Cash Bar at Wedding Explained + 6 Tips to Save Money

One way to save money on your big day is to have a cash bar wedding. Our guide includes cash bar etiquette and invitation wording samples.

By Jennifer Prince

Cash Bar at Your Wedding
Photo by Emma Cleary Photo and Video

The First Look ✨

  • A cash bar is where guests pay for drinks themselves; however, you can have a limited or ticketed version.
  • It is a proper cash bar etiquette to inform your guests ahead of time that they need to bring cash or a card.
  • Even with a cash bar, designate someone to cut off guests who overdrink or are drunk.

Want to keep track of your wedding budget? Try our free budget tool with payment reminders and tips on how much to spend.

As your wedding attendants are busy planning their toast speeches, you’re deciding what to pour into their glasses, and that not only includes the drink for the toast, but also the bar options for the entire reception. Dollar signs click away as your budget increases. An open bar wedding can often be attached to a lot of dollar signs; however, you can save money by having a beer and wine only wedding reception or a cash bar at your wedding. From wording your wedding invitations to limited bar etiquette, here are our top tips for successfully pulling off a cash bar.

Zola: How to Save Money With a Cash Bar at Your Wedding *Photo Credit * // Tall Small Event

How Does a Cash Bar Work?

Think of cash bar service as being like a traditional bar. Patrons come up, order what they want to drink, and either start a tab or pay on the spot—viola! It’s easy, and that’s quite similar to how a cash bar works. It's easy for wedding guests to understand when they can go and order their signature cocktail or multiple alcoholic beverages during cocktail hour.

However, with a limited selection bar at your wedding reception, there are a few other options. You may not be able to have a hosted bar filled with every selection under the sun. And that’s ok, as there are a few different ways to handle a cash bar.

  • Ticketed Cash Bar: Some couples don’t wish to commit to a cash bar fully. However, they need to avoid paying for guests who want a lot to drink. A good in-between option is to have a cash bar with tickets, where guests receive one to two vouchers for free drinks. When their tickets run out, they need to ante up and pay for their alcohol from the full bar.
  • Limited Cash Bar: Just because you have a cash bar doesn’t mean that your bartender needs to offer anything and everything. You don’t necessarily need five different vodkas and specialty vermouths on your wedding day. Talk to your bartender about what spirits he or she recommends, or simply go with beer, soft drinks, and bottles of wine to keep it simple. -Traditional Cash Bar: If you want to go traditional, each drink is paid for by the guests. However, still do Champagne or a signature drink for your toast. The toast should be complimentary, of course. You can save a little bit of money by having staff only fill the toasting glasses halfway—that way, less alcohol goes to waste.

Cash Bar Wedding Etiquette

Zola: How to Save Money With a Cash Bar at Your Wedding *Photo Credit * // Emma Cleary Photo and Video

Inform Your Guests That You’re Having a Cash Bar Wedding

Making your guest list aware ahead of time is where it gets a bit tricky. You don’t want to keep your cash bar service a secret, as you need loved ones to prepare in advance. The last thing you want is to surprise your guests and have them scrambling for wallets or their credit card to pay for their own drinks. It’s proper cash bar etiquette to be upfront with your attendees. That way they can determine the amount of alcohol they want to drink.

Skip the Tip Jar, and Pay for Gratuity Yourself

Also, there is a bit of a debate about having a tip jar. A cash bar is preferable for some guests over a dry wedding. However, some may balk at having to pay and leave a tip after paying for alcohol. One way to get around this is to pay for the gratuity yourself. Many venues and caterers include tips in the contract, yet giving each bartender a $50 to $100 bonus is appreciated.

Give Your Cash Bar Service Provider’s Permission to Cut Guests Off

Unfortunately, you may have some guests who will drink too much, even though they are footing the bill. However, just because they are paying, you still need to create a responsible reception atmosphere. Give your bartender, staff member, or designated relative the authority to talk to individual guests. That way, that individual can cut people off if guests are consuming too much.

