink is subtracted from the total until it runs out. When the total is depleted, the venue will come to us and let us know, giving us the option to cut off the bar, go to cash bar, or add more money. I like this system!

    The venue is also letting us pay for the bar separately from the food, since my parents are paying for the food and adamantly against alcohol, and his parents want alcohol (ahhh…)

    The venue also requires a certain number of security personnel per number of guests–a nice safety feature.

  8. Member
    Miss Lupine 20 posts, Newbee @ 5:00 pm

    I found this post while searching for opinions on the open bar issue… it makes me feel better that someone can have such a kind and reasonable perspective on the whole thing. We will probably end up with an open bar, even though it’s hard for me to swallow (I only drink wine and beer, so it’s not something I really understand – and so expensive). Thanks 🙂

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