A Definitive Guide to Serving Alcohol at Your Wedding

Etiquette
ways to save on your bar

Photo: Meg Smith

Any wedding guest will attest that food and drinks are among the most important parts of the reception. How, then, can a bride and groom plan a wedding that satisfies all of their friends and family? Start with the alcohol! We gathered up a list of important questions to consider when planning your bar.

Can we have a cash bar?
Guests shouldn't have to shell out for anything at a wedding reception. But there are ways to serve liquor without getting soaked. Lisa Harris, director of catering at the Wyndham Miami Beach Resort, suggests limiting the time the bar is open — you could close it during dinner or an hour before the reception ends, offering just house wines, beer, and soft drinks. Other cost-savers: Pass up expensive premium liquors (you'll save about 15 percent), and have a sparkling-cider toast instead of passing champagne. If your caterer will allow it, buy your own liquor — that way, you can stockpile during sales and return unopened bottles for credit.

Is it tacky to have a keg at the reception? We're supplying the liquor, and bottled beer is more expensive.
"If you're having an outdoor barbecue celebration, a keg could fit in fine," says Jennifer Brisman, president of Jennifer Brisman Weddings, New York. "But it won't work for anything more formal." One way to cut back on your liquor bill at a formal wedding is to serve bottled beer, wine and soda, and forget about mixed drinks.

We don't drink, but some of our friends and family do. Is it rude not to serve alcohol at our wedding reception?
Although it's not rude to have a liquor-free party, if you know your friends and family drink, and you don't have any vehement objections to alcohol, go ahead and splurge on a little booze. You don't have to spend tons of money on a full, four-hour open bar. Instead, host a full bar open for a cocktail hour, followed by a few hours of wine, beer and non-alcoholic drinks. Or serve just wine and beer, or festive champagne, all night long. However, if you do feel strongly about passing on liquor, then do so. Offer an exotic fruit punch and flavored sparkling waters. Or hire a bartender to mix "virgin" piña coladas and other fancy drinks. Or maybe even have a flavored iced-tea and coffee bar. Make the drinks you do serve interesting, and your guests will hardly notice what's missing.

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