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Open Bar Vs. Cash Bar: How to Choose Bar Options for Your Wedding

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The different bar options for a wedding receptions and how to choose between them

Whether or not to have an open or cash bar at the reception is one of the biggest points of contention while planning a wedding. There are several factors that go into the decision and all sides of the argument should be considered before making a final call.

The Options

There are three primary levels of openness brides and grooms can choose from when planning their wedding reception bar options. While every venue is different, these three categories are industry standards and can usually be negotiated around.

  • Closed Bar: 

    A closed bar is the most limited bar option and eliminates alcohol entirely from your wedding reception. Basically, this means that wedding guests cannot walk up to a bar an order a drink but may still be served toasting champagne or a specific passed cocktail. This option is perfect for brides and grooms who do not drink, are concerned about others drinking or have a restricted budget. 

  • Cash Bar:

    The middle ground between closed and open bars is the cash bar option. This choice is the most versatile bar option. A true cash bar means that reception attendees need to pay out of pocket for each alcoholic beverage they order. A popular option for weddings with a stricter budget, most venues can negotiate a certain number of bottles or a dollar amount spent before the cash bar kicks in. For example, brides and grooms can agree to pay for $500 in wine, beer and spirits before the bar goes from open to cash. 

  • Open Bar:

    Brides and grooms who want their guests to have as many drinks as they please without spending out of pocket should opt for the fully open bar. An open bar means that the of-age guests who wish to partake in an adult beverage can order from the bar with no cost to them. Venues will usually charge by the bottle for the alcohol. Open bars are usually expected by guests attending evening weddings but can take up a large portion of smaller budgets.

The Factors

Once the available options are fully understood a more informed decision can be made as to what level of openness the reception bar should be. Time of day, budget and personal beliefs and relationships should all be taken into account before setting a bar decision in stone. 

  • Time of Day:

    The time of day in which the wedding reception will be held can be a large factor in whether or not the bar should be open, closed or cash. There are not very many wedding guests who expect a fully open bar at ten in the morning. On the other hand, evening and nighttime receptions are usually held with an open bar to encourage guests to have fun and dance. Consider how many cocktails or glasses of wine people usually have with the mealtime that the reception encompasses. One mimosa with breakfast, cash or closed bar. Three drinks with dinner, open bar if possible.

  • Budget:

    The predetermined budget of a wedding reception can instantly decide the status of the bar. A fully open bar can become highly expensive depending on how many guests are in attendance. For a budget friendly option that still allows guests to have a drink or two on the house, consider opting for the middle ground where a certain dollar amount of liquor, beer and wine is negotiated and once that limit is reached the bar switches to cash instead of open. This is an option that not every venue offers off the bat but can be easily negotiated in most circumstances.

  • Personal Beliefs/Relationships:
    Most important of all the factors that go into deciding how open or closed a wedding reception bar should be is the personal belief system and relationship the bride, groom and other guests have about alcoholic beverages. For example, many religions frown upon or entirely forbid drinking alcohol and in that case, a closed bar is the most appropriate. Brides and grooms should never feel pressured or obligated to provide an open bar at their wedding reception and should always choose the option that makes them happiest.

The bar debate is famous for causing contention among brides and grooms planning their wedding. The best way to make this decision easy and stress-free is to have a clear understanding of the options and where you stand on the major factors that go into this decision.

Primary image provided by Morguefile.com user iphis

1 comment

A. Smith
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Posted on Jun 4, 2011

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Dawn Merrow

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