Open Bar vs Cash Bar – Overview and 6 Tips to help you choose

open bar vs cash bar

Open Bar vs Cash Bar – A little background

Having an open bar assures guests that drinks are on the house, while a cash bar means drinks are to be paid for by the guests. An open bar optionally can also include a notice that guests need not tip since the host will tip. A cash bar involves working with a bartending service that will show up at your at your wedding with an alcohol supply and charge guests for each drink.

The choice of open bar vs cash bar can be a vital decision for your wedding. There is no perfect answer to which option is right. Each couple can have a different budget, guest drinking habits, wedding style, etc. We hope we can help guide you into choosing whether an open bar or a cash bar is right for you.

Can you afford an open bar?

Maybe you are getting married very young without financial help from parents. Or could it be that you still have tons of student debt and can’t pay it down fast enough? Maybe you had bad luck spell and were out of work or underemployed for a while. You could even be a recovering shopaholic that has mountains of bills to pay. It doesn’t matter how you got here. If you can’t afford a cash bar, then you shouldn’t have one. Your guests will understand because they see that you are barely getting by.

Are your guests more fun to be around when drinking?

If many of your guests are angry drunk alcoholics, you may want to have a cash bar. Free drinks could cause them to drink more than they would have if they had to pay for their drinks. On the other hand – do your guests dance more and liven up the party after a few drinks? Having an open bar can go a long way to getting everyone to dance and be in a good mood.

What are your guests’ expectations? What have you seen at similar weddings?

Each region/city/town/ethnicity can have its own culture and expectations. In a Polish wedding, for example, most Polish guests would expect it to be an open bar. If you had a cash bar, the main topic of conversation for the night would be about how the hosts are cheap. You don’t want the center of the attention of the evening to be on this topic. There are other cultures where rarely anyone drinks.

Are you having a simple wedding where you insisted on having no gifts?

Most guests give a gift (usually cash) that is large enough to cover the cost of inviting them. If you are trying to keep it straightforward and low budget and have asked for no gifts, it is entirely reasonable for you to have a cash bar.

Are you and your fiancee non-drinkers?

If you are non-drinkers and you spend most of your time with your friends without drinking then having a cash bar seems more reasonable. It is not part of your culture, but you are giving the option to guests to purchase a drink if they prefer it.

We hope this helped you think through the choice of open bar vs cash bar. Most weddings tend to be an open bar, and unless some of the above reasons apply to you, we would advise you to have an open bar. It usually makes the night more fun, guests happier, and encourages dancing. Having an open bar doesn’t mean you have to spend a ridiculous amount of money on it. We have a guide on how to save money on your open bar. Let us know in the comments if this helped you decide open bar vs cash bar or if you have any other tips.


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2 Comment

  1. NearlyDryBride says: Reply

    Thank you for this advice, this is super helpful! Can you speak at all to what to do if you have a planning conflict about this?

    For example, three of the reasons on this list apply strongly to us:
    My fiance and I are practically non-drinkers (we considered having a dry wedding); we have multiple danger-drinkers and alcoholics attending to whom we don’t want to give access to a full bar; and a full open bar is out of our budget anyway (we decided we would splurge on other things, like inviting a few more people we really wanted to celebrate with).

    However, other people involved in our planning process have said it seems extremely rude to have a cash bar. Is that true?? I don’t think most of our friends would find it rude (they know that we barely drink), but I don’t want to offend guests if this is a really big social faux-pas. We live in Boston, and I understand this probably differs by country/region/city, but I wondered if you could speak to this at all.

    Thanks for the insights!

  2. Hey NearlyDryBride!

    It all ultimately comes down to your feel of the situation and what you are comfortable with.

    There may be some people (especially the alcoholics) who may find it rude if it is a cash bar, but if you and your groom are ok with knowing a few people may be upset about it, you can still do it. Most weddings, regardless what decisions you make, have a few people who are disappointed and complain about it, but don’t let a few grumpy people bother you too much.

    If you want to be a little safer you could potentially try to compromise somewhere in the middle too. One good example I can think of is having free wine / and a cash bar for anything else. It’s easier to get cheaper but still good tasting wine, and you don’t need as much variety so you could buy it in bulk at discount. Wine also may deter the alcoholics a bit, as most of the alcoholics I’ve seen tended to overdrink beer/liquor. Whereas wine tends to make people drowsier. You could either put 2 bottles of wine at a table, and then offer a cash bar, or serve wine at the cash bar. If you go with putting 2 bottles of wine at a table and can manage to put all the alcoholics at the same table, that might help limit it further too.

    Some more info on why people sometimes may find it rude if you don’t have a cash bar:
    If you have most of your guests traveling from far away and it’s expensive for them they may be more upset.
    If the average guest in your circle/area gives a $150 gift, and a limited open bar would be about 30$ / guest they may feel upset that they gave what feels like a large gift and have to “double pay” for the alcohol.

    Again this all depends on your feel of the situation, your guests, and how much it would bother you if some people found it rude. You can always go for compromises if it bothers you:
    1) Free wine bar, Cash for other drinks.
    2) 2 bottles of free wine per table, cash bar for other drinks
    3) Give each person 2 free drink tickets, and tell the bartenders you will reimburse them for it, and it’s cash after their first 2 free drinks.
    4) Offer an open bar but for only the first hour or two, cash bar afterward (if you do this make sure it’s announced somehow)

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