Cash Bar Invitation Wording

When conveying that you have a cash bar service, it’s essential to use proper communication. Place the information on both your wedding website and your invitations, so that your guests quickly see it. Here are a few examples of how to tactfully say cash bar, ranging from formal to creative.

  • Formal: We can’t wait to celebrate with you and host you for dinner. Unfortunately, we have chosen a cash bar, so please bring cash or a credit card to enjoy bar service.
  • Casual: Dinner’s on us. Drinks are on you. So, if you want to consume, bring a buck or two (or a credit card).
  • Two Drink Tickets: We are excited to host you for dinner. However, if you would like more than two drinks, please bring cash or a credit card for our cash bar service.
  • One Drink Ticket: Our wedding will be beautiful and our reception fun. With drinks, bring cash if you want more than one.

Cash Bar Pros and Cons

There are many pros and cons to having a cash bar, and not all of them are about your wedding budget. Weigh these factors when trying to come up with a middle ground while wedding planning for your big day.

What are the pros of having a cash bar?

Having a cash bar is very cost-effective for the ones hosting the wedding. If your wedding party or others decide to overdo the bubbly, you aren’t stuck with an expensive bill. As far as guests are concerned, having a cash bar can also be a pro, especially if someone is prone to drink a bit too much white wine if they don’t have to pay. Charging guests can help eliminate over-drinking, which can be a relief for some attendees.

What are the cons of having a cash bar?

A DIY cash bar can have some negative connotations and seem a bit tacky for some guests. Of course, you don’t want to come off as cheap, which is what some folks will unfortunately remember. Asking guests to pay impacts the overall hospitality at the event. Plus, having your bartender mix drinks and take payments can also hold up the bar line at your wedding venue.

6 Extra Tips to Save Money + With Cash Bar

  1. Allow guests to bring their own alcohol. Don’t want to spring for luxe bourbon? Have your guests bring their own. That way, they can have whatever they’d like at their own expense while still having something they enjoy. Just make sure to let them know ahead of time that this is an option.

  2. Serve drinks in simple glasses. Forget the fancy barware, which can break, anyway. Go with plain glasses for drinking to save on your wedding budget.

  3. Only provide a signature cocktail. One way to have your event seem more upscale without spending a ton on alcohol is to serve one or two signature drinks. Voila! With a very limited amount of choices, you won’t break the bank.

  4. Set specific bar hours. Instead of serving alcohol in an open bar, have a specific opening and closing time. Doing so is a great way to limit over-indulgence.

  5. Consider hosting a daytime or weekday wedding. If you have a flexible schedule, try an off-time wedding. These events are normally less expensive anyway, which can include a break on bar service.

  6. Have a toonie bar. A what? If you haven’t heard of the term, it’s a different take on a traditional cash or limited bar. Basically, guests throw in a few dollars for every drink each time they go to the bar. That way, the bartender doesn’t have to worry about playing cashier, and guests can throw in a few bucks or a twenty.

One Last Word About a Cash Bar Wedding

We realize that weddings are expensive. A lot of planning and financing goes into one day. However, think about your guests when you’re considering a cash bar. Many are traveling, and there are other expenses to factor in for those who attend. They may purchase new clothing, spring for a babysitter, and—hopefully—buy you a gift.

Instead of using a tacky cash bar, it may be better to go with a ticketed or limited option. Doing so will let your guests know that you appreciate their attendance. However, having the host spring for some—but not all—alcoholic drinks communicates that you don’t want anyone over-consuming. Most wedding professionals will encourage you to go another route before solely going with cash bar service.

Of course, you know your guests and your finances best. Therefore choose whichever option you and your partner feel most comfortable utilizing. No matter what, your family and friends will enjoy celebrating with you on one of the most important days of your life.

Zola: Your Place for Wedding Bar Planning

If you like full-service bars, you’ll love Zola’s full-service approach to breaking down wedding bar service. From timely articles to a handy wedding alcohol calculator, Zola is at the ready. After all, no one wants to have too much leftover alcohol (hello, expensive!) or run out and cut the party off early.

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