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Understanding Your Wedding Bar: What Does the Price of Alcohol After Returns Really Mean?

This phrase will come up if you're buying your own big-day alcohol.

Contributing Writer
upscale indoor bar
Photography by: Barb Simkova/Tara McMullen Photo

For the vast majority of couples, a venue or catering company will be responsible for ordering and managing wine, beer, and liquor orders on your behalf. However, if you're getting married at a private estate or at a BYO venue, you may be responsible for sourcing and providing your own bar supply. In this case, budgeting for such a thing can get a little confusing. Here's what you need to know to properly allocate your budget, including what alcohol after returns actually means.

 

Related: How to Save Money on Alcohol for Your Wedding Bar

 

What does the price of alcohol after returns mean?

If you're able to order your own beer, wine, and liquor for the wedding, the price of alcohol after returns means your final total once any unopened bottles are sold back to the liquor vendor. This means you may be shelling out more upfront, but then getting some money back after the big day.

 

Buybacks and returns may be an option, but it depends on your state's regulations

Not all states allow buybacks or returns of alcoholic items, and it's important to know this before you start calculating how much you're going to buy for your event. In California, for example, no buybacks are allowed. Other states may have limits on how much liquor you can buy and transport at a time, or laws restricting Sunday sales. Do your research so you can both plan and budget accordingly. Keep in mind, you also won't be able to return opened or chilled bottles anywhere.

 

There's a standard bar budget formula but you really want to lean on the experts for order quantities

On average, guests consume about 1.5 drinks per hour at a wedding reception. What of that is wine, beer, or booze, depends largely on your specific group and what else is being served, but there are plenty of liquor sellers who can talk you through the details and guide you in the right direction. As well, your catering team should be able to advise on quantities so you don't run out but also don't end up with a ton of excess.

 

You should budget as if you won't be able to return anything.

Generally speaking, it's best to assume for the sake of your budget that you won't be able to make any returns. If your calculations are correct or close to correct, you shouldn't have a ton of leftovers anyway, so anything you do have and can return should be seen as a bonus rather than something to base your budget around.

 

If you're stuck with booze you can't return, gift it.

At the end of your wedding, you'll likely have a few bottles of wine leftover and some opened bottles of booze, too. If you'd like to keep things easy and not have to pick up anything from your caterer after your wedding, consider advising the catering team to divvy up unopened wine among the wedding vendors. This is both a nice way to thank them and an easy way to distribute the excess.