Believe it or not, alcohol is one of the biggest expenses at your wedding reception and the bar tab can sometimes exceed the cost of dinner considering that the estimate is $10 per hour per guest. If you are serving top shelf liquor and above average wine or beer, you will find yourself scratching your head and wondering how everyone drank so much. Of course not everyone drinks, not everyone overindulges and not everyone will drink the same amount. Allowing 3 alcoholic beverages per hour ( the average) seems like a lot to me. I can honestly say that I could barely drink 3 glasses of wine over the course of the entire evening, much less per hour. Of course, this an ‘average’ number so you have to factor in the guests who can drink 6-8 glasses (easily) in the course of the evening. 6-8 glasses if wine equals 2 entire bottles.
So how do you decide what and how much to serve your guests? Most of the time, the catering manager will be able to help you calculate your ‘spiritual’ needs. There are also scores of party drink calculators online. There are also several different routes you can take to tackle the cost of the bar tab.
Cash Bar – Is where the guests pay for their own cocktails. The upside is that when guests pay for their own drinks they are less likely to overindulge and become heavily intoxicated. Less likely – not entirely out of the realm. The downside is that you may seem like a cheapskate. Some of your guests may have traveled a great distance to be at your wedding and at great expense plus a gift and hotel room and now you are asking them to pay for their own drinks? If you choose this option, make sure it is clearly defined on the reception card so guests will know to bring the cash with them. If your budget allows, providing wine at the tables is a nice touch.
Limited Bar – There are different ways to handle a limited bar. The first is to have the bar open during a cocktail hour before the reception and then after dinner is over, serving up all different types of alcoholic refreshments. During dinner guests will be served wine (usually) and nothing else. Another type of limited bar is where you serve only wine, beer and a small selection of hard liquor. Either of these is a less expensive option but, it is still important to go over the numbers with your catering professional.
Open Bar – This is where all drinks are paid for by the couple and guests can order a seemingly limitless supply of alcohol. Of course this is the most expensive option but, it doesn’t have to break the bank entirely since you can cut back by not serving top shelf liquor or expensive wines and beers. For a very formal reception, drinks should be served by watstaff and your guests should never have to wait in line at the bar. Make sure you have adequate waitstaff since waiting over half an hour for a drink can be quite frustrating for even a lightweight drinker like me.
Even better – you can customize the alcohol portion of the evening any way you see fit. Offer a particular fancy beer that everyone loves, serve wine only with customized labels featuring a picture of the two of you, create your own signature drink (one that matches your color scheme) to be served during cocktail hour or only serve champagne or champagne cocktails during this time…. be creative!
Of course you can also omit alcohol entirely. If no one in your party is a drinker, why offer it? I can neither condemn or condone this. But, I will say that I do like a glass of wine from time to time and particularly at a wedding where I would be very disappointed to have to toast the couple with sparkling cider.
No matter which option you choose when serving alcohol, it is always important to ensure eveyone’s safety. I am not suggesting a breathalyzer at the door but check to see if the bartenders or waitstaff are trained to cut someone off when they have had too much to drink. It might be a good idea to have someone who is a light or non-drinker as the ‘designated doorman’. This person will politely and firmly remind guests when they have had too much to drink in order to drive or when they have become out of control or belligerent. Nothing spells disaster like a drunken guest and you don’t this to be what people remember about the evening.
The point of having a drink or two is to loosen up and have an enjoyable evening… not to wake up the next morning in a hotel room with Mike Tyson’s tiger and a missing tooth.
-Penny Frulla for Bridal Expo Chicago