How Much Should You Budget for an Open Bar at Your Wedding?

Eat, drink and be merry. But how much will it cost to have an open bar at your wedding?

By Nilina Mason-Campbell

Budget for an Open Bar
Photo by Shutterstock

Whether you’re having a Long Island wedding or a Dallas wedding, alcohol is deeply intertwined with celebrations of all kinds, but especially when it comes to weddings. From the Champagne toasts to providing the liquid courage for your guests to hit the dancefloor, having alcohol at your wedding isn’t as much a consideration as it is a necessity.

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But this begs one important question: Are you planning to foot the bill for your guests to drink on the house? If you’re planning to have an open bar, there’s a lot to consider when determining a budget. How much should you expect the tab to come out to be? Here are aspects to consider when tabulating the potential costs.

From a cash bar to having a signature cocktail at the wedding reception, wedding alcohol, and mixed drinks can add an extra cost to your wedding budget. That’s why it’s important to know all the costs when putting on a cocktail hour or happy hour.

There are different lengths you can go when it comes to an open bar, like only covering certain types of booze or only offering a particular selection to begin with. In general, the full sweep includes Champagne, spirits, wine, and beer, as well as options for tee-totalers.

A good rule of thumb when calculating the cost per guest is to start by estimating how much they’ll drink over the course of your reception. How much does a mixed drink tend to cost in your locale? Does a good cocktail run $10 or upwards of $14? A guest is likely to drink more at the beginning of the reception, while their drink consumption is likely to taper off as the night unfolds. Do you expect them to drink two drinks an hour for the first hour or two and then one per hour as the night wears on?

As an example: If a fancy mixed drink costs $14, double that as the cost of their first hour. Multiply that by two to account for the first two hours and then add to that amount for each additional hour of your reception. With that as your basis, you can expect the cost per person to be between $70 and $84 for a four-hour reception. At the lower rate of $10 per mixed drink, a four-hour reception would likely average between $50 and $60 per person. Now multiply that number by the expected number of guests to get a better picture of how much your total open bar budget will be.

Potential Types of Open Bar

Zola: How Much Should You Budget  for an Open Bar at Your Wedding? Photo Credit // Shutterstock

Full range of beer, wine, and spirits, including offering more expensive top-shelf liquor.

Full range of beer, wine, and spirits, but specifically limited to cheaper well liquor.

Specific Drinks

Another route you could explore is offering specific drinks that are themed to your wedding or special to you as a couple. As an example, guests would then have the option of selecting from four preset drinks, like a rose slushie or whiskey cocktail, that would be covered under your open bar. This will help with the open bar cost, plus add a fun twist like a signature drink.

Beer and Wine Only

Beer and wine are often cheaper than liquor. And under this banner you may also be able to check with the venue about bringing your own. Buying beer and wine by the case often results in wholesale discounts, which could considerably bring down the cost of your program, while supplying guests with the option of unlimited booze of that variety.

Open Bar for Certain Hours

If you’re expecting a lengthy reception and want to offer an open bar, but can only afford it up to a certain point, you have options. You can produce signage that alerts your guests that the open bar runs for certain hours of the reception, for example the first three hours—even if you expect your invitees to be tearing up the dance floor for at least six.

Other Considerations

Who’s Handling Bar Service

Will the venue provide a bartender? Will you hire your own? If you hire your own, that will allow you to decide the hourly rate and may help you avoid paying overhead that would otherwise go to the venue or coordinating agency.

How Will You Handle Gratuity?

Are you covering gratuity as a fee for the wedding bar service? Is it included in your bar package? If not, determine how you plan to calculate it. Similar to figuring out the cost per guest when determining your overall open bar costs, you can estimate a dollar per drink and multiply that by how many drinks you expect your guests to consume. Alternatively, there’s always the option to balance out your expenses connected to the open bar and make tipping directly available to your guests by placing tip jars at the bar top.

There are multiple factors to consider when budgeting out your open bar costs, from what’s on offer to the service and gratuity. By accounting for your guest size and length of reception, you should be able to navigate your way to a fair estimation of how much what you offer will cost. Then, you can either save for that amount or scale back accordingly to find a balance that fits your budget and treats your guests to unlimited libations.

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