How to Control Bar Costs at a Wedding Reception

Keep bar expenses low but the spirit festive

By Jonathan Croswell

Rows of pink cocktails
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Want a spirited celebration but can't stomach the cost of a full bar? Keep your expenses from spinning out of control by minimizing alcohol costs while still keeping the mood festive.

  • What You Need to Know
  • Decide how much of your wedding budget, if any, you can devote to alcohol.
  • Determine what kind of drinks to you want to serve.
  • Calculate how much you expect your guests to drink.

Step 1:

Choose a signature drink to serve at the reception. Many people just offer champagne, wine, and one signature drink. This helps keep liquor costs down by limiting what alcohol types you need to keep in stock. And because the bride and groom get to "invent" the signature drink, they can create one that is cost-effective. Signature cocktails can be tied to the theme of your wedding and enhance the atmosphere.

Step 2:

Offer a limited bar instead of a full bar. Hire a bartender to work from a limited selection of supplies. Your guests will still have a large number of drinks available to them, but you'll save money by keeping your purchase costs and excess inventory to a minimum.

Step 3:

Stock the bar yourself. Put together a limited bar by going to a liquor store or beverage wholesaler and picking out essential hard liquors. Find a friend will to tend the bar for a flat rate plus tips and avoid the overcharging of reception halls and caterers.

Step 4:

Close the bar early. Limiting the time the bar is open will not only save you money, but it will give guests time to sober up before they leave.

Step 5:

Go with a cash bar instead of an open bar. Some may say it is in poor taste, but if you don't consider alcohol essential to your wedding experience, make it available as an extra your guests can pay for.

Step 6:

Give out drink tickets or coupons as a way of compromising between a cash bar and open bar. Place two to three drink coupons into guests' wedding invitations, which they can redeem for a drink of their choice at the bar. Guests who want more can pay for their own drinks after their freebies are used.

  • Tips & Warnings
  • Close the bar 30 minutes prior to the reception's ending. This will get more people out on the dance floor for the final numbers and give your bartending staff time to clean up.
  • Make sure transportation is available for guests who have drunk too much.
  • If you decide to offer a signature cocktail, you can make these drinks at home in bulk and serve them with garnish to your guests.
  • Check with your reception venue to make sure that your bar and alcohol plan is permitted at their establishment.

About the Author

Jonathan Croswell is a freelance writer who has worked on regional wedding publications.

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Planning Reminder:

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Decide on beverages

Open bars are a standard (and popular) approach to beverage service, but you have other options as well. A signature drink can color-coordinate with the decor and keep a lid on expenses. A sparkling wine is also a great way to get everyone in the festive spirit without worrying about mixers and more money.

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Wedding Glossary


A beverage service system where the host pays for all drinks ordered by the guests. Also known as an open bar.

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