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To Open Bar or Not to Open Bar?

Updated: Dec 23, 2019

"We want our guests to have a great time and we don't want to seem cheap but we are a bit nervous about an open bar. Thoughts'?


Yes. To open bar or not to open bar, that is the question. Personally, we believe in the best of both worlds. At my wedding, we looked after the champagne during cocktail hour + wine during dinner & throughout the toasts. We also had a signature mocktail (lots of expecting mamas on our day) and of course sparkling + still water for the tables. We had a few special guests who came all the way from New Zealand so for them as well as for the wedding party we arranged a tab with the bartenders. Aside from them, if a guest wanted something special from the bar, or to continue to cocktail after the reception that was on their own dime.


Eazy Peazy, Lemon Squeezy. No ominous bill to worry about at the end of the night. Lots of vino on the tables for those looking to get festive and not an apocalyptic mess of half-filled cups spoiling the venue's beautiful ambiance (or our photos for that matter).


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There is of course more than one way to do things. We always encourage our couples to go with what makes the most sense for them, their budget and of course their venue partner, as often they have their own system in place that we need to respect.


Still unsure? Here are a few considerations to take into account before making a final call.



How Rowdy is Your Crew?

This one is a little delicate. Two questions for you and your honey to have an honest think about ...

  • Does your circle have a history of bar fights, property damage or unruly conduct while under the influence .... I realize this sounds dramatic and for us more mature brides less an issue than in our early years ... but remember should anything go sideways, it is your name on the contracts and you may be responsible for damages, replacement costs and any other scary liabilities.

  • When looking at your guest list, does everyone know everyone or are there a few wildcards mixed in ... the out of town cousins on your husbands side for instance, that he has only met once but Mom insisted we invite, or all those random dates that your guests are bringing to fill their plus 1 card. If you have any reservations, mixing bottomless alcohol with a large, diverse mix of people, whose main priority is to party, could make for some drama. Exercise Caution.

Let's be honest. We want a great social but we don't want things to get out of control. Raise your hand if you have seen someone overindulge and nearly spill red wine all over the bride. Not a good scene for anyone. Crowd control is a must and if you are planning an open bar, here is where investing in wedding coordinators is a lifesaver (and yes of course we use this opportunity to promote Our Wedding Coordinator Service Package) because you will have someone to lean on when Uncle Roy needs a polite push to sample the soda for a bit.



How Big is Your Budget?

This one is self-explanatory. The more you have to spend, the more you can spend. If you are looking to keep things cost effective, beer and wine are by far your best option, fancy cocktails take a number of ingredients and that can get costly, plus now you need to rent additional glassware.


Maybe here is where you compromise and look after all the drinks throughout dinner and speeches and then guests are on their own thereafter. You could also do a few champagne passes throughout the evening (or maybe something stronger if that suits the vibe) to keep the giving going & the energy high while keeping control of your bar bill.


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Can the Bar Team Handle an Open Bar?

As someone who worked over a decade in the hospitality industry, I can tell you firsthand that a backup at the bar will disrupt the flow of any event - and that can feel choppy, awkward and stalled. Not what we want. Not only will there be people constantly getting up and down, up and down, there will be these mini surges, or as we call it in the biz 'rushes', and what that looks like is all your guests stampeding to the bar to recharge their drinks at one time...like before the MC prompts for a toast or announces that the speeches are set to begin. There are incredible bar teams out there but even the most savvy will tell you that a two person bar crew will have a hard time keeping up with 100 guests if the vibe is 'all you can drink fancy cocktails'. Here again is where beer, wine and bubbles make the most sense.


And then there is the glassware. The never ending mountain of glassware. We have been to weddings that have been open bar and what often happens is that guests leave their half-filled cups, here, there and everywhere and that makes it very difficult for the service team to maintain the cleanup. Visually it looks like a big mess, lots of spills, and so much waste. A great solution is to provide your guests with their own glass that they can use for the duration of an event. If they lose it they provide a small donation at the bar for a new one and we donate the funds to a local charity.


There are so many ways to create great guest experience. At the end of the day, your guests are there to celebrate two people they love and the lifetime commitment they are promising to one another. Stay focused on that and the night will be a success, open bar or not.

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