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

Two bartenders behind a long bar at a wedding reception

Photo by Meg Smith

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

Pros of an Open Bar

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!"

Less Stress

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."

The Party Easily Gets Started

"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."

Cons of an Open Bar

The Cost

"An open bar is probably the fastest way to skyrocket your food and beverage costs," Keel says. "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."

Potential Risks

"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 a 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."

Pros of a Signature Drink or Specific Options

Personal Flair

"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.


"The best hosts not only give options, but also 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."

The Cost

You're offering a cocktail or two at the fraction of the cost it takes to host an open bar, but without sacrificing quality. "It doesn't look cheap, and it can, in fact, add to your wedding because your signature drink adds to the overall style of your wedding day," Keel says. She suggests lowering your costs even more by offering your signature beverage during cocktail hour and then switching to beer and wine only for your reception.

Cons of a Signature Drink or Specific Options

Adds to the 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 adding to it."

The Cost

No, offering a single cocktail won't add up to the tab you'll pay for an open bar. However, "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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