Open Bar vs Cash Bar
Updated: Sep 5
Alcohol is usually a key player at weddings, I mean, after all you need to pop some champagne to celebrate love! However, if you choose not to have booze at your wedding, that’s totally fine too. Depending on your budget, you may choose to host an open bar, a cash bar or even go with a limited bar.
To get some knowledgeable advice in the area, we chatted to Danielle of The Bottled Bronco, who runs a fleet of mobile bars and photobooths that are available to service weddings and events throughout Alberta.
An open bar is when all alcohol at the wedding is paid for by the hosting couple. Providing alcohol free of charge to your guests provides a fun and easy experience for them, if you can afford it.
In regards to alcohol waste with this option, Danielle believes that an “open bar does result in some waste as people misplace their drinks, but I don't think this is a valid reason on its own to opt for a cash bar since there's no more waste than what you'd have at a household gathering. (and we'd never charge our friends at our house saying that they'd waste if they didn't pay)”.
A possible downside to an open bar is people overindulging. If this is a concern for you as a host, consider setting limitations such as closing the bar during speeches, having a predetermined time for last call, or only having certain alcohol available such as beer and wine only. Additionally, the amount consumed with an open bar could mean your bar tab is even larger than you anticipated at the end of the night. If you do choose to go with an open bar, opt to provide additional food during cocktail hour as well as a late night snack.
A cash bar refers to guests having to pay for their own drinks. You can have guests pay full prices, or subside a portion of their drinks, by having a set price where guests pay a flat rate and you cover the rest. This ensures people are a little more thoughtful with their drinks, as they’ve paid for them, but having a reduced fee helps keep the costs down for both the couple and the guests. “The pro to a cash bar is that you get money back and you can somewhat police the amount people drink because they will drink less at a cash bar” says Danielle. A cash bar can also help provide control over serving limits of alcohol at your wedding.
In regards to pricing, Danielle notes that “ticket bars are an added step and can be a nuisance if bartenders are required to sell the tickets. A toonie bar will cover alcohol costs. A $3 bar will typically cover alcohol and bartenders and a $5/full price bar will turn a profit for the couple. Ask for a POS (tap machine) to be supplied by the (bartending) company so that guests don't need access to an ATM”.
A middle ground between an open bar and a cash bar is a limited bar. The couple can provide free of charge table wine, or wine poured during dinner, and any drinks after that need to be paid for by guests. You could also have an open bar for cocktail hour, and then all drinks following dinner are part of a cash bar. You could mix the options available such as offering beer and wine free of charge, with cocktails and liquors to be paid for by guests.
Another thing to note is the additional cost of tipping. Danielle suggests that “tipping culture is changing and most bars are opting for auto grat to ensure they can maintain qualified staff”. She warns that when hiring a bartending service, make sure to “watch out for bar services that add auto grat (15%-18%) onto their proposal but then pocket that as an ‘admin fee’, and hide in the contract that you're required to pay the bartenders an additional (15%-18%) after service”.
As Danielle points out, the "pros and cons to a open vs cash bar are very personal because some people think being able to police their guests level of drinking is a pro, while others think it's a con. It just depends on how controlling the client is”.
Regardless of what you decide, make sure your guests have safe transportation options to return to their home or hotel safely. You can decide, based on your budget and preferences, how you want the bar to be set up at your wedding, and what experience you want for yourselves and your guests. There are no rules for this, do whatever you can afford and what makes most sense for your wedding!
Big thanks to Danielle of The Bottled Bronco
All images sourced from Pinterest