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Cash Bar vs. Open Bar for Your Wedding

A wedding is a beautiful gathering and a memorable day! It’s also the perfect excuse to throw the biggest and best party of your life for all your friends and family. If you’re stocking the bar at your wedding reception, you will have to decide between an open bar vs. cash bar.

Many decisions come with planning the wedding reception. One decision that you may find yourself struggling with is whether you should have a cash bar vs. open bar at your wedding.

There are a few things that you need to consider when planning for either a cash bar or an open bar. Some of these factors include the cost, the number of guests in attendance, the type of crowd you’re inviting, and how long the reception will be.

Open Bar Pros and Cons

wedding bar

Let’s consider the open bar first. An open bar is where the bride and groom pay for the entire bar, allowing their guests to enjoy drinks freely at no expense to them. Sounds fun, right?

As fun as it sounds, there are both pros and cons to this option that you should consider before committing to open bars at wedding venues.

Pro: Guests Will Be Happy

can you wear red to wedding

Probably the biggest pro of getting an open bar for your wedding reception is that your guests will be thrilled. After all, nothing makes a party better than free booze!

It’s true that guests love an open bar at a wedding. This gives them the freedom to drink as they please and enjoy themselves without having to worry about their budget.

Some couples even feature signature drinks that reflect the theme of their wedding!

Pro: No Need for Cash or Transactions to Slow Down the Line

When you have an open bar, the bartenders don’t have to process any transactions because everything is already paid for. So their main focus of the night becomes serving drinks – and that’s what everyone is there for.

Guests appreciate that they don’t have to miss all the fun on the dance floor because they’re stuck in line waiting for a drink.

Con: The Cost

According to the Bridal Association of America, the average price for beverages and bar services at a reception is over $2,000. Yikes!

The cost of an open bar is likely the biggest reason you and your fiance are even considering a cash bar. After all, if money wasn’t an option, we would probably all opt for an open bar.

Your budget is important, so if an open bar is going to put you in the red, it may be time to consider other options.

Con: Guests May Over-Indulge

mint julep

Perhaps the only other fear of an open bar is how much your crowd will take advantage of it. Nothing ruins a reception more than an overly drunk relative on the dance floor – unless, of course, they take the mic and decide to give an impromptu speech.

If you have concerns about your guest list and how they might respond to an open bar, you may consider going down the cash route.

Cash Bar Pros and Cons

hand holding money

The alternative option to an open bar is a cash bar, which is a normal bar where guests order their drinks and pay for them on their own. Just like having an open bar comes with the good and the bad, a cash bar also has pros and cons.

Pro: You’ll Save Money

barrels holding drink dispensers

The first pro of a cash bar is pretty obvious. Since you’re not covering all of the alcohol, you will be paying a lot less for the bar overall.

You’ll still have to pay fees to have the bar open and cover the cost of the bartenders working, but the guests will be funding their own indulgences.

Pro: Guests are Less Likely to Over-Indulge

It’s easy to drink a ton when you’re not footing the bill, but when you know all that tequila is on your dime, you probably won’t have as many drinks.

We mentioned above how having an open bar puts you at risk of overly drunk guests. Well, having a cash bar lowers that risk. If you’re concerned about the amount of alcohol consumption at your reception, a cash bar may be a good solution.

Con: It May be Considered Tacky

Regardless of your financial situation or how you truly treat people in real life, having a cash bar tends to put a bit of an assumption on you and your spouse that you’re stingy. Many people consider a cash bar as cheap or lacking taste, as if you weren’t feeling generous enough the day you booked your venue.

As unfair as the reputation is, cash bars just tend to make a wedding seem cheap. Guests may turn their noses up when they find out they actually have to pay for their own drinks.

Con: Guests Will Need to Bring Cash

Along with free alcohol, guests also appreciate any kind of convenience that the bride and groom prepare to offer them. For example, guests appreciate it when you block off hotel rooms for them to book and provide a shuttle service to and from your reception.

Unfortunately, this also means that guests notice seemingly little things that do inconvenience them. Women try to avoid bringing large purses to weddings, while men don’t always want to carry their thick wallets in their suits.

But having a cash bar means your guests will need, well – cash!

A Healthy Compromise: Limited Bar

signature wedding cocktails

If you’re on a budget but having a cash bar doesn’t sit right with you, you can also opt for the middle-ground: a limited bar.

A limited bar sets healthy boundaries as to what your guests can order. In order to keep the costs down, you can limit the alcohol to beer and wine. Some experts say that beer and wine only doesn’t actually cut the cost much, however, as one bottle of hard liquor creates more drinks than one bottle of wine or beer.

Another option for a limited bar is that you can serve limited, inexpensive hard liquor. You could limit alcohol to signature drinks and cocktails. One popular method is for the bride and groom to each choose a signature cocktail (featuring different spirits and flavors to appeal to more guests).

This option allows you to provide alcohol to your guests for free without going beyond the boundaries of your budget.

Bar Services FAQ

All of your questions regarding the open bar vs cash bar debate answered!

Is having a cash bar tacky?

Some people believe that it is in poor taste to force guests to pay for their drinks with a cash bar at a wedding. For come couples, however, footing the bill for a full bar is simply unrealistic for their budget.

While it isn’t ideal to make guests pay for drinks at a wedding, it’s not the end of the world if you can’t afford it. Consider offering a limited bar if possible, or at least provide a champagne toast.

Another option is to provide drink tickets for a few free drinks, after which guests must pay for any extra cocktails.

Is a cash bar cash only?

No, typically a cash bar does not necessarily mean that guests need to use hard cash to pay. Most modern bars accept credit cards as well. If you do opt for a cash bar, make sure that you ask your venue if guests need cash or if any payment method will work.

How much does an open bar cost?

The price of a full bar varies depending on your venue, the alcohol provided, the size of your guest list, and more. Check out our article on the price of providing alcohol at your wedding reception.

How do you tell guests it’s a cash bar?

You should mention that your wedding is cash bar-only on your wedding invitations as well as your wedding website. There are different ways to word it, depending on your level of formality and style.

Do you tip the bartender at a wedding?

bartender pouring drink

The happy couple should provide a tip for all vendors at their wedding, including the bartender. Even if you paid for the alcohol, you should tip the worker who served the alcoholic drinks.

As a guest at a wedding or another event, you should also tip the bartender for drinks, although you don’t need to go crazy. It’s nice to throw a few dollars in the tip jar even if you aren’t paying for the drinks, to show appreciation for the bartender serving you.

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