The Pros and Cons of Signature Drinks vs. an Open Bar

Food & Drink, Planning Tips
Pros and Cons of Signature Drinks and Open Bars

Photo: Meg Smith

An open bar sounds nice, in theory — because serving 200 guests top-shelf alcohol can get expensive, fast. But before you buck on an open bar in favor of serving a signature cocktail alongside a selection of wine and beer, consider these pros and cons.

The pros of an open bar ...

1. Your guests will love you.
"Simply said, 'Who doesn't love an open bar?'" exclaims Chandra Keel, owner of Chandra Keel Events in Phoenix. "When it comes to bar options, having an open bar is top-notch and your guests will love you for it!"

2. An open bar makes your life easier.
If you have the budget for it, Keel points out, an open bar is a major plus because, "there's nothing to decide. There's no calculating and estimating anticipated costs for beer and wine versus beer, wine and a signature drink. It just simplifies things and removes the need to crunch the numbers and decide what's reasonable."

3. With more alcohol, it's more likely people will treat your wedding as a party.
"There really is such a thing as 'liquid courage,'" says Keel. "I would never suggest couples to encourage over-drinking, but allowing your guests the option to have a drink or two sure does add a little energy to the dance floor."

The cons of an open bar ...

1. It's very expensive.
"An open bar is probably the fastest way to skyrocket your food and beverage costs," admits Keel. "It is a pricey option and if that's a concern for you, a better option is to offer beer and wine only, and possibly reduce the number of hours throughout the evening that alcohol is served."

2. The more alcohol, the more likely something will go wrong.
"If you read stories about weddings gone wrong, the chances that over-consumption of alcohol is involved is pretty high," says Keel. "If you worry that you have rowdy crowd, sometimes it's best to control the amount of alcohol by offering beer and wine only — and being careful to shut the bar off at least an hour before guests head home. Remember, as the hosts, you can be held legally responsible for drunk drivers leaving your wedding."

See More: Cost Effective Alternatives to an Open Bar

The pros of a signature drink, plus wine and beer ...

1. A signature drink shows off your personality.
"Couples can be creative with it by making slight tweaks to a well-known cocktail and giving it a catchy name," says Keel. You can also offer his and hers versions of the same drink — think: a Moscow Mule with a splash of orange juice, and the Russian classic with a piece of candied ginger — doubling your menu items without adding too much to the cost, Keel says.

2. You'll look like the hostess with the mostess.
"The best hosts not only give options, but helps direct their guests into choosing the best option," explains Keel." It's warm and inviting to walk up to the bar and already have your drink choice made for you. It makes it easy for them to order a fantastic drink when they otherwise might be at a loss for what to order."

3. It controls the cost.
You're offering a cocktail or two, but at the fraction of the funds it takes to host an open bar. "It doesn't look cheap," says Keel, "and it can, in fact, add to your wedding because your signature drink adds to the overall style of your wedding day." Lower your costs even more, Keel suggests, by offering your signature beverage during cocktail hour and then switching to beer and wine only for your reception.

The cons of a signature drink, plus wine and beer ...

1. Crafting a signature cocktail adds another item to your already long to-do list.
"Granted this is probably one of the more fun tasks," admits Keel. "But I'm sure you'll take a shorter wedding planning to-do list, any day — rather than add to it."

2. A signature beverage still increases your costs.
No, offering a single cocktail won't add up to the tab you'll pay for an open bar. But "even a signature drink is still an added cost on top of the beer and wine," Keel points out. "If your bar costs need to be kept to a bare minimum, then a signature drink is a step in the wrong direction. Offering your guests only beer and wine is still an inviting and sophisticated option."

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