Weddings are expensive, and finding ways to make them both memorable and affordable can be quite a challenge. Everyone dreams of that picture-perfect wedding day, but nobody wants to embark on a marriage shackled by debt.
Working with a small wedding budget isn’t easy but, with a little bit of planning and research, it’s doable—and can still be stylish. One of the key places to cut costs is on the big-ticket items like booze. The obvious ways to cut liquor costs would be to have either a cash bar or a dry wedding, neither of which is a terrific wedding etiquette. There are ways to reduce costs without pouring cold water on the festivities.
Here are six creative ways to manage bar costs at the reception:
1. A limited bar
Whether to offer an open bar is one of the most hotly debated wedding topics. Who doesn’t love an open bar? But consider this: Depending on factors such as the age of the guests, liquor costs for an open bar—wine, beer, and mixed drinks—can soar as high as $90 per guest, for a four-hour reception.
Plus, unlimited alcohol can sometimes spell trouble. When you read about weddings gone wrong, serving copious amounts of alcohol was usually the culprit.
Why not scale down the bar offerings to keep costs reasonable? Offer a selection of beers and wines and do away with the hard liquor. That will prevent having to offer a wide variety of liquor that leaves you with barely consumed bottles at the end of the night.
Create a variety, such as two white and two red wines, and two or three varieties of beers, and include a mix of both light and dark beer. A fun tip is to offer tastings of local craft beers and wines.
2. A signature cocktail
Rather than springing for a wide variety of hard liquor, create a signature drink—make sure to give it a clever name—to offer along with the wine and beer. Signature drinks are another fabulous way to give your wedding a personal touch.
Create “His” and “Hers” drinks. Does he love a Manhattan and does she prefer a Cosmopolitan? Serve those.
Or match the signature drink to your wedding color scheme. If peach is your color, whip up a batch of bourbon peach sweet tea. Going with a rose-colored palette? Serve blackberry whiskey lemonade.
To keep the drinks affordable, pick ones with ingredients that are already included in your standard bar package, like vodka and orange juice, and then add your own unique twist.
A batch drink like punch is another cost-effective option.
3. Limit bar hours
Be creative with your bar hours—and that doesn’t mean shutting the bar down completely. A closed bar is a subtle signal to guests that the party is over. It’s one step from turning the lights up bright and playing the last song, and guests keen to keep drinking will go in search of another venue.
But there are some clever ways to cut costs, such as offering a full bar during cocktail hour and then switching to beer and wine service at dinner. Or, switch to a cash bar after dinner. Perhaps offer one free beer brand after the open bar closes. Cash-strapped guests will happily drink the free beer, while other guests won’t mind paying for their own drinks later at night.
Post a clever sign—“Liquor up! We switch to a cash bar at 9 p.m.”—gives guests plenty of warning.
One tip: Don’t make a “cash bar” a cash-only bar—who carries cash around these days? Make sure credit cards are welcome.