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Cash Bar or No Cash Bar?

April 25, 2011

Here’s an issue that we’d like to tackle this week:  Is it acceptable to offer a cash bar at a wedding?

Weddings are expensive. One of the biggest expenses for a wedding comes in the form of the bar. In an effort to reduce wedding expenses, some couples will plan on offering a cash bar at their wedding reception. This is a hot topic and a question that we as wedding planners get asked by our clients every so often as to what our thoughts are on the appropriateness of a cash bar at a wedding.

While the ultimate decision of whether or not to have a cash bar is up to the couple, proper etiquette says that it is not appropriate for a wedding. A wedding is a very important, once-in-a-lifetime event and when a couple invites guests to share in this special occasion, those people should not be obligated to pay for any part of the festivities. People make plans to travel to your wedding if they are out of town. Your guests will likely have already paid for plane tickets, rental cars, hotel rooms, babysitters, and wedding gifts. After all these expenses, it’s not acceptable to ask them to also pay for their drinks at the wedding.

One thing I often like to relate the cash bar situation to is being invited to a friend’s house for a dinner party. Let’s say you’re invited to a lovely dinner party …complete with appetizers, dinner, and desserts. You get there, sit down to dinner, and realize that if you’d like a glass of the wine on the table, you’re going to have to fork over $7. Yikes!

I have often been asked by couples if it would be fair to offer an open bar for the cocktail hour and then switch to a cash bar. I tend to try to steer them away from this idea because once your guests have had a drink or two during the cocktail hour and you’re THEN going to surprise them with the cash bar for the actual reception, they are not going to be happy.

After considering your options, if you have come to the conclusion that you absolutely cannot have an open bar, I think the best way to handle the matter is to offer one of these solutions:

Beer/Wine Only: Check with your caterer/reception hall to see if they would allow you to bring in your own beer/wine for a set corkage fee. This is often considerably less expensive than buying these items from the venue/through the caterer.

Tableside Wine Service: Offer only Tableside wine service during the meal (you can set a limit to the number of allotted pours per glass with your caterer)

Signature Drinks: You could choose just to offer a couple signature drinks instead of a full bar. Signature drinks are very trendy right now and save the bride and groom a lot of money. You select one or two special mixed drinks and only serve those particular drinks at the bar.

Wedding Signature Drinks

Mocktails: Offer your guests non-alcoholic fun drink options such as Virgin Pina Coladas, Mojitos, etc. Although these options would not have alcohol in them, they would be a fun alternative to offering no specialty drinks at all.

In the end, we do not recommend the cash bar option….however, if you do end up deciding to offer a cash bar at your wedding, be certain to let your guests know ahead of time so that they will know to bring cash to the wedding (as many people do not carry cash these days). You can do this by adding the line “Cash Bar” at the bottom of your reception card when you send out your invitations. Hope this information is helpful and best of luck to you in your wedding planning!

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