Open Bar Weddings: A Guide

Open bar weddings are something that couples need to factor into their wedding budget. It can be affordable with our ultimate guide to having an open bar.

By Jennifer Prince

A guide to Open Bar Wedding
Photo by Chellise Michael Photography

The First Look ✨

  • There are pros and cons to having an open bar wedding, including cost, safety, and handling guests who drink too much.
  • Modified open bars are a good middle ground and can alleviate some of the issues with open bars.
  • Keeping the safety of your guests at the top of mind is the most important thing, so provide transportation if you have an open bar reception.

Your wedding consists of several factors that will take a large chunk of your budget. For example, the venue, photographer, and catering can account for half of your finances. However, several other areas, such as an open bar, are also significant financial decisions. When considering open bar weddings, it’s essential to weigh the options and decide what’s best for you—and your guests.

What Is an Open Bar Wedding?

Having an open bar means that you—or whoever is paying for the wedding—is footing the bill for alcoholic beverages and soft drinks during the wedding reception. Essentially, your wedding guests can go up to the bartender and order whatever they want in the form of cocktails, beer, and wine. Bar service can also offer non-alcoholic options, such as juice, soda, and water.

Pros and Cons to Having an Open Bar Wedding

Open Bar Weddings: a Guide Photo Credit // Chellise Michael Photography

While you’re wedding planning, it’s best to be informed so that you can make an educated decision. Armed with a budget and forsaking a dry wedding, now consider the cases for—and against—an open bar.

Pros:

  • There is no stress on your guests. Having a cash bar can cause some guests to fret. This is especially true if they don’t have cash on hand, or they have to pull out their credit card.
  • It’s a simple way to say thank you. Anyone who has ever sprung for an $18 cocktail knows that drinks are pricey. The open bar wedding cost won’t go unnoticed by your guests as they appreciate every sip.
  • The bar line should be shorter. Paying takes a bit of time when you’re at a cash bar. Alleviating the need to pay will lessen the amount of time your guests stand in line for their drinks.

Cons:

  • Guests may not know when to say when. Your second cousin may want to try a Manhattan, a Tom Collins, and a White Russian. These are all tasty drinks worthy of testing out at some point. However, your guests don’t need to check them all off their list all in one night.
  • Drunk people can negatively impact your night. When people drink too much, they tend to do one of three things: get sleepy, become silly, or—the highest offense—grow angry. You don’t want people fighting, throwing up, or just not being themselves on your big day. It’s dangerous, and they could end up being embarrassed or hurting themselves or someone else.
  • Open bar weddings can be costly. Per person, the cost can be pretty hefty. The bar service needs to account for the fact that your guests may be heavy drinkers. Therefore, the price you are quoted will reflect that. The tricky part comes when you have guests who don’t drink or may only have one beverage.

Options for Modified Open Bars

Meeting in the middle is a good idea, especially if you’re undecided or don’t want a fully open bar. Offering a limited open bar at wedding receptions can be a happy medium to help with the cost.

  • Limit your open bar to a specific time. Consider only having an open bar during the cocktail hour. Another option is to hold off until after dinner to have a fully open bar. Waiting will get the dance floor hopping at just the right time.
  • Serve beer and wine and two other options. Signature drinks are an impressive addition, and they are a fun way to showcase a couple’s tastes. Have each partner pick a drink and offer those two selections along with beer and wine at your open bar.
  • Axe the hard liquor. In this case, beer, wine, and other low percentage alcohols, such as cider and champagne, are offered. Having a limited open bar at weddings means leaving off the high proof spirits.
  • Drink by the light of day. Brunch and daytime weddings can have an open bar. However, offer lighter options. Mimosas and other daytime-friendly options can alleviate the need for heavier drinks.
  • Save the cocktails for the toast. To ensure that each guest has just one cocktail, only serve beer and wine at your open bar; although that doesn’t mean that you need to leave out a fun drink. Have staff serve each guest a signature cocktail and skip the champagne for your toast.
  • Go with rail or well drinks. Well—or rail—drinks are the cheap versions of costly alcohols. Instead of going with more expensive liquors, look at the cheaper versions instead. Connoisseurs won’t necessarily drink straight bourbon if you use well liquors, but their Old Fashioned will taste just the same.

A Note About Safety and Open Bar Wedding Etiquette

Open Bar Weddings: a Guide Photo Credit // Chellise Michael Photography

So, you’ve decided to have an open bar wedding–it’s a fabulous idea. However, there are a few things to note about the safety of your guests. Of course, you want to make sure that everyone has a great time, so consider these options for everyone’s protection. Hopefully, your guests will know their limitations for the most part, but you need to prepare just in case.

  • Have your bartender be alerted to guests that are drinking too much. Your bartender shouldn’t have to be a bouncer, yet they should also have the authority to say no. If a guest is under the influence or hostile, give your bartender the freedom to cut off incapacitated guests.
  • Display cheeky signage. A little bit of lighthearted humor can go a long way. Have signage at your open bar. Let guests know that if they get out of hand, they’ll be cut off in a hurry. Sayings such as “The drinks are free, but tomorrow’s stories are priceless” or “Our wedding is being photographed, so any drunken antics will be caught on camera” will give your guests a light hint.
  • Designate someone to play bouncer, if need be. The last thing that you and your partner need to worry about is tossing out a drunk guest. Have a groomsman, father, or friend be the heavy and talk to guests who are consuming too much. This duty could also fall on the venue or wedding planner, depending on what they're comfortable doing.
  • Provide transportation for your guests. Drinking and driving is a big no-no. It can result in accidents, fines, and—unfortunately—death. Don’t put a damper on your wedding day by placing your guests in danger. Either hire a service to run folks back to their hotel, or designate someone to call Lyft or Uber for pickups. Doing so can turn a potential tragedy into a safe night with happy memories.

No matter your final decision, know that it’s ok to cater to your budget and the needs of your guests. Providing a pleasant experience can include an open bar, or you can do a limited bar at wedding receptions. Either way, be sure to keep the safety of your guests at the top of mind as you plan. Having a toast and saying “cheers” surrounded by those you love can be one of the highlights of your day.

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