After you’ve traded vows, one of the best ways to celebrate your newlywed status is by sipping on a refreshing beverage with your loved ones. From signature drinks at cocktail hour to late-night espresso martinis, the alcohol you serve at your wedding plays a pivotal role in creating the atmosphere. Whether it’s a glass of champagne or a bottle of beer, boozy drinks bring friends and family together, giving them permission to let loose and enjoy the party. Not to mention, the refreshments you select provide the perfect opportunity to personalize your nuptials. “Drinks at the reception are an important reflection of the couple’s tastes and personality,” Jonathan Pogash of The Cocktail Guru says. “They are an extension of the couple’s appreciation to their guests and create memorable moments to toast and celebrate.”
Although alcohol is part of the festivities, there’s no doubt that it can rack up the bill, especially if you’re hosting an open bar with unlimited drinks. In general, wine, beer, and spirits account for eight to 20 percent of your budget. For a guest count of 150 people—assuming that the average person drinks six drinks over a six-hour period—the beverages will cost you about $4,500, according to Event Planning.
Of course, the grand total depends on the size of your event, how long you serve the drinks, what types of liquor you select, and where you’re hosting the affair. But Lauren Dickens of Elle Audrey and Nancy Park and Paean Wang of So Happi Together explain that you’re generally paying for fees associated with curating the menu, sourcing the ingredients, delivering the materials, setting up the bar, staffing the event, and cleaning up the space.
Luckily, your alcohol bill doesn’t have to create a hole in your wallet. There are certain steps you can take to stay within the budget that don't require downgrading your post-ceremony party. Here, we ask wedding experts for some of their best-kept tips to cut costs on the price of alcohol. Ahead, find 10 ways to save money on your wedding alcohol—according to the pros.
Meet the Expert
- Jonathan Pogash is the founder and CEO of The Cocktail Guru, a full-service hospitality company founded in 2006 that plans events, designs signature cocktails, and develops cocktail programs across the United States.
- Lauren Dickens is a wedding planner with 14 years of experience and the founder of Elle Audrey, a wedding and event planning company that serves New York, Maryland, Washington D.C., and Northern Virginia.
- Nancy Park and Paean Wang are co-owners and principal planners of So Happi Together, a wedding planning and design firm that specializes in destination weddings.
Skip the Pre-Ceremony Beverages
Before you say “I do,” kicking off the festivities with a welcome drink seems like a great way to gather your guests together and set the tone for the day ahead. Unfortunately, loading your friends and family up on booze during the first phase of events will only hurt your bank account. Since drinks are such a large part of the reception, a pre-ceremony cocktail isn’t necessary, so skipping it will help your finances without undermining the celebration.
If you really want to serve something for your ceremony attendees to sip on, stick with non-alcoholic options, which are less expensive than their boozy counterparts. “From fruit-infused water to matcha lemonade, we find that a refreshing station to start the wedding is happily received at guests’ arrival,” Park and Wang state.
Supply Your Own Alcohol
While searching for the perfect venue, look for one that allows you to bring your own liquor, so you avoid having to pay substantial markup fees. By providing the booze, you have the ability to hunt down the most affordable options and can choose to buy in bulk, which will save you big bucks. After the wedding, you can even get some of your money back by returning the bottles you never opened. Dickens shares one word of caution, though: “Note that you will need to make sure your caterer agrees because they will likely have to provide a permit or license.”
Concentrate on Signature Cocktails
If you decide to opt out of a full open bar, keep your liquor tab to a minimum by focusing on two “his” and “hers” signature drinks. Whether it’s reimagining your favorite date night cocktail or recreating the beverage you had on your engagement night, signature drinks allow you to customize your big day. And since you won’t need to stock your bar with additional spirits, you’ll significantly lower costs. For an even more affordable bill, stick to one type of liquor and select concoctions that are less labor intensive, like muddling.
Ditch Additional Mixed Drinks
To offer more variety, supplementing your signature cocktails with wine and beer is a safe bet. What really makes the grand total skyrocket is individual requests for vodka sodas and whiskey sours. With mixed drinks, your bar needs to supply an abundance of liquor to satisfy your guests’ needs, which gets expensive when you’re paying for multiple bottles. If you want to serve mixed beverages while staying within budget, Pogash recommends supplementing with a cash bar for any booze that's not on the pre-determined menu.
Add Zero-Proof Options
You don’t have to host an entirely dry wedding to save money. In addition to alcoholic options, offer a few virgin drinks. Get creative with mocktails, fresh juices, canned sodas, or on-tap kombucha to lower the tab. Since alcoholic beverages tend to be the norm at weddings, these unique ideas will make your nuptials even more memorable. This is especially thoughtful if some of your guests are non-drinkers. For instance, Park and Wang once planned a wedding that included mocktails and cocktails to satisfy everyone in attendance. “Both crowds were pampered, and everything felt curated for the couple and their guests,” they recall.
Shorten the Window You Serve Liquor
If you decide that an open bar is the only option, you can limit the hours the bar is open to curb liquor and service costs. “Serve your signature cocktails and your full open bar only during cocktail hour,” Pogash instructs. “Then, switch to beer and wine only for your reception.” Even closing the bar an hour earlier can make a difference for your wallet.
Splurge on One Expensive Spirit
Whether you’re serving an unlimited bar or just sticking with signature cocktails, you don’t need the fanciest liquor to make a delicious drink. Many guests won’t notice the difference between high-end and lower-tier labels, especially if they’re mixed with other ingredients, so cut back where you can. Choose one top-shelf bottle of your favorite beverage and stick to more affordable versions for the rest.
The alcohol isn’t the only fee you’re paying for. You’re also spending money on staff, including bartenders, waiters, and barbacks. Though their service is valuable, it’s also an expense, so consider hiring fewer workers. For instance, try sticking to two bartenders instead of three. You can also look into staggering your bartenders, meaning that one takes over cocktail hour, another works the first half of the reception, and the third wraps up the party.
Bypass the Champagne Toast
Kicking off dinner with a champagne toast is a popular tradition, but pouring a glass for everyone at the table can really add up. You can still toast to the festivities, but have your guests raise a glass of whatever drink they have on hand instead of spending hundreds on extra bottles of bubbly. If champagne is non-negotiable, consider a more budget-friendly brand.
Request Conservative Pours During Dinner
If you’re serving wine or champagne at dinner, Park and Wang advise asking your servers to pour a sensible amount and then topping off the glasses only if guests ask for more. Not all of your friends and family will drink the complimentary beverage, so you’ll prevent a lot of waste by implementing this strategy. “This will help you save on the number of bottles you need to purchase for tableside wine and champagne services,” they explain.
Event Planning. "Wedding Alcohol Cost and Bar Budget." December 19, 2020.