Everything to Know About Serving Alcohol at Your Wedding

A woman sitting at a bar with a cocktail.

Alcohol is one of the staples of the wedding reception. Guests toast the bride and groom, sip on drinks during dinner, and get enough “liquid courage” to dance the night away. This means that most couples factor alcohol costs into their wedding budget—but they don’t always know exactly what goes into serving alcohol at their wedding.

If you’re getting married soon (or even just beginning to plan your big day), you probably have reception “rules” on the brain. Here are a few tips to help you prepare to serve alcohol to all your guests.

Understand Your Options

Champagne in glasses at a wedding reception.

Yes, alcohol is a common element of wedding receptions, but that doesn’t mean everyone serves it the same way. Couples have a few different options for serving alcohol at their wedding, and it’s important to understand them so you can provide the service that you (and your guests) really want.

Firstly, there’s the open bar. In this scenario, the host (that’s you) pays your alcohol vendor a flat fee, which can range from $15 per person to $90 per person. Then, the bartender offers free drinks to your guests ALL NIGHT LONG.

The open bar is a great option if you and your guests are all about living it up. This allows everyone to fully enjoy themselves—regardless of their personal budget. That said, there are many different types of open bars depending on the party you want to have. Some vendors only offer free drinks during cocktail hour. Others offer free beer, wine, and champagne, but charge for mixed drinks.

The next option you can offer is the limited bar. As the name implies, this bar offers a limited selection, usually a signature cocktail, champagne, and wine. This is a more budget-friendly way to host an open bar, as you don’t have to cover the cost of a wide range of alcohol.

Thirdly, there’s the most budget-friendly alcohol option: the cash bar. In this case, you’ll pay a small fee for the cost of your bartender’s time and equipment, but he or she will charge your guests individually for their drinks. This option helps you cut down on costs and keeps your guests from getting TOO tipsy, but be warned: some people may find this option “tacky.”

Finally, there’s one more option for your wedding reception: no bar at all! If you aren’t into alcohol (and especially if you or a loved one has addiction issues), there’s no shame in skipping the bar entirely and having a dry wedding. Do whatever is best for you and your partner!

Make Sure to Have Enough Bartenders

A bartender making drinks at a wedding reception.

Let’s say that you’ve decided to have an open bar. You’ve paid your vendor, they’ve stocked up on spirits, and they’re heading to your venue…but how many bartenders will you need? If you don’t have enough staff, your wedding guests might end up standing in line all night, so it’s important to hire enough bartenders to keep the party going.

How many bartenders do you need? The general rule is one bar and two bartenders per 100 guests. If you’re having an intimate event, you can get away with two guys serving drinks. If you’re having a massive wedding with everyone you’ve ever met, you’ll have to call in the cavalry!

Serve Whatever You Want

Blue vintage glasses at a wedding reception and bottles of liquor.

What kind of drinks should you serve at your wedding? Most people want to include a wide enough variety to make everyone happy. That said, serving every kind of alcohol there is can get VERY expensive, so it’s best to have a modest selection that you know you’ll like. After all, it is your big day, so serve what you want!

If you want to have a signature cocktail, create one and serve it up. If you’re a big fan of wine, offer a modest beer and spirit selection and stock up on the vino! Remember that your guests are here to enjoy your company and celebrate your love story—they’re not only there for the drinks. Focus on the drink menu that makes you happy instead of worrying about what everyone else wants.

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