If you're in the midst of wedding planning, you've probably already started to realize just how expensive a wedding can be with everything added together. Between the venue, the dress, flowers and photography, it all starts to add up pretty quickly. Luckily, one area where you can save a lot of cash without sacrificing style or quality is when it comes to your wedding food and alcohol.
A full open bar comes with an average cost of more than $7,000, but it doesn't need to. We've already broken down ways you can save money when feeding your guests, so now we're only going to focus on saving money at the bar. And, no, we're not going to tell you to take the cheap option and go with BYOB or a cash bar (which is primarily considered tacky these days). Instead, we'll show you a few easy and practical ways to keep your bar costs low.
Choose a Reception Style That Gives Off Less of a Party Vibe
If your reception has a party feel to it, people will treat it as a party, and they're going to drink more than they might in a different setting. One way to get around this is to choose a reception style that gives off less of a party vibe.
If you want to keep the drinking to a minimum, you might go for a breakfast or brunch reception that includes a selection of light cocktails only — think mimosas, champagne, and maybe a bloody Mary bar. This would also allow you to possibly invest in some higher-end champagne choices without breaking your budget. It's just a fact that most people — outside of your particularly lush friends — are going to drink less at breakfast than they would at an 8 p.m. sit-down dinner.
If you don't like the idea of a breakfast or brunch reception but still want to control the drinking a bit, you can go with a cocktail reception only, no sit-down dinner required. Despite the name, most folks will get the idea that they should keep the drinking to a minimum at a cocktail reception, mainly because:
- It only lasts about two hours on average
- They're going to need to leave and get dinner elsewhere at the end of the night
Suppose you're doing something a lot less formal, like a backyard wedding, and your catering is something less formal as well, like a food truck, barbecue pit or even a potluck. In that case, you can further cut costs by picking only drinks that go with that more casual style, such as craft beers versus pricey bottles of liquor or wine.
Create a Signature Drink
If you're hiring a bartending service or caterer, ask them about creating a signature drink. This is becoming a trendy option at receptions, not only because it's cost-effective but also because it's just plain cute. You can ask them to create a cocktail based on where you met (so, for example, something tropical and fruity if you met at the beach) or something based on your wedding colors (so maybe a pomegranate or strawberry-based drink if your colors include a pink or red hue). You can even do multiple signature drinks if you so wish. Just be sure the cocktail's ingredients are budget-friendly.
Whatever you go with, you can offer your guests your signature drink (or drinks) as their only liquor-based alcoholic beverage. This prevents all your college buddies from ordering the top-shelf vodka for a round of shots.
You can further personalize things by only offering your favorite wines and beers. Maybe you pick one or two of the bride's favorite wines and one or two of the groom's favorite beers, and then those — along with your signature cocktail — are the only alcoholic offerings on the menu. (And why not? After all, your big day is about you, not your guests, as much as you want them to have a good time.)
Buy the Alcohol Yourself
This is one of the oldest wedding reception money-saving tips in the book, so you likely already know about it, but it's worth mentioning nonetheless.
If you purchase all the alcohol yourself, you avoid mark-up fees from your caterer or venue. Plus, you can shop around for the best deals on alcohol and then return the unopened bottles you don't use for a refund (or keep them for yourself!).
This also gives you the option of buying your alcohol in bulk, such as in kegs or wine boxes. Don't worry; you don't have to show your wedding guests the wine box. Ask your caterer to serve the wine in carafes and hide that box behind the bar.
Shop Around for an All-Inclusive Package
It's possible to find a venue that will give you an all-inclusive wedding and reception package. This can sometimes be your most cost-effective option, especially if you want all of the typical wedding and reception offerings — venue, caterer, DJ, alcohol, staff, photographer, officiant, etc.
Just make sure to do your math and calculate whether or not you're really getting the deal you want with an all-inclusive package (and sometimes, even if it means a bigger wedding budget, it might be worth it to you if it means fewer headaches and less stress).
Don't just sign your venue's event agreement without asking a few questions!
You may assume that you're stuck with your venue's standard bartending service, but don't make that assumption. Ask your venue if you're locked into using their service or if you can hire your own. If you have the option of choosing your bartending service, shop around and see where you can get the best price.
Additionally, ask your venue if they're charging you a flat rate for bartending and alcohol or if they're charging you by the drink. Depending on how much your friends and family drink regularly, you may prefer one option over the other.
Some venues will additionally allow you to pay per person versus per drink. This can be an attractive option if you know that you have some pretty heavy drinkers on your guest list. If you have very few drinkers attending, you might want to go with the per drink option.
Skip Some of the Unnecessary Drinks
There are a few alcoholic beverages you can cut altogether, and your guests won't even notice it. Most don't expect a champagne toast during the reception these days, as that tradition is becoming a little outdated.
Additionally, there's no requirement to host a cocktail hour between your ceremony and dinner reception.
