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In contrast to a cash bar — where guests pay for their own drinks at the end of the night — an open bar provides guests with free alcohol. The bride and groom will pay for the beverages themselves or factor them into the cost when hiring a wedding planner. How much is an open bar at a wedding?
Factors Influencing the Cost of an Open Bar
In the United States, 70% of weddings offer an open bar. You can expect to spend anywhere between $15 to $50 per guest if you offer free drinks at your wedding, although this varies depending on:
- The number of guests who drink: More people typically equates to more drinks, but not everyone will partake.
- Which types of drinks you serve: Beer and wine are your cheapest options. Spirits will rack up a higher cost overall.
- Wedding length: The longer the event, the more time people will have to drink.
The average wedding now costs around $30,000, and serving alcohol is one of the biggest expenses. However, your guests will really appreciate having refreshments. Some of them may have traveled a long way to attend the celebration, most people bring gifts and many guests have to pay for a hotel room. Providing free food and drinks is, therefore, usually an expectation.
How to Calculate the Cost
While you won’t know exactly how much you’re going to spend, you can get a good idea by doing some simple math. Much of this cost is within your control.
1. Count the Total Number of Guests
First, figure out exactly how many people you’ll be inviting. This goes without saying, but the more people you invite, the more you’re generally going to spend on drinks. You can significantly lower the cost of your celebration by trimming the guest list.
2. Figure Out Who Won’t Be Drinking
Some of your guests will probably abstain from alcohol for personal, religious or health reasons. Others may be underage or pregnant. According to a 2022 Gallup poll, 36% of Americans abstain from drinking. Subtract the number of guests who won’t drink from the total number of invitees. Don’t worry about which guests might drink more or less than others — just focus on the number of people who’ll have at least one drink.
If you aren’t sure how many people will be drinking, it’s best to overestimate rather than underestimate the number. Like any good party, a wedding should convey a sense of abundance and hospitality.
3. Decide on the Drinks
Some beverages are more expensive than others. Beer and wine are usually the cheapest options, but they’re still classic, classy choices for a wedding at any time of year. For simplicity’s sake, stick to just a few different types of refreshments. A smaller variety may also influence people to drink less overall.
Many open bars at weddings offer around 50% wine on their menu. You could serve two choices of red wine — such as merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon — and two white wines, like chardonnay and Sauvignon blanc. Consider offering a rosé wine as well.
Make beer around 30% of your drink selection. Include a few easy, middle-of-the-road options that many people enjoy, like Miller Light, Bud Light or Coors Light. Throw in an IPA or specialty beer to make things interesting.
If you’re going to include liquor, it should account for the last fifth of your drink selection. Although it’s slightly more expensive than beer and wine, a single bottle of spirits provides around 16 drinks. Rum, tequila, scotch, whiskey and vodka are classic selections.
4. Decide if You Want a Bartender
If you hire somebody to oversee your open bar, you’ll incur extra costs — and don’t forget tipping! You can save money by providing a self-serve bar for guests.
The law might require you to have a bartender at certain venues if you’re serving hard liquor or selling alcohol, but many places allow you to host an open bar without a license. Check your local liquor laws on this one.
5. Factor in Drinks Per Hour
It’s safe to assume people will have around one drink per hour at your wedding reception. Many people will drink less than this, but it’s better to buy a little too much alcohol rather than not enough. You’ll spend more on beverages the longer your wedding lasts.
6. Do the Math
Assume you’ll invite 100 people who drink alcohol. If your reception lasts four hours, you’re looking at each guest having four drinks. Therefore, you’re going to need 400 drinks.
- A 50% wine selection equals 200 glasses of wine. That’s about 50 bottles of wine, and assumes each person will have two small glasses.
- 30% beer is 120 bottles of beer. Each guest will have one bottle, more or less.
- 20% hard liquor works out to 80 shots, enough for each guest to have around one shot.
From here, you’ll need to calculate the final cost based on how expensive the drinks themselves are. Many weddings only serve wine and beer, so plan to spend less if you nix the liquor.
You can also save money by offering coffee, sparkling juice, sweet tea and other non-alcoholic beverages at your open bar alongside the harder drinks. Not everyone will put away four drinks in a single afternoon! Some people might simply want water with a splash of lemon, which pairs especially well with a summer dinner reception.
What if You Spend Too Much?
If you have extra drinks left over at the end of the night, they’re yours to keep. Some liquor stores or venues will also let you return unopened bottles of wine or spirits — check with them beforehand. Or, give away the leftover drinks as a favor.
How Much Is an Open Bar at a Wedding?
The answer depends on what you’re serving, whether you hire a bartender, how many guests you invite and how long your reception lasts. In general, you can expect to spend $15 to $50 per person if you host an open bar. It’s pricey, but it’s worth it to show your appreciation for the guests supporting you on your big day.
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