How Much is an Open Bar at a Wedding: 7 Tight-Budget Tips

In an open bar, the wedding hosts bear the expense. Open bars started as a trend and are now considered a staple in most wedding receptions. Having one at your wedding reception is ideal if you wish to provide your guests with a memorable experience.

An open bar costs anywhere from $1,800 to $3,750 ($12 to $25 per head) for 4 hours, assuming you have a total of 150 guests and offer a limited selection of drinks. If you wish to provide an assortment of alcoholic beverages (beer, whiskey, gin, tequila, brandy, rum, vodka, etc.), the average starting rate per individual would range from $17 to $100 ($2,550 to $15,000).

Weighing the pros and cons of opting for an open bar is crucial. The wedding hosts and wedding organizers need to take the overall budget into account primarily. The cost of an open bar depends on several factors, such as the selection of alcoholic drinks to be served, the number of guests, and the type of open bar.

Average Cost of an Open Bar at a Wedding

toast bride

Alcoholic beverages are an integral part of wedding receptions across many cultures. Consequently, many couples choose open bars despite the relatively high cost to indulge their guests.

As mentioned earlier, several factors contribute to the overall cost of an open bar. Depending on the selection of drinks, the price can be categorized into three: low-range, mid-range, and high-cost.

Low-Range Open Bars

The average cost for a low-range open bar is $12 to $25 per head for traditional wedding receptions that last four hours. It’s important to note that the choice of drinks is limited for this category (e.g., wine and beer only). If you have 150 guests, the estimated cost would range from $1,800 to $3,750.

Mid-Range Open Bars

In a mid-range open bar, a broader selection of alcoholic beverages (e.g., tequila, whiskey, brandy, rum, vodka, gin, etc.) is provided. The projected cost is between $17 and $100 for each person.

For a total of 150 guests, the cost can be anywhere from $2,550 to $15,000. Non-alcoholic beverages can also be provided if you opt for this type of open bar.

High-Cost Open Bars

If you wish to offer premium liquor like Macallan, Johnnie Walker, and Hennessy to your guests, an open bar would approximately cost $20 to $150 per individual. The anticipated cost for a total of 150 guests can range from $3,000 to $22,500.

7 Tight-Budget Tips to Get the Open Bar of Your Choice

1. Decide Who Will Provide the Alcohol

You can choose to buy alcohol in bulk to reduce the overall cost of the open bar. Buying the alcohol (preferably in warehouses where you can avail a discount) yourself can enable you to save more money.

Bar catering companies typically charge by consumption (an average of $25 to $35 per guest). It’s even better if you can purchase alcoholic drinks from a store that has a refund policy for unopened products.

2. Decide on the Selection of Alcohol

alcohol bar

Knowing the average serving size per bottle helps to estimate how many of each beverage you need to cater to all the guests. A bottle of wine can fill five glasses, while a bottle of champagne can fill eight. A bottle of liquor can fill 18 glasses, and a bottle of beer is good for one person.

Having an idea of the serving size per bottle, you can use the following list for a fair estimate of the number of bottles needed for your wedding reception.

Drink of Choice No. of Bottles for 100 Guests No. of Bottles for 150 Guests
Wine 70 105
Beer 175 266
Liquor 15 22
Champagne 20 30

3. Choose Between Flat-Rate Pricing or Billing by Consumption

For open bars, you can choose a package with flat-rate pricing or opt for pricing by consumption. In flat-rate pricing, there’s a fixed rate for each adult guest for a set time (can be per hour or the whole duration of the wedding reception).

Flat-rate pricing is a better option if you have a finalized guest list and you’re unfamiliar with their drinking habits. Bar caterers usually quote a price per guest.

On the other hand, in billing by consumption, you get charged based on the number of drinks each guest consumes. This option is best if you’re aware that the guests aren’t heavy drinkers.

4. Determine What Type of Open Bar You Want

cocktail drinks

Beer and Wine Open Bar

There are many types of open bars. One of them is the Beer and Wine Open Bar, which is perfect for daytime weddings. You can also opt to offer unlimited beer and wine because they’re relatively less expensive than liquor.

Signature Cocktail Open Bar

If you and your partner have a signature drink you both love, you can opt to offer only that drink at the open bar. This option allows you to create a unique theme for your wedding reception. It might also be more budget-friendly because you can estimate the cost upfront.

Limited Open Bar

An open bar at a wedding reception that lasts more than the average of four hours can be quite expensive. A limited open bar is an ideal choice if you anticipate your wedding reception extending for a longer time.

In a limited open bar, the guests are served alcoholic beverages for only a fixed period (e.g., the first two or three hours of the reception or during the final segment).

