Open Bar Etiquette for Hosts and Guests

A group of people at a fancy event holding different cocktails.

Everybody loves an open bar. But like many things in this world, an open bar is only as good as the people enjoying it; if someone abuses the privilege (either the guests or the host), things can so south very quickly. If you’re attending a wedding with an open bar, it’s important that you behave responsibly throughout the reception. However, open bar etiquette isn’t just about drinking too much. Here are a few rules you should always observe at a wedding (or any event) with an open bar.

Etiquette for the Guests

Don’t Cut the Line

Picture this: you’re cutting a rug on the dance floor with your date. You head to the bar to grab a few drinks…and your favorite song comes on. Sure, there are a few people in line, but you can sneak in and get back out there in just a second, right? Wrong. Waiting in line is never any fun, particularly when there’s dancing to do. But wherever there’s an open bar, there will a line forming around it—and if you want people to still like you by the end of the night, you’ll be standing in it waiting your turn.

Don’t Complain

A young man and woman enjoying a cocktail hour at a wedding.

You know that saying, “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth?” Well, guests should treat the open bar just the same way. It doesn’t matter if the bartender doesn’t have your favorite brand of tequila or doesn’t have the mixers for your favorite cocktail. Your hosts have asked you to share in their special day and offered you free drinks—complaining would simply be poor manners. Besides, you’re at the wedding to celebrate a couple you love and not for the free booze (we hope). Instead of whining if the open bar doesn’t interest you, focus on dancing, dinner, and sharing in the other aspects of wedding fun!

Don’t Overdo It

We’re all familiar with that guy at the wedding. (The one who enjoyed the open bar just a little too much.) He gets uncomfortably close to others while dancing, he spends the cake cutting with his head in the toilet, and he definitely needs a friend to drive him home at the end of the night. Simply put: don’t be that guy. Not only is it obnoxious for the people around you, but you’ll probably end up paying for it the next morning. Pace yourself throughout the wedding, drink lots of water, eat something if you feel yourself getting too tipsy—and if you do imbibe too much, do not drive!

Etiquette for the Hosts

Of course, wedding guests are not the only ones with guidelines to follow. Hosting an open bar is a responsibility on its own, and a good host always plays by the rules. If you’re planning on an open bar for your big day, make sure you follow these rules for proper etiquette.

Mix It Up

A champagne tower at a wedding reception with lights in the background.

When you’re planning the party, it’s easy to stock your open bar with all your favorite liquors. But if you don’t consider your guests’ preferences, you may end up with a lot of angry people! Instead, make sure you choose a wide variety of drink options for your wedding day. Ideally, your open bar should have three types of beer, three types of wine, and your standard spirits (think bourbon, gin, rum, scotch, tequila, whiskey, and vodka). The bar should also have mixers like juice, tonic water, club soda, sweet and sour, and sodas. This will provide your guests with the most variety.

Communicate with Guests

An open bar can take on many forms. Sometimes, hosts will only offer beer and wine for free and charge for cocktails or shots. Other times, the host shifts from an open bar to a cash bar after an hour or two. At your wedding, you have the right to offer any type of open bar you like—but your guests need to know. For example, if your guests were expecting a full open bar, and they’re instead faced with only beer and wine, you may have a few disgruntled people. Similarly, if your guests discover the open bar will be ending in an hour, they may try to drink too much in a short time (always a recipe for disaster). Make sure your guests are clear about the parameters for your open bar.

Tip Your Bartender

A bartender opening up a bottle.

Many bartenders put out a tip jar at weddings, so each guest can show his or her appreciation with a dollar or two. However, there’s always a chance that guests will not tip. Maybe they didn’t bring cash to the wedding, or maybe they simply don’t feel it’s necessary. Whether your guests tip the bartender or not, it is your responsibility as host to tip them for their time. Most event planners agree that $100 per bartender at the wedding is an appropriate tip amount, so remember to have some cash on hand (and factor the cost into your budget).

At the end of the day, all open bar etiquette can be summarized in one rule: be polite. Guests should respect the people around them and the friends who invited them. Hosts should make thoughtful choices for their guests and respect the bartenders working for them. If everyone follows these guidelines, an open bar can be a great part of your wedding!

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