Serving Alchohol at Your Wedding

When deciding to serve alcohol or not at your wedding reception, consider the budget and your guests’ tastes. Are they a nonalcoholic crowd or do they enjoy alcohol? Keep this in mind, do not feel obligated to supply your guests with an open bar for the entire event. There are many options to select and your caterer will guide you. We will discuss open bar, limited bar, open bar for the cocktail reception, cash bar for liquor, cash bar and a non-alcohol reception.

For those whom wish to incorporate alcoholic beverages into the reception, you have several bar choices. This will need to be determined along with the other reception catering plans.

First and most expensive is the Open Bar. It is the most gracious of choices because your guests should not have to pay for anything during your event. The sky is the limit on choices at the open bar. You will be charged accordingly, buy the bottle or the drink. You may choose to have the open bar only at the beginning of the reception and serve wine, coffee or soft drinks with dinner and champagne for the toast. Often the bar is closed during the meal so that guests are not wondering back and forth to get another beverage. The bar may then be reopened after the meal is served.

The only problem with an open bar is that again, it is expensive and guests may partake in too much of the free alcohol. The latter could be unpleasant for all. If you know of a person who cannot control their intake, point them out to the bar tender who has experience in this department and they will gently direct them to other options.
A second choice of bar service is the Limited Bar. This has a tendency to be a popular option. You select the beverages that will be served, for example, domestic beer, wines, call liquors (not high end brands) specialty drink to match a theme, soda, etc. Or, ask for the caterer to provide servers to walk around the banquet room serving beverages off the tray during and after the meal. Champagne punch, fruit punch or mimosas can be offered and a less expensive brand of alcohol could be used. The fountain is a great attraction if the beverages are served in that fashion. You may be creative in limiting the use of alcohol to keep the cost down. In this service, you may have the bar running all night and the guests do not pay cash or at a certain time the limited bar stops serving complimentary drinks and the cash begins.

A third option is to have an Open Bar for the Cocktail Reception. Set time limits on the bar hours. For example, the bar is open only one to one and one-half hours prior to the meal and closed during the meal. After that, the guests pay cash for their beverages.

Option number four is to have a Cash Bar for liquor and serve complimentary beer and wine throughout the reception. Ask your caterer for ideas in this area. Perhaps serve a variety of bottle beers or purchase a keg of beer and bottles of wine. Instead of offering ordinary beer and wine, try to include a local micro-brewed beer or vintage.

The fifth choice is the Cash Bar. The cash bar is not the most acceptable way to treat your guests. After all, you are inviting them to an event. As stated previously, your guests should not have to pay for anything during the evening. You may have hurt feelings if you select this category. However, this is how it works. There is a bar set-up with one or two bartenders and your guests go to the bar, order their beverages (from beer, wine, speed rack or call liquors and sodas) and pay cash.

The Non-Alcohol Reception
Last, it is perfectly fine to have a Non-Alcohol Reception if your guests do not partake in alcohol. Your bar can have plenty of coffee, soda, fruit drinks, and sparking waters. A separate table display may house an exotic fountain with punch. If you wish to introduce alcohol for a toast, serve a glass of champagne. The glassware should already be on the tables and the servers pour the appropriate amount for each guest. If a guests wishes to refuse, that is their option. They will toast with their water or nonalcoholic beverage. If absolutely no alcohol will be used, sparkling cider and sparking grape juice are delicious.

Your caterer will guide you through the bar options. Brides and grooms, make time to discuss the alcohol situation with your parents prior to the catering meeting.

Roney, Carley; The Knot’s Complete Guide to Weddings in the Real World, Broadway Books, New York, 1998.
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