Have you ever wondered about what is best to offer your guests at a wedding reception? Can I afford an open or host bar, or should I expect my guests to pay for their drinks using a cash bar?

Let’s first define each.

Host Bar

In short, the payment for a host bar is measured on consumption. In many cases you’ll incur a fee for the bartender and then settle the bill at the end of the night. Some venues will charge on a per drink basis, whereas others will actually measure the bottles and make an estimate. Depending on your guests, and their drinking habits, the host bar may be cheaper than an open bar.

Open Bar

Open bar billing is based on an hourly rate in addition to a bartender fee. For a set amount of time and rate (e.g. $20 to $25 for the first two hours), your guests will enjoy unlimited beverages. The venue should provide you with some packages which allows you to choose from a selection of liquors, wines and beers that you would like to offer your guests. It goes without saying that top shelf and premium liquors will run you a higher hourly rate.

An open bar helps with the budgeting process for your event and helps avoid sticker shock when you choose a host bar and don’t realize how much will actually be consumed.

Cash Bar

A cash bar is a bar at a social event for which guests are required to pay for the drinks themselves. This differs from an open bar or host bar, where drinks are paid for by the host.

An open or host bar is often appreciated by guests. However, where you have special circumstances and a limited wedding reception budget, it’s unlikely that anyone will question you when having a cash bar. A cash bar helps with waste as glasses get left half-full and then cleared by a waiter or forgotten. A cash bar can also help with over-consumption. If you are going to offer a cash bar, you may indicate in the invitation that a Champagne Toast and / or wine will be served with dinner but a cash bar will be available. This helps your guest plan accordingly and not arrive without cash on hand.

What’s Best?

That’s a question best answered by yourself, however an event planner can help you make this decision during the planning process.