After your wedding ceremony, it's time for dinner, dancing, and drinks. You've tasted and picked the perfect food, your DJ knows the songs you love (and hate!), but you figure you've hired a bartender, so that's all you need to worry about for the bar, right? Of course not, say the wedding bartenders and planners we spoke to. They're dishing on all the questions they wished couples had asked them before the big day, and we're sharing the top ten.
"What's the tipping protocol?"
Tipping is the number-one item wedding bartenders wish was determined in advance. Some companies include tip in the contract, so check first. If your bartender doesn't include tip in the cost, decide whether you'll put out a tip jar or you'll present the bartender with a tip check at the end of the night, and coordinate that with them.
"Can the bar accept credit cards?"
For cash bars, check if the bar accepts credit cards and communicate this to guests. Theresa Farrage, wedding planner for Omaha, Nebraska's Scoular Ballroom, has seen firsthand how not establishing payment options has caused a wedding to go awry. "I've seen events where a cash-only bar wasn't communicated to guests and there were no ATM machines within walking distance, thus resulting in angry guests that departed the event early," Farrage says.
"Do you have my dad's favorite liquor?"
Whether your dad only drinks Amstel Lights, your maid of honor prefers a shiraz, or your mother-in-law's favorite cocktail needs Campari, ensure the bar is stocked and ready to accommodate your most crucial guests. Wedding planner Jyl Deering of Chancey Charm Boston notes how important it is to let the bar staff know of these items in advance. "I had a couple whose family only drank one kind of beer. Please alert us to this, and we can stock up and keep everyone happy," she says.
"What is your practice for too-intoxicated guests?"
Every professional wedding bartender should be able to answer this question thoroughly. Brides can ask if bartenders have completed a training program for intoxicated patrons, such as TIPS, as Farrage has. "We look for all the hallmark signs of intoxication, from speech to appearance, and make a judgement call based on the safety of the individual," Farrage says. "It's imperative to present beverages, such as water and coffee, to individuals who appear to be in need of taking a break from consuming alcohol. The last thing we want to occur is a sloppy best man speech or Uncle Bob making a fool of himself on the dance floor."
Of course, no one wants their uncle to be treated disrespectfully by bar staff, either. "You never want anyone who will be rude to your guests, even if the guest has had enough to drink. This comes from experience and training," says Doug Spradley, head bartender or Bloomington, Indiana's FARMbloomington.
"Can my guests order shots?"
Some venues strictly forbid straight liquor, so ask your bartender if you were planning a round of tequila shots for you and your bridesmaids.
"Will bar staff bus tables?"
This is a more complicated question than you may think, according to Spradley. In Indiana, where he works, caterers are not allowed to bus tables if they're not the ones providing the bar services because, legally, liability for any accidents occurring as a result of someone being overserved will be shared by whomever buses the alcohol. Because you don't want tables piling up with dirty wine glasses, clarify responsibility in advance.
"What do you think of our signature drink?"
Every bartender and wedding planner we asked recommends brides run their drink idea by the bartenders. Specialty ingredients in some drinks can run the tab high, Farrage warns. Some ingredients may be hard to find. Deering also warns brides to be cognizant of lines at the bar. "Bartenders love an easy signature drink for cocktail hour, as that is when the bar is the busiest. To avoid lines, skip drinks with lots of ingredients or muddled drinks, like a Mojito," she advises.
"What will the bartenders be wearing?"
"For a formal event, you don't want the staff to show up in tank tops and cut-offs," Spradley says. By the same token, suited up bartenders would look very out of place at your beach-set clambake wedding. Avoid a fashion faux pas and ask in advance.
"Can we bring in our own alcohol?"
Budget-savvy brides may be looking to save on bar costs by stocking up on wholesale beer and wine to bring to their venue, but many locations do not permit this. To help with costs, if you've pre-paid for bottles of liquor, Farrage advises you ask if un-opened bottles can be returned for cash.
"How is the beer served?"
Other than hopefully nice and cold, Deering says to always ask whether beer is served on draft or in bottles or cans. For the latter, you may consider providing koozies for guests—or even make custom ones for favors.