Skipping both of these will save you money not only on alcohol but also, at least where the cocktail hour is concerned, on food.
Cut Your Guest List
Okay, okay — so you may not necessarily want to cut your guest list, but if you're looking and scrounging for ways to save money and you're coming up empty, it might be a good idea. You may find that it's entirely possible to have the wedding of your dreams if you cut the guest list from 200 people to 100 people.
And, really, how many couples have 200 close friends and family members? You don't need to invite your mom's next-door neighbor or your boss from your first job.
Related: The Importance Of RSVPing
Many wedding websites and wedding advice boards will tell you that if you genuinely want to save money on wedding alcohol, your best option is to hold a dry reception. However, if you're here, looking for ways to save money on alcohol, you probably aren't interested in eliminating it from your wedding completely.
Reduce Your Drink Size
You can make your alcohol last longer if you ask your bartenders or venue to reduce the drink size. Go with smaller glasses of wine and smaller glasses of beer. Make the cocktails light.
Another perk with this option? If you have a particularly thirsty friend or family member, you'll ensure they don't end up completely hammered by the time the dance floor opens up.
Offer a Range of Non-Alcoholic Beverages
Some guests at your wedding may just be drinking the alcoholic options on tap because that's what's there, but if you offer a few other options, you may just tempt them away from the pricey alcohol.
In addition to offering a signature cocktail, go with a virgin option that some guests may be more inclined to try, especially those who aren't big on alcohol anyway. Offer after-dinner coffee; you may even want to set up a specialty coffee bar if you and your spouse-to-be are big coffee drinkers. Even if that doesn't tempt some guests away from the alcohol completely, they may be more likely to stop drinking at a few glasses of wine and then switch to coffee before heading home.
Close the Bar on Occasion
While you might think it's "lame" to close your bar down once the clock strikes nine, you may find that closing the bar for brief periods throughout the reception can really cut down on your costs.
Ashleigh Whitby from Hue I Do Wedding Podcast — which is dedicated to educating listeners about the nuances within the wedding industry — shared, “It’s totally acceptable to cut the bar an hour or two before the reception ends. Have the DJ make an announcement that the bar will be ending and include it in the program timeline to fully notify your guests that the bar is cash after a certain hour.”
Consider closing the bar during your meal and during the toasts, which will not only cut down on alcohol consumption but will also ensure your guests are actually paying attention to the food, each other and the toasts. Likewise, you can instruct your bartenders to shut down the bar for "cleaning" for 10-15 minutes every hour.
Consider Your Guests' Preferences
Take a moment to consider what kind of alcohol most of your guests prefer. Do you have a big group of wine drinkers? Put more money on purchasing classy wines, but go with budget-friendly options for spirits and beer. Do you have a crowd of craft beer aficionados? Put your money on beer instead of wine and spirits.
Whatever you think your guests will want most, try to invest in those items, but don't feel bad about going with cheap options for those alcohols that you believe they really won't drink all that much.
Save the Special Stuff for Your Favorites
Most of your guests (usually) won't mind drinking well vodka or bottles of wine that cost under $10. But you always have that one person who will look down at you if you don't have their favorite top-shelf bourbon or scotch available. If you actually care about that person — say, if they're Dad or Grandma — don't feel as if you need to make that spirit or other item available to everyone, as that can quickly add up.
Instead, buy only one bottle of that oh-so-special stuff and instruct your bartender to only serve it to that favorite individual — and to do it on the sly.
Reduce Your Number of Bartenders
It's not just the alcohol itself that counts toward your bill. You're also paying for the bartenders. Do you really need three bartenders at your reception? If you can cut the staff down to two bartenders, you can save a little cash.
Be Honest with Yourself
Whatever decision you make regarding the alcohol and bar service at your wedding, you have to be honest with yourself about the amount of alcohol your guests drink.
You may think that your parents are light drinkers, but if they're regularly drinking two or three glasses of wine or cans of beer per night, just think how much they're going to drink at their child's wedding. And your friends from college who never turn down an opportunity to party? How many six-packs can they put away in one night?
Let the Festivities Begin
Again, don't underestimate how much your friends and family drink. You may just end up with a very unsettling bar tab at the end of what's supposed to be one of the happiest days of your life.
You might also be interested in: 31 Ideas For A Cheap (But Still Chic) Wedding
15 Ways To Save Money On Alcohol For The Wedding Celebration:
- Choose a Reception Style That Gives Off Less of a Party Vibe
- Create a Signature Drink
- Buy the Alcohol Yourself
- Shop Around for an All-Inclusive Package
- Ask Questions
- Skip Some of the Unnecessary Drinks
- Cut Your Guest List
- Go Dry
- Reduce Your Drink Size
- Offer a Range of Non-Alcoholic Beverages
- Close the Bar on Occasion
- Consider Your Guests' Preferences
- Save the Special Stuff for Your Favorites
- Reduce Your Number of Bartenders
- Be Honest with Yourself