A full bar, with bartender and a selection of premium liquors—along with a champagne toast—can put quite a large dent in the reception budget. But “all out” is not your only option. There is a whole range of low-budget solutions from where the alcohol comes from (or whether you have cocktails at all) to when and how long you will offer it.
While (1) charging for alcohol is certainly an option, wedding professionals and guests, by a large majority, strongly disapprove of the practice. Your guests are just that—guests. They will not expect to pay for food or drink and should not be expected to do so. That said, some couples do have a cash bar. In the end, it is your decision, but the better option is to serve in a way that works within your budget.
If your reception is at a venue regularly used for events, it is likely to have all the setups for a full service bar, including the liquor. This is convenient but can be pricey. Not only will you pay a premium for the privilege, you may also end up covering “shrinkage” if employees or others decide to help themselves to unopened bottles (which you will then pay for, along with a hefty up charge).
Buy and bring your own alcohol. Check first, however, to determine if this is allowed. If so, find out if there are any corkage or other fees involved. You are more likely to save money by buying at a grocery store and avoiding the venue’s up-charge, but you can do even better by trying one of the following suggestions:
(2) Warehouse stores, such as Costco or Sam’s Club, sell at a discount.
(3) Price wholesale-priced beer and liquor places near you.
(4) Look at online clubs that run sales and offer other deals.
Explore these options, as well as any discounts the venue is willing to give you for using certain brands they supply, before signing the standard agreement.
While a fully stocked open bar is a very nice perk for guests, you can scale back considerably, and those attending will still have a nice time. Your many options include:
• Have an alcohol-free reception. Instead, serve a selection of yummy virgin treats. Consider…
(5) custom-blended smoothies
(6) a fresh juice bar
(7) fruit sparklers
(9) chocolate milk
(10) hot chocolate
These can all add a fun twist that does not involve intoxication.
(11) Request BYOB to an alcohol-free event. This will probably be an option for only the most casual of receptions, and will likely go over best if you designate the event a casual-dress party instead of a reception (perhaps at a later date).
(12) Limit the liquor to a signature drink. Serving one or two of your favorite drinks or cocktails chosen especially for the event in lieu of a bar will likely lower the number of total drinks served. It could also get you better volume discounts because you will be buying more of only one or two types of alcohol as opposed to less each of several liquors. Finally, if you go with drinks containing less alcohol and/or lower-priced liquors, you will save even more.
(13) Serve beer and/or wine only. This is a nice compromise if you want to offer some variety but cannot afford a full-service bar. You can limit the selection to only a red or white wine, plus one type of beer, or spend a bit more and expand to two beers and one or two more varieties of wine (such as both a regular and light beer or cabernet sauvignon and merlot red wines).