Thinking about having an open bar at your wedding and wondering about the ins and outs? From the average cost of an open bar to a modified bar, cocktail hour, and everything in between! We are breaking it all down for you in this post!
The Average Cost Of An Open Bar At A Wedding
Wondering what the average cost is of an open bar at a wedding? Of course, the quick and easy answer is “it all depends”. However, we got our hands on some totals that couples paid for open bars in previous years, so you have an idea of what to expect!
Total Average Cost Of An Open Bar At A Wedding In 2021
In 2021, over 1,277,088 couples who got married, spent an average of $2144 on bar services.***
How To Budget For An Open Bar At Your Wedding:
If you are planning on an open bar at your wedding, the total budget for your open bar should be between 10-20% of your total wedding budget.
If you are trying to figure out a cost-per-person budget for bar services at your wedding, you can expect to spend $15-$45 per person. This will depend on availability, as well as alcohol selections.
***Total provided by Wedding Market Report Inc***
An open bar at your wedding is when guests get to drink alcohol without having to pay for their order. Open bars can also be full bars where guests can choose from any cocktail or drink of choice! Whether your open bar is full or not will depend on the availability of items from your caterer or venue. However, it’s not uncommon at a wedding that an open bar is not exactly a fully stocked bar.
Pros of Having an Open Bar: It’s a great way to give back to your guests for their attendance as well as their generosity for all of your many pre-wedding events. It also levels up the fun by allowing guests to let loose and enjoy the evening!
Cons of Having an Open Bar: It can get rather costly to have an open bar. Especially if your guest list tops out at over 100-200 guests. Additionally, there are some guests who don’t know their limit or are simply having too much fun to pay attention to how much they’ve had to drink. And nobody wants any accidents or messy events the night of their wedding!
Open Bar Recommendation: An open bar is a wonderful option for couples that are able to allocate up to 20% of their total wedding budget to drinks. Having a caterer or mixologist who can keep the drink recommendations and cups full all night makes for a fun evening!
Although it is more common to be quoted a price per person cost by your caterer, there is also a “hosted bar”. A hosted bar is much like an open bar in that your guests can walk up to the bar and order the drink of their choice. However, with a hosted bar, you will receive an invoice that totals the cost of drinks guests have ordered throughout the night.
Pros of Having a Hosted Bar: Much like an open bar, it’s a great way to enhance your guest’s experience. A hosted bar is also a more budget-friendly choice for a wedding with less than 100 guests. Additionally, a hosted bar can also help you mitigate the choices that are available to your guests.
Cons of Having a Hosted Bar: If you do not have a handle on the choices made available to your guests, or a pricing list provided to you by your caterer in advance, a hosted bar can easily be just as expensive as an open bar. Sometimes, even more expensive than an open bar! Have an uncle that loves to keep his glass full of single-malt whiskey neat? You can see how easily that would add up over the duration of the evening!
Hosted Bar Recommendation: Weddings with a guest count of under 100 would benefit the most from a hosted bar! A hosted bar is also a wonderful option if your venue or caterer is unable to provide a full bar. Having a limited selection of mixed drinks will help keep the overall cost down.
Modified Open Bar
Having a modified open bar is also a great option for your reception. A modified open bar can have one of two meanings. It can be an open bar that only happens for a select few hours. Or it can be a completely open bar, but with a limited selection of drinks made available to your guests.
Pros of Having a Modified Open Bar: You are 100% in control of what will be served to guests and for how long. Which allows you to work a modified bar into pretty much any wedding budget! A modified bar will also help deter from any messiness or antics caused by having an open bar for the whole evening.
Cons of Having a Modified Open Bar: You and your partner may be looking for a more in-depth food and drink experience for your guests and you may feel that you are “cheating” them out of something by only offering to pick up the tab for a few hours.
Modified Bar Recommendation: Having a modified bar at your wedding is a great way to offer your guests cocktails on your tab without incurring the cost of a fully stocked open bar! It’s a wonderful comprise for any size guest count and will wholly depend on what makes the most sense for your budget.
A limited bar typically covers beer and wine only. It can also sometimes include a champagne toast just before dinner, and possibly one signature cocktail carried over from your cocktail hour. But it lives up to its name, in that it’s limited.
Pros of Having a Limited Bar: It’s a wonderful option if you want to offer your guests something from the bar without allocating such a huge portion of your budget to drinks. Especially If your guest count is at 200 and counting! Having a limited bar will bring the total cost per person down significantly. A limited bar is also an amazing if your venue is BYOB. Or, if your venue is in an outdoor space with a bar cart that simply does not have the space to offer up multiple bottles or mixed drink selections.
