The Bar Bill

Expert tips on how to save on one of the reception's biggest expenses

10 WAYS TO SAVE

1. Forgo the Full Bar: Providing only beer, wine, soda and a signature drink can cut your bill in half, says Los Angeles planner Mindy Weiss.

2. Find a BYOB Venue: Choose a site that will let you bring in your own liquor. Buy it by the case to save 10 to 15 percent off the cost of single bottles. Return unopened bottles, if that's allowed in your state.

3. Say Yes to a Different Bubbly: Instead of the real French stuff, serve a sparkling wine like Prosecco (Italy) or Cava (Spain), which mimic champagne's bubbly personality but not its price tag.

4. Avoid Designer Labels: Choose non-brand liquors and house wines instead of premium brands. Most guests won't notice.

5. Use Trays: Have waiters offer glasses of champagne and wine from trays. This way, you can serve less expensive varieties without worrying about guests judging the drink by the label.

6. Think Tuesday: Are most of your guests local? Get married on an off-night (Sunday through Thursday). People tend to drink less when they have to work the next day.

7. Go Ethnic: Plan a themed reception, then limit beverages to a few appropriate options—wine with an Italian celebration, or Coronas and margaritas for a Mexican party, for example.

8. Work with Your Waitstaff: Ask that servers clear just the empty glasses from tables to avoid driving guests back to the bar when their half-finished G&T has disappeared.

9. Open as Needed: Have bartenders start a new bottle only when needed, or else you'll be charged for that fifth of Johnny Walker Red even if no one orders a single whiskey.

10. Avoid Overtime: At the Omni Hotel in Chicago, an extra hour of open bar ($7 per person) would cost $1,050 for 150 guests.

WHAT TO AVOID

Cash Bar: Seems like it's a win-win: You don't pay for alcohol but your guests still have access to it. But here's the rub: It's tacky. Opt for beer and wine if you can't afford a full bar.

Dry Wedding: Sometimes a party minus liquor is necessary (perhaps your religion frowns upon it or the two of you met in AA.). But to save money? Not such a hot idea. People look forward to having a few drinks at a celebration—don't disappoint them.

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