What to Know When Selecting a Bar for Your Wedding

April Dorsey of The D-Tales has the 411 on what you need to know when selecting a bar for your wedding reception!

Most couples want to ensure their guests have a great experience and a TON of fun at their wedding. I would say that 80% of my brides (ok, so maybe it is the groom who has more say in this area!) think that the bar is one of the important areas, but are a bit shocked at the price. The first thing you need to remember: wedding bar vendors/venues are not out to gouge you!

Let’s talk about this for a few minutes. I want you to consider the last Saturday night you had out with friends.  A night of dinner drinks and dancing makes for a great night and lots of fun. Now, I want you to think about how much your bar bill was…. I would bet it was an easy 40 dollars for the night!

Before you decide on what type of bar you want at your reception you must consider two things. First, what is your personal preference? I am sure you can reflect on other receptions and consider what you did and did not like about them. Second, you must consider your budget.  Do not be swayed by what other people have done or what “should” be done. (But if someone in your family INSISTS on a certain type that is out of your budget, tell ‘em to cough up the difference!)


Now let’s think about the wedding bar:

  • Average pricing for a 4 hour open bar is approximately $30-40 per guest.
  • Most bar options will require a bartenders fee usually around $100 per bar. (This may be built in to the cost or may require an additional fee.)
  • It’s safe to estimate that the crowd will consume one drink per person per hour (and they will leave an average of one at the table that will sit and eventually be cleared by the service staff).
During your planning session with the venue or bartending service can be confusing and a bit overwhelming. Doing your homework in advance will save you time, money and stress! There are different types of bars are available for your reception.

Open Bar:

  • Open bars are prepaid by you or the host. 
  • This allows your guests to drink for the entire wedding at no cost to them. 
  • No matter how much your guests drink, you will have only paid one flat cost.
  • PRO: Any guest (if they are of legal age) can get almost any type of drink that they want.                 
  • CON: You may have to pay a lot of cash in order to ensure that everything that your guests could ever want is included.


Consumption Bar:

  • This bar is designed for the wedding with a mixed crowd of drinkers. 
  • You are paying per drink, or what guests consume.
  • PRO: This allows your guests to drink at the wedding at no cost to them.
  • CON: You won’t know your bar bill until the tab is calculated at the end of the evening.
  • CON: Guests will still leave their drinks at the table when they get up to dance, so there will be wasted drinks (that you are paying for).

Cash Bar:

  • Cash bars are no cost to you or the host. 
  • Your guests will have to purchase any beverage on their own.
  • PRO: You don’t have to budget anything for the bar.
  • CON: Your guests may not have money with them.
  • CON: You need to let your guests know in advance, if possible.
  • CON: You might appear to be “cheap” to your guests.

Additional options to maximize your bar:

  • You can have an open bar during cocktail hour. In other words, the bar is only open during a specified time throughout the reception.
  • Close the bar during dinner and offer your guests wine.  You can then open the bar again when the reception fun gets underway.
  • Have the wait staff serve drinks. This can help you control the amount of drinks that are served, which in turn can save you money.
  • Offer a signature drink for cocktail hour, wine with dinner and then a fully open bar when the reception starts.

Now on to the TYPE of alcohol being served at your bar:

  • Well Brands: If you just ask for vodka and cranberry, or any type of liquor, you get what is called a “well,” or basically the least expensive stuff.
  • Call Brands: When you actually call the name brand of the liquor (e.g.: Smirnoff and cranberry juice).
  • Premium Brands: Refer to a higher quality of Call brands  (e.g. Grey Goose and cranberry juice).

Consider discussing your options with your venue, how it fits into your budget and what you think is the best option for your wedding day.

As Always, I am here to answer any questions you may have, so don’t be shy about sending me an email!


By: April Dorsey, The D-Tales

31 thoughts on “What to Know When Selecting a Bar for Your Wedding

  1. Garnishes are usually provided free of charge by the venue or caterer, but give the appearance that you’ve spent more

  2. orange slices or mini fruit kebabs on toothpicks.

  3. like curled lemon and lime peels,

  4. dress up your signature drinks with colorful,

  5. For an added festive touch,

  6. If the best brands are important to you, indulge guests with just a few choices of these but close the bar early and offer just wine and beer as the party winds down.

  7. Choose mid shelf liquors for significant savings (guests usually can’t tell the difference).

  8. Topshelf isn’t a high priority.

  9. Consider fresh lemonade in tall, sugar-rimmed glasses for a warm-weather wedding or sparkling water with colorful wedges of orange, lemon or lime.

  10. Don’t forget to have some inexpensive (nonalcoholic) drinks on hand.

  11. Instead, serve beer and wine (both red and white) with one or two signature cocktails that you’ve personalized with a cute name and your wedding colors.

  12. You’ll save hundreds of dollars; even better, guests will have a chance to sober up before they head out to the road.

  13. Close the open bar an hour early and offer coffee.

  14. Corkage fees (a charge for opening bottles of wine or liquor) may be up to $10 a bottle or even more. Try to negotiate these out of your contract.

  15. Check around for less-expensive wine vintages.

  16. If you’re stocking your own bar, do your homework!

  17. Eliminate shots or any drinks that make use of a number of liquors—these all raise your bar tab and aren’t necessary for guests

  18. Another way to approach this: If the best brands are important to you, indulge guests with just a few choices of these but close the bar early and offer just wine and beer as the party winds down.

  19. Topshelf isn’t a high priority. Choose mid-shelf liquors for significant savings (guests usually can’t tell the difference).

  20. I will go with the signature drink bar

  21. this would save me a lot of $$$$

  22. no bar for me….just natural juices

  23. I have heard that they are now setting up theme bars eg. tequila bar, rum bar, couples are incorporating their favorite into a themed bar

  24. persons are trending towards a smoothie and shake bar!

  25. I would eliminate the bar completely

  26. nice tips…think i may go for a natural juice bar.

  27. thanks for sharing! love the idea of a cash bar

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