So you’re having an open bar but still want to save money:
We talked earlier about how to decide whether a cash bar or open bar wedding is right for you. An open bar wedding is an excellent choice if you can afford it and your guests add more fun and energy to the party after a few drinks. It can help encourage socializing in your mixed tables, encourage guests to get up and dance and leave your guests feeling like they had a fun night. If you are reading this article we are assuming that you want to have some form of an open bar wedding, but still want to find ways to save money on your alcohol and bartending costs. According to costhelper, open bars cost somewhere between $15-$90 per person. The majority of the cost difference will depend on your location. The next biggest factor will be your package choice, and the amount of hour it is open.
Open bars come in all shapes and sizes (and costs). Which type of open bar wedding is right for you depends on your wants, needs, and guest habits. Your budget will also influence your bar service choice. We hope this article will help you find the right bartending / alcohol service that is right for you and save you money along the way. I will walk you through some open bar options that could hopefully keep your bar tab to a minimum while keeping your guests happy.
First of all, what are your venue’s restrictions?
Does your venue give you full control of your alcohol choice? Do they limit your options in bartending services to the ones that they frequently work with (and probably receive kickbacks from)? Do they force you to use their bartending service? Do they not allow liquor service at all? Do they require you to purchase liability insurance to serve alcohol?
Factoring in quantity of alcohol needed
Is it easy or difficult for you to approximate what your guests may drink and how much?
The more you can predict the amount, and limit the variety of drinks, the more you could save by buying the booze yourself and just having your alcohol inventory served to guests. If you can’t guess whether the average will be two drinks per guest or twelve, you are probably better off paying for a bartending service. If you know that you would need to have a large variety of alcohol available, then you are probably better off going with a bartending service.
Are your guests’ heavy drinkers?
If you expect the majority of your guests to have 6+ drinks on your wedding night, you will probably save a lot by choosing a bartending service that charges per guest. Depending on where you live this may be cheaper than actually purchasing your own alcohol and serving it yourself. Keep in mind if you buy your own alcohol you will have to over-purchase unless you want to risk of running out of alcohol. If your majority heavy drinking guests may average 5-8 drinks, you would have to purchase 8 even if they drink 5.
Are your guests’ light drinkers?
Do you know many of your family / friends are non-drinkers or very light drinkers? We knew at our wedding half our guests were very light drinkers averaging about 1-2 drinks per guest, while the other half would average about 4-5 drinks per guest. Because of this, it made a lot of sense for us to purchase our own alcohol. We worked out a deal with our caterer where we provide the alcohol, and they provide the bartending service, cups, and non-alcoholic drinks / mixers for a flat fee. We ended up paying around $1,000 and had a variety of nice liquors, great beers, and excellent wines. Considering we live in NYC, that is a huge saving as the majority of bar services would charge about $50 / guest for the same selection. 75 guests * $50 = $3750. That is a gigantic saving. Alternatively, you could also save money by going with a bartending / alcohol service that charges per drink as opposed to per guest per hour. They may want a deposit / minimum purchase guarantee and charge you a rate per bartender instead of per guest. Make sure you double check what they will be charging per drink and that 1-2 drinks per guest would end up costing less than paying per guest.
Factoring in variety of alcohol needed
Are your guests’ uncomplicated drinkers?
Would most of your guests would be satisfied with Budweiser, Coors, red wine, white wine, sodas, and juice? If so you could reduce your budget a lot by buying the alcohol yourself. Since there is less variety, it is easier to buy each drink in bulk from a local bulk alcohol store. The less variety, the less over-purchasing you will be required to do in order to prevent running out of alcohol.
Do you have a mix of guests but most are simple drinkers?
You may be best with a bartending service where you choose to have a partial open bar wedding. A partial open bar wedding is where simple drinks are covered by the host (usually charged per guest), and there are also higher shelf drinks that are provided by the bartending service but guests are charged if they want these drinks. This may work out well for you if you if the majority of your guests would be fine with the simple drinks and the few who prefer the more complex / high shelf drinks wouldn’t mind paying more. Make sure the bartenders only display the free drinks, and guests have to explicitly ask if there are other drinks at an extra charge. This could save you money compared to upgrading a packing to higher shelf alcohol which only a few guests would actually use.
Factoring in leftovers
Are you regular drinkers?
Are you and your spouse regular drinkers who would end up drinking leftovers? If so, providing your own alcohol may have just become an even better option. The main disadvantage to purchasing your own alcohol is the fact that you will need to over-purchase to prevent yourself from running out of alcohol. If you would have purchased this alcohol anyway within the next year, then over-purchasing will not be an extra cost for you.
Extra tips and tricks to reduce your alcohol costs
If you choose to supply your own alcohol, here are some tips to save money on serving it.
Check with your venue how much they would charge if you brought the drinks, and they served it. Ask if they charge a fee if you bring your own bartending service. Ask your caterer if they offer a bartender for a fee. Do you have any bars you frequent that have great bartenders? Ask them if they would be available to bartend. You may find people who would work for tips only, or for tips + a small fee. If you are bringing your own alcohol, make sure to also purchase your own mixers, sodas, cups, etc. or see if your caterer/venue already includes it or provides it at a reasonable cost. Also, think about how many bartenders you will need. This can be judged by how much your guests drink, how many guests, and by your alcohol selection. It’s faster to provide a bottle of beer than it is to mix a drink.
Save on champagne
Champagne is mostly symbolic for cheers moments at your wedding. You likely will not have many champagne connoisseurs at your wedding. Whether you are using an alcohol service or BYOB, you can save by trying to find cheaper champagne that still tastes good, have your bartenders only half fill the glasses, or possibly even just ignoring champagne and letting your guests cheer with their own beverage. At most weddings, I’ve been to most people end up taking the customary sip out of the champagne glass but then go back to their regular drink and don’t finish it.
Save by only offering signature drinks
This is a great way to save money on your open bar wedding without looking cheap. You reduce the variety of drinks and therefore can purchase in bulk to save more. But at the same time, it adds character and charm to your wedding. You can have the bride’s drink, and the groom’s drink, and a little sign describing it.
Skip out the bar entirely, and offer “bottle service”
Your guests may actually get the same feeling they have when they go out to a fancy club and have a bottle of vodka, orange juice, and a bucket of ice. This saves money by reducing alcohol variety and serving costs. You could even incorporate this as a fun element in your wedding. Maybe you can try to predict each table’s favorite bottle (Grey Goose for your college friends table, whiskey for your uncle’s table, etc). You can have your DJ make a game out of it and encourage guests to mingle with other tables and exchange alcohol. To save even more you can even limit it to wine bottles only per table. Great tasting wine can be found for $6-10 / bottle assuming your guests are not wine connoisseurs and could bring down your budget drastically.
Close the bar a little earlier
Do you have many guests who may be driving home that night? You could save money by closing the bar an hour or two earlier and maybe transition to coffee and desserts + dancing. It will save you money and help sober up your guests.
Ask for discounts
Do you have anything special about your wedding that warrants a discount? Are you having a daytime reception instead of night time? Guests drink less during the day than at night, so you should buy less alcohol, or ask your service for a discount. Is your wedding on an off-peak season or off-peak day of the week? Request a discount because it’s unlikely your alcohol service would have any other business that day. If you are paying per guest, ask if you can get a discount if it turns out your guests drink less than an expected amount.
We hope this article helped you find the right choice for alcohol at your open bar wedding while saving you as much as possible. Let us know if you have any questions, comments or additional tips you would like to share with other readers.