Sometimes clients ask me if a cash bar at their wedding reception is the norm or a no-no. Truthfully, it’s a touchy subject that everyone has an opinion on. When many couples start planning their wedding budget they are often surprised at the cost of the reception, so a normal first reaction is to ask ‘where can we cut back’. With the high price of alcohol in some parts of the universe and at some venues, their next logical question maybe ‘can you have a cash bar at a wedding reception’?
The answer is a simple one, but the solutions for a more economical wedding can be more complicated. While the ultimate decision of whether or not to have a cash bar is up to the couple, proper etiquette says that no, a cash bar is not appropriate for a wedding. When a couple invites people to share their special day, those people are guests and should not be obligated to pay for any part of the festivities. After all, a couple would not expect the guests to pay for the meal, and drinks should be considered part of that expense.
However, while it may be preferable to offer drinks, an open bar can sometimes break your budget. If you simply cannot accommodate a full open bar, here are some alternatives to asking your guests to foot the bill:
- Non-Alcoholic Weddings: It is not necessary to serve alcohol at a wedding and most guests will easily understand if a couple chooses to have a non-alcoholic event. Soft drinks, juice, coffee, water, and other beverages can be served or couples may choose a more unique, themed beverage bar instead. Wedding coffee bars are popular, as are cocoa and smoothie bars. Not only are these drinks less expensive than an open alcoholic bar, but they are also more unique and memorable. I had a couple get married in the late morning and had a brunch to avoid the conflict of serving alcohol would have caused.
- Limited Selection: A couple may choose to have a limited bar instead of a full open bar by choosing which drinks their budget can manage. A simple list at the bar can let guests know what drinks are available. Beer, wine, and a cocktail or two are the most common choices.
- Signature Drinks: If a couple wants a more memorable bar at their wedding, they can choose one signature drink that can reflect their theme or their own tastes. This limits the amount of ingredients that must be purchased, therefore making the budget more manageable.
- Limited Time: Consider limiting the time the bar is available. The most common way to do this is by offering an open bar cocktail hour between the wedding ceremony and the reception, but drinks cannot be ordered once dinner is served or it is turned into a cash bar. This also helps control any overindulgence.
- Toasts Only: Some couples opt to serve alcohol only for the wedding toasts. Usually this is champagne, but other drinks may also be offered.
- Limited Budget: Talk to your reception venue about imposing a bar budget on an open bar. To do this, the couple would set the amount they are comfortable spending on a bar tab, and allowing guests to access an open bar until the limit is reached. At that time, the bar closes.
- Drink Coupons: Another way to limit access to an open bar and to control a wedding’s alcohol budget is to enclose drink coupons in an envelope and placed at each guest’s wedding table setting. Guests can then exchange those coupons (usually 2-3 per guest) for drinks of their choice, but they will be required to purchase any additional drinks they desire. This is becoming more recognized and acceptable as a compromise between having an open bar and a cash bar though there are still those who disagree. Talk to your planner about this for her input.
I know this is not an easy decision to make. Can you have a cash bar at a wedding reception? In short, wedding etiquette says no, but couples should always take their own preferences and the expectations of their guests into account. In some areas and for some families, a cash bar is common, while for others it would appear tacky and impolite. Fortunately, there are many affordable alternatives couples can choose from to avoid a cash bar without forgoing suitable wedding drinks and a grand time for all guests.
If you have any questions or concerns in regards to this topic or for any other wedding related issue, click here to contact me and set up a time convenient to you to have a chat.