All sorts of things can be BYOB (bring your own booze)—birthday parties, housewarmings, even some restaurants—but what about a wedding? We asked the experts whether a BYOB wedding is an option worth considering, or whether it's better to tell your guests to just leave the booze at home.
Whether you're looking to save money on your reception or hoping to create a more casual, relaxed atmosphere, having a BYOB wedding comes with a set of hurdles that you might not otherwise face during the planning process. We spoke with Garo Eldemir, director of beverage services for Global Gourmet Catering in San Francisco, to help iron out some of those details.
The first thing Eldemir emphasizes is that liquor laws vary, sometimes drastically, from state to state. "Before you even consider asking guests to bring their own alcohol to your wedding, check out your local and state alcohol regulations, and make sure that your venue will allow for guests to bring their own booze," Eldemir explains. Then, once you've determined if a BYOB wedding is even legal, check with your caterer to see what their policy is on the client (or guests) providing their own alcohol instead of purchasing it through the caterer. "They may charge a corkage or service fee, especially if you're expecting them to help serve your guests," says Eldemir. Your venue might require that you buy insurance when you rent it, and your caterer may request some sort of proof of insurance, since they're assuming liability if they are pouring for you. If your venue has a liquor license, double-check with them that bringing in your own booze won't put their license in jeopardy; otherwise they may insist that you give up the BYOB idea.
When it comes to what your guests will be bringing, Eldemir advises opting for wine or beer over spirits. "Choose something that will be self-poured or self-served, instead of spirits that will need to be consolidated and then served by a bartender. This can get particularly complicated, especially if the alcohol is arriving at different times, whereas wine or beer can be brought straight to the table or easily added to the existing selection." You'll want guests to bring a selection that pairs well with the menu you've chosen, so you can either distribute the menu in advance so guests can pair accordingly, or can send out requests for specific beverages (say, whites or very light reds if you're serving fish, or something more substantial if your menu is on the richer side). Be sure to have the appropriate tools and glassware on-hand (extra wine openers, a variety of wine glasses, ice buckets, or pint glasses and wedges of citrus for beers) to highlight what you're asking guests to bring — talk to your caterer about what is included in their service package that will make this run smoothly.
Asking guests to bring their own alcohol runs the risk of looking like you're just trying to save money, so put a creative spin on it. Part of a huge group of friends that loves wine? Turn your reception into a wine tasting, asking each couple to bring one of their favorite bottles to share with their table. You could even go so far as to assign a specific type of wine to each couple that pairs with the courses of your meal, setting each table up for a tasting flight. If you're more beer drinkers, or are planning a backyard picnic-style event, set up coolers throughout the space where people can drop in a six-pack to be chilled. "Incorporate it into the theme to elevate the BYOB experience," says Eldemir. Otherwise you may come off looking cheap instead of innovative!