5. Consider the Venue

beach venue wedding

The cost of an open bar can vary greatly depending on the venue of your wedding reception. It might double in some cities. If you host your wedding reception in a resort, the cost might even triple.

6. Compare Rates from Different Bar Caterers

The best way to have an open bar on a budget is to compare rates from different bar caterers. The overall cost can be affected by factors like the selection of alcoholic beverages, the number of guests, the duration of the wedding reception, the location of the venue, and the bartender fee.

When hiring a bar catering company to host the open bar, the bartender fee will likely be included in the package. Ensure that the bartender has liability insurance. If the bar catering company or the venue does not provide a bartender, you have the option to hire one separately.

7. Coordinate with the Bartender

A tip to make an open bar at a wedding reception more budget-friendly is to instruct the bartender to fill only half a glass for each serving. The bartender should also be aware of when to stop serving guests who appear to have had enough to drink. Proper coordination with your bartender can prevent excessive consumption and reduce waste, thereby saving money.

Some Open Bar Alternatives

If an open bar is not within your budget, there are alternative options that you can consider:

Wine Bottle Per Table

wine bottles

You can always opt for other alternatives if an open bar is out of your budget. Instead of an open bar, you can provide a good bottle of wine for each table of 5 or 6. This option will save you a considerable amount of money.

One bottle of wine can fill up to five glasses. Two to three bottles per table with 5 to 6 guests is considered ideal. Below is a list of some fine but inexpensive wines.

Wine Brand                                                     Price

McBride Sisters Red Blend                            $20.99

A to Z Chardonnay                                         $15.99

J Vineyards California Pinot Gris 2019          $15.99

Cupcake Vineyards Prosecco Rosé              $11.99

Borsao Tinto Garnacha                                  $8.99

La Vieille Ferme Rosé 2018                          $7.99

Beringer Founders’ Estate Pinot Noir            $7.99

Cash Bar

In a cash bar, your guests can choose from a variety of alcoholic drinks but must pay for whatever they consume. This option is ideal if you’re on a tight budget and most of your guests don’t drink alcohol.

However, it’s important to note that this is considered less hospitable as guests may not appreciate having to pay for their drinks after attending your event.

Self-Service Bar

pouring drink glass

If you have time in your hands for more planning, another cost-effective alternative to an open bar is a self-service bar. In a self-service bar, the party hosts stock their drink of choice and let the guests serve themselves. This is the best option for small and intimate weddings.

Self-service bars became a trend in DIY weddings, and just like anything DIY, self-service bars entail more effort and planning. You must think of where to set up the bar, who will make sure the bar doesn’t run out of drinks, ice, glassware, etc., and what drinks you’ll serve. For the beverages, you can stock up on canned or bottled wines, beers, and cocktails.

Dry Wedding

A dry wedding is the best alternative if alcohol isn’t a significant part of your culture or tradition. Hosting one will significantly reduce the overall cost of your wedding. However, you must ensure to give your guests a heads-up and not forget to mention in your invitation that you’ll be hosting a dry wedding.

Even without alcohol, you can still keep the crowd satisfied by serving fun or delicious drinks, such as fresh fruit shakes, mocktails, or even bubble tea. Aside from the beverages of choice, you must also pay attention to the food selection. You can also plan other activities to ensure that you and all the guests have a fun and memorable celebration.

Other Costs You Need to Consider

pouring drinks glasses

Liability Insurance

Regardless of the type of bar you choose, it’s advisable to ensure that you’re covered with liability insurance. Most venues and bar caterers are covered with liability insurance, and this extends to you. Always consult with the staff of the venue or the bar catering service regarding this matter.

Corkage Fee

If you opt for a self-service bar or any DIY bar, you may be asked to pay a corkage fee per drink or per guest served. The fee depends on the rates as stated by the venue staff. It’s crucial to read the contract thoroughly before agreeing to their conditions.

Physical Bar

Some venues don’t have a physical bar. In such cases, you have the option to rent one from a bar catering service, or you can be resourceful and create one yourself.f.

Tip for Bartenders

If there’s no gratuity or service fee included in the bar package or contract, a tip of 15-20% of the final cost is recommended for the bartenders. If a service fee is included, tipping becomes optional but always appreciated.

Final Thoughts

The open bar price for a wedding will depend on how many guests you’ll have. Full open bars are significantly more expensive than the other types of bars, such as self-service bars or cash bars.

Although many couples choose to have an open bar at their wedding reception, yours doesn’t necessarily need one. Still, if you wish to save money and please your wedding guests at the same time, you can consider an in-between option and host a modified open bar.

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