Deciding on an open bar, a cash bar or no bar can be tricky. Having an open bar can be quite expensive — not to mention problematic — but asking people to pay for their booze isn’t the best etiquette, either.
Alcohol is typically expected at cocktail and dinner receptions, but you can choose from different serving methods. If an open bar isn’t going to fit the budget, consider serving champagne as guests arrive, wine with the meal and beer, wine and specialty drinks after the meal. With an even tighter budget, serve a punch or pre-purchased beer, wine and liquor. Once the alcohol is gone, the bar can serve nonalcoholic beverages.
On-premise pricing at a restaurant, banquet hall or private club can be done per consumption, or by the bottle or drink; with cocktail reception included and then per consumption; all-inclusive, with the total price of the meal including food and beverage (a good deal if your guests are heavy drinkers); or by corkage fee only, meaning you bring your own wine and champagne and the venue charges you a fee to serve it.
Go through your guest list and note how many invitees are under drinking age. Have your contract specify a lower price for them, as they’ll be drinking only nonalcoholic beverages.
An advantage to having your reception at a less traditional location and bringing in your own caterer is that you can also buy and bring in your own liquor. Check out prices at discount stores, wine shop catalogs, liquor stores and local wineries. Make sure to buy about 10 percent more liquor than you think you’ll need, and stock up on the ice.
To encourage everyone to leave the reception venue on time, close the bar before the end of the reception. A good time to stop service is about an hour before the band or DJ will close up shop. You don’t necessarily need to make an announcement that the bar is closing.
If your wedding will take place early in the day, with a lunch or brunch, you might want to leave out alcohol completely. However, it’s still appropriate to have a champagne toast or to serve morning cocktails like mimosas and bloody marys.
If a few people challenge your choice to serve alcohol, kindly remind them that it’s your wedding, and you hope they’ll be respectful of the celebration you’ve planned. You don’t have to justify yourself or your decision, but if you think doing so will help, say something like, “We knew the majority of our guests would enjoy being served alcoholic beverages.”