“To drink, and what to drink? – that is the question…” – Melissa Kay Shakespeare Allen

Just like any other wedding element, when deciding the specifics of your bar and beverage service, budget and costs go hand in hand with your wedding day priority – how important is the element in relation to the other elements that need to be paid for?

Take a look at your guest list:

  • is it dominated by college buddies who will certainly want to raise a bottle (or seven) of beer with you all night?
  • or is your guest list populated by foodies who love to sample wines and will be pairing appropriately with their entree selection?
  • does half the family refrain from drinking while the other half will more than make up for their abstinence?

What about your reception theme and design..?:

  • A speakeasy theme would require some kind of vintage cocktail
  • A ranch house barbecue menu would be served well with cold beer and a wine punch, like sangria.
  • Is there a locally grown or produced wine or beer or spirit that you might like to incorporate?
  • Is there a specific beverage that you always order?  If so, a signature cocktail is in order!
  • What time is the wedding?  A luncheon or brunch offers a different approach and expectation then a Saturday evening.

With answers to those questions in mind, here are five bar and beverage options* to consider for your wedding reception:

  1. If you have big drinkers or guests who will enjoy not only a cocktail or two during cocktail hour but also wine with dinner and a refreshed glass while dancing, go with the fully hosted unlimited bar package.  Guests can drink whatever they want, however they want, and you will not have to worry about a bar tab at the end of the night.
  2. If the guest list looks to be more moderate, a consumption bar might be in order.  The caterer or venue will calculate only what guests actually drink.
  3. Unless guests are very specific about the brands they like to drink, you’ll likely do just fine offering a call bar (a “call bar” is mid-range: above “well” (i.e. generic brands) and below “premium” (which usually offer more than one brand of each spirit.)
  4. Typically, bar service of wine and beer is less expensive than fully stocked bar options.  If corkage is an option offered by the venue or caterer, and you have access to well-priced wine, you may be able to provide the wine at a better cost than the caterer can provide it.  Be sure to do the math, though:corkage + price of the wine + transport time and efforts = a bigger headache then having the caterer do it.
  5. Customize the bar to be based on one key spirit (most popular option: vodka) and have the bar stocked with a variety of mixers, juices and garnishes so guests have plenty of choices (and keeping your cost down.)  Or offer one signature cocktail during cocktail hour only, keeping beer and wine an option all night long.

You’ll notice “cash bar” is not an option listed above.  You are inviting your friends and family to a party and to expect them to pay for anything is rude.  If the budget is really pressed, at the very least, offer wine service with dinner and serve a delicious punch and soft drinks for guests to enjoy all night long.


*Of course, your venue and caterer are your best resources for options.  Liquor license restrictions or venue requirements might prohibit all those options, but your event professionals should be able to work out the bar style that works best for you.  “Drink responsibility” should go without saying, but it is too important to assume: have hired drivers and cars, shuttle services, designated driver, or taxis on call.