Like many other aspects of wedding planning, your potential bar bill from the reception revolves around number crunching. A little math and extra effort can make a difference when your wedding venue or caterer requires you to use their beverage services. (Note: We are not looking at cash bars, beer and wine only, or self-stocked.)
The first step is to know your crowd and analyze your list of expected guests. Highlight the heavy, moderate, and low/nondrinkers in different colors. Do your fiancé's buddies from college make you feel like you're going to have a thirsty crowd, when really there's only seven of them? Do your parent's one-drink-and-done responsible ways make you forget about all your cousins who like to throw 'em back?
Ahead, we break down the two bar options, so you can figure out what might work best for you and your budget. (Because whatever you choose, your guests won't know the difference. You're footing the bill either way).
Package One: Price Per Consumption
What it is: You only pay for what is consumed. Also sometimes called "per drink" pricing.
Good for: Weddings in which numerous guests are older, pregnant or breastfeeding, non-drinkers, slow drinkers, etc. This also might be a good choice for if you are having a sit-down dinner, which can slow down guest's trips to the bar.
Bad for: Venues with pricey, $10+ drinks
Unexpected benefit: Waiters are discouraged from snatching up unattended cocktails, which means guests don't spend half the night at the bar.
Expert advice: Luke Taggart, founder of Savor & Salt, says to keep your seasons in mind if choosing consumption pricing. "In my experience, people drink a lot more in the warmer months—but it's a lot of beer, vodka, and white wine," he says. "During the colder months, they drink more bourbon and red wine—but I see less alcohol being consumed overall."
Meet the Expert
Luke Taggart has worked in the food and beverage industry for years, giving him an affinity for timeless cocktail and food pairings. He is the founder of Savor & Salt, which offers Bloody Mary mixes inspired by flavors around the world.
Package Two: Price Per Head
What it is: You pay a flat rate, per head, per hour. Also sometimes called "open bar."
Good for: Weddings with a lot of heavy drinkers, younger crowds, etc.
Paying per head might be a good choice if you are having a stand-up reception in which guests are actively looking for something to do (or drinking more to forget their feet hurt).
Bad for: Strict venues that don't let you customize your package.
Unexpected benefit: Guests who insist on doing numerous shots in large groups won't inflate your bar bill (Trust us, they'll order straight alcohol in tumblers if the bar "doesn't do shots").
Expert advice: Whether it's consumption or per-head pricing, Taggart says customizing your alcohol offerings can be key. "Ask yourself if you actually need two types of rum, two types of vodka, and so on," he says. "If you have a couple hundred people at your wedding, a couple extra bucks adds up." He continues: "Guests don't really do the cordials, Baileys, RumChata, and other extras. I'll see a couple choose that extra service, but when I look at what was actually ordered during the event, they've paid for something that guests barely drank."