OK, I promised a follow up on my dry weddings post to address how to balance alcohol and your budget, and here it is. I certainly can’t speak to all options, and I am sure I’m forgetting some here. This post will offer a good starting point for how to set your bar and your budget up for success!

Your bar, your rules

I see in forum after forum someone will say it’s rude not to have an open bar. Let me state right up from, this is your wedding, these are your rules, and you can do whatever you want. There are no rules, but with a little fore-thought, you can have some degree of free alcohol at your wedding without breaking your budget, or having to take out a loan to pay the tab.

There are many budget friendly, and quite frankly, fun options when it comes to alcohol at weddings. Top on the list and least recommended is a pure open bar. I address why that is once we’ve gone through all options. Some may become apparent as we touch on each option here.

A little off the top

Limit top shelf to a specific brand, or even a specific alcohol type, or both. For example, perhaps Jack Daniels is a favorite of the groom, this is the exception for this wedding. On the other hand, maybe you want a completely whiskey free wedding. Maybe certain friends or family members act inappropriately after a couple whiskeys, or a family member who doesn’t feel it fits the occasion. Either way, the point here is that this option is the first step in personalizing your bar menu to your tastes and budget. This is also where the problems with a wide open bar at a wedding become visible.

Turning an Alcohol Problem into an Opportunity

The problem with an open bar – there are many, but the one we are focusing on here is the missed opportunity to personalize your bar for your guests. You’ve gone to great trouble to make sure every detail is just right, why not take that attention to detail to the bar? I’m going to go through some other options with brief explanation as they don’t need too much explanation.

The next step would be to exclude top shelf all together, except of course the grooms favorite if that be your whim. If some guests know top shelf is available, they may order top shelf just because they can say they have it, and may even decide they don’t like it. Another thing to consider is that people who really enjoy, say a Crown Royal, will be acutely aware of where that beverage is at all times, whereas someone who didn’t pay for it, and ordered it because it was available may not be so attentive. You could say an open bar invites amateurs. 🙂 Of course If you have multiple top shelf products available, this becomes an even bigger problem.

Wine Drinkers Have More Class?

Taking it further, some limit free libations to wine. It’s perfect for toasting, and it’s the perfect compliment to any classy affair. Of course some people will just never be wine people, so you may choose to offer wine and beer.

With the popularity and price of craft beer, you can even limit the beer either to domestics, or to a specific beer pre-ordered just for the day. I had one wedding where they only had Guinness, and the guests went through 3 kegs. On the other hand I’ve had a wedding where the brides dad sprang for a keg of Bud Light. By the end of the night he was trying to get as many people to drink it as possible just to empty the keg. You want to have something unique enough that everyone wants to try it, or simply be tuned in to what your guests are most likely to enjoy.

Let your Spirits shine!

Now we get into the fun part, creating your own cocktail! It’s budget friendly and can be quite entertaining. There are so many options here, and new ones are being created regularly, so it’s impossible  to go through all the possibilities. You can rename a classic changing a Tom Collins into an Amy Collins if that is the brides new name. Take the classic hurricane and add a name to it. At a wedding this past September one of their signature drinks was a Hurricane Katrina after the bride. When my wife and I got married we had a retro 50’s theme, and we chose a drink from the era called The Rocket.

These signature drinks give your bar the ability to tell you what your bill is likely to be in advance. The bartender can make them in batches. The better you can quantify the amount of alcohol consumed, the better you can estimate cost. Of course whether you want to pay for the guests signature drink, or let them pay for their own is up to you.

Just the Ticket

The last option that isn’t a pure cash bar, is the drink ticket. You can make your own and print them so you know how many you have. Give every guest one or 2, and you can keep a handful on hand for your bridal party. This is what my wife and I did when we got married. For 100 guests our bill came to $800. Not terrible, but it was my most expensive bar tab ever. In case you are curious we had budgeted $1,000.00 for the bar, so we were quite happy we came in so far under budget on that piece of our wedding expenses.

The Bottom Line

You can configure your bar any way you’d like as I stated at the top. The only etiquette you need to pay attention to is your pocketbook. While it’s not required by any wedding etiquette I know of, here’s a classy move that your guests will appreciate if you choose an “in hand toast”. For an “In Hand toast”, guests toast with the beverage in their hand as opposed to a champagne toast. Buy your guests a drink to toast with by using drink tickets. You can say something sweet like “We know you don’t like Champagne, and we didn’t want to be a pain. Have a drink on us and toast with pride to the groom and the bride”. It’s a nice gesture to say your toast is on us, and they will appreciate it more than a wedding favor.

I’ll Leave You on a Dry Note

Since the genesis of this story was a post about dry weddings and this post does deal with saving money, I want to make one thing very clear. If you are trying to save money on alcohol at a wedding, a dry wedding is not the way to go.  In fact, you will spend more on snacks and surprises you will need to replace the alcohol missing from the party. Guests would rather buy their own alcohol than be told they can not have it. If you really want/ need a dry wedding for other reasons, check out my previous blog on the subject. We’ll help you get through it with class and style.


Do you have any comments, ideas, things that you have done that have turned out really well or really badly? What has your experience been? I would love to know. Thanks for reading! Chat soon….