Open Bar vs. Cash Bar Reception

Outdoor bar with "bar is open" sign

Cash bars are a swear word among most wedding guests. They just don’t like ‘em and it’s not really hard to see why. Yes, it’s a pain that they have to spend money to get drunk at your wedding, but is that such a bad thing? Is it better to have a cash bar and risk lowering guest morale? You’ll ultimately have to decide that by yourself, but in the meantime, check out our comparison below. It’s time for the cash bar vs open bar smack down.


Open bars are certainly more generous. When your guests think open bar, they think generous couple. When they think cash bar, they think stingy. By providing an open bar you’re providing a huge service to your guests. Open bars are the equivalent of freshly washed towels or chocolates on the pillow at a hotel. It’s not that the chocolates or towels make the stay, but they certainly help guests enjoy themselves. Your wedding will be beautiful no matter what, and guests know that. It doesn’t matter what accoutrements you offer, your family and friends will still be happy for you, but they’ll think better of the time if you’re more generous. Overall, an open bar might not even be so important because of the access to alcohol, it might be the generosity of the open bar that impresses guests so much.

Frozen alcoholic drinks at a bar

Open Bar = Happy Guests

Likely there are a few drinkers (some more heavily than others) within your group of friends and family. These folks are waiting and looking for the open bar. No judgment here, and these people would likely admit to this. You’re either serving up their expectation or breaking it. With an open bar, you don’t have to let anyone down, plus it’s usually expected these days. Many weddings either offer an open bar or no liquor at all, so a cash bar might come as a nasty shock to guests. As much as you want to make your guests happy, consider that happy guests can sometimes be drunk guests, and drunk guests can sometimes be sloppy. If this doesn’t bother you, then great! Open bar away. If the thought of everyone drunk as a skunk at your reception bothers you, you might want to consider alternatives.


The more fun an open bar is, the more it probably costs. If you want to give your guests full access to the alcohol, you’re going to pay. Some venues do offer deals where your bar fee is wrapped into the venue price, but some don’t. Some even charge based on how much your guests drink. So, if your guests are notorious for drinking like fish who are literally ordering fish bowls, you’re going to rack up quite the bill. You just have to decide whether the price is worth the fun and guest satisfaction, or consider these tips on bringing down your alcohol costs.

Wedding guests drinking champagne

Make Them Pay

At a cash bar, you don’t pay. Great! Your guests do. Not so great. Nobody is thrilled when they find out something they think should be free to them, is not so much. Depending on what their drink of choice is, their bill can get pretty hefty. Quite the slap in the face after they spent all that money on your wedding gift and travel. It’s especially a snub to the wedding party who’s already spent tons on the wedding attire and bachelor/bachelorette parties.

The Non-Drinker’s Favorite

Hey,” you may be thinking, “I know what a cash bar is and I understand that my guests will have to pay, but we don’t drink, so why should we the couple, pay for everyone else to?” This is a valid argument, and one of the best scenarios for a cash bar. A cash bar can actually work well in this scenario. If you’re not drinkers, there’s a chance some of your guests aren’t either. You can also supplement by providing delicious non-alcoholic drinks. This way your guests feel a bit less snubbed. Guests are much more likely to accept a cash bar if they know you, the couple, don’t drink.

Guests heavily drinking and dancing

Drinking Deterrent

A cash bar is great for one thing: discouraging drunkenness. It’s possible that a cash bar will cut down on how much guests drink. Although, there may be those where nothing much stops them from getting their tequila groove on. If you’re going the cash bar route because of this reason, you may consider not serving alcohol at all. It’s your wedding and if you don’t want drunk people there then so be it. If you’re still wanting to do the cash bar, maybe warn your guests. The surprise is the worst part about the cash bar so cut the pain off at the source. This way guests can prepare and maybe spend a little less on your gift or bring cash with them.

Let’s tally the score here folks. An open bar may be the clear winner for your wedding if you’re okay with a few setbacks. However, a cash bar comes in a close second with it being inexpensive and perfect for a dry-ish wedding. We’ve made our evaluation, but what about you? Let us know what side you’re on in the comments below!

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