Battle of the Bar Prices: Consumption vs. Per Head

Food & Drink
his and hers cocktail ideas

Photo: Studio EMP

Like many other aspects of wedding planning, your potential bar bill from the reception revolves around number crunching. A little math and extra effort can make a difference when your wedding venue or caterer requires you to use their beverage services. (Note: We are not looking at cash bars, beer and wine only, or self-stocked.)

The first step is to know your crowd and analyze your list of expected guests. Highlight the heavy, moderate, and low/non drinkers in different colors. Do your fiancé's buddies from college make you feel like you're going to have a very thirsty crowd, when really there's only seven of them? Do your parents' one-drink-and-done responsible ways make you forget about all your cousins who like to throw 'em back?

Next up, let's break down the two options, so you can figure out what might work best for you. (Because whatever you choose, your guests won't know the difference. You're footing the bill either way!)

See More: Every Type of Bar You Can Offer at Your Reception

What it is: You only pay for what is consumed. Also sometimes called "per drink" pricing.

Good for: Weddings in which numerous guests are older, pregnant or breastfeeding, non-drinkers, slow drinkers, etc. This also might be a good choice for if you are having a sit-down dinner, which can slow down guests' trips to the bar.

Bad for: Venues with pricey, $10+ drinks

Unexpected benefit: Waiters are discouraged from snatching up unattended cocktails, which means guests don't spend half the night at the bar.

Expert advice: Senior Restaurant Manager Luke Taggart of the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago — site of numerous swanky events and weddings — says to keep your seasons in mind if choosing consumption pricing. "In my experience, people drink a lot more in the warmer months — but it's a lot of beer, vodka, and white wine," he says. "During the colder months, they drink more bourbon and red wine — but I see less alcohol being consumed overall."

See More: 6 Delicious Champagne Cocktail Ideas

What it is: You pay a flat rate, per head, per hour. Also sometimes called "open bar."

Good for: Weddings with a lot of heavy drinkers, younger crowds, etc. This also might be a good choice if you are having a stand-up reception in which guests are actively looking for something to do (or drinking more to forget their feet hurt).

Bad for: Strict venues that don't let you customize your package.

Unexpected benefit: Guests who insist on doing numerous shots in large groups won't inflate your bar bill. (Trust us, they'll order straight alcohol in tumblers if the bar "doesn't do shots.")

Expert advice: "Guests don't really do the cordials, Baileys, RumChata, and other extras," says Taggart. "I'll see a couple choose that extra service, but when I look at what was actually ordered during the event, they've paid for something that was barely drank."

Whether it's consumption or per-head pricing, Taggart says customizing your alcohol offerings can be key. "Ask yourself if you actually need two types of rum, two types of vodka and so on," he says. "If you have a couple hundred people at your wedding, a couple extra bucks adds up."

Give a Subscription to Brides Magazine as a Gift

Get personalized planning advice, exclusive offers and must-read wedding news.

Thank You
for Signing Up!

Check your e-mail inbox for the latest updates from