Cons of Having a Limited Bar: Guests who were looking for something a bit more fanciful to sip on may be disappointed at the selection offered at your limited bar.
Limited Bar Recommendation: We love beer & wine backyard weddings, BBQ weddings, and outdoor summer weddings! A limited bar can work wonderfully for any size guest count, and can be major fun for your guests if stocked with wonderful beer, wine, and even hard seltzer choices!
Your cocktail “hour” (or in some cases, two hours) can be open! This will allow your guests to drink their fill during this span of time. However, your cocktail hour can also be modified. You can work with your caterer to offer your guests a modified selection of beer and wine. Or you can opt to offer guests your signature drink(s) while you pick up the tab!
Pros of Having a Cocktail Hour: A cocktail hour is so much more than the cocktails being served! It’s a segue from your ceremony to your reception. It also lets your guests know that the formalities of your wedding ceremony are over and it’s just about time to vibe in party mode. It’s a fun way to be introduced to the menu for the evening through your signature drinks and small bites. Your cocktail hour also allows your guests to refresh & unwind after sitting through the ceremony.
Cons of Having a Cocktail Hour: Depending on your wedding day timeline, you might not be able to actually attend and enjoy your cocktail hour. We understand that’s a very valid and real concern for couples. So we put together this guide on how to attend and enjoy the cocktail hour at your wedding!
Cocktail Hour Recommendation: A cocktail hour at your wedding is more of an experience and a segue than it is about the drinks! It’s the layover between your ceremony and your reception. We are huge fans of cocktail hour for weddings of any size. Whether you pick up the tab for the drinks or not! If you’re having a micro wedding or an intimate destination wedding and a cocktail hour doesn’t make sense for your day, then talk to your venue or caterer about a champagne tower experience directly after your ceremony!
Last, but certainly not least on the list is offering a cash bar at your wedding! A cash bar is exactly what it sounds like, your guests pay cash; or in some cases open a tab, for their drinks. A cash bar can be your only offering for the night, or it can be combined with a modified open bar or a hosted cocktail hour. Look, we don’t care what any of the “pros” or publications say, a cash bar is a very valid choice for your wedding day if that’s what makes sense for you & your partner!
Pros of Having a Cash Bar: That uncle of yours can stay draped in his favorite single malt drink served up neat all night long, without you having to spend the night stressing about what it’s costing you! It’s a fab way to make sure everyone gets the drink of their choice without killing your budget.
Cons of Having a Cash Bar: If your guests are not aware that your wedding will have a cash bar, they may not come prepared, resulting in frustration at their inability to order a cocktail. Also, be sure to check with your caterer or venue about a “bar minimum” if you decide to have a cash bar. This will require a specific dollar amount to be spent among your guests without incurring an additional fee on your side of the venue fee. Keep in mind, these bar minimums are usually in place to cover the staffing provided at your wedding! AKA, it’s nothing personal.
Cash Bar Recommendation: Again, having a cash bar might be the best option for you and that’s fab! However, please please please communicate with your guests, ahead of time so everyone can enjoy responsibly! If you need some help in that department, you can post a note to the message board of your Guestie event. Or you can set up a text alert to send to your guests on the morning of your wedding. Both of those can be done, right here!
How Much Alcohol Do You Need for Your Wedding?
A really basic rule of thumb to go with is around 2 drinks per guest of drinking age. Of course, some guests will drink more, some will drink less, and some may not drink anything at all.
Don’t Forget About Non-Alcholic Beverages!
So we covered budgeting for alcohol while anticipating the needs of your guests and the experience you’d like to build at your wedding. However, we didn’t cover the cost of non-alcoholic drinks at your wedding.
Most caterers and venues will provide water, tea, and coffee to you and your guests as part of your package. Of course, always ALWAYS double-check what is included in your package. However, that does not account for soda, sparkling water, lemonade, hot chocolate, or mocktails. Those items, in comparison to your bar, will come in at a fraction of the cost. However, they will still need to be accounted for in your overall wedding budget!
All in All
The best choice is the one that makes the most sense for you and your partner.
But the top considerations to make when selecting the type of bar to offer at your wedding all comes down to the following.
- Your total budget
- The experience you’d like to have on your wedding day
- The experience you’d like to provide your guests