An open bar doesn't have to break the bank.

By Lauren Katims
February 24, 2020
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Offering an open bar at your wedding reception is a nice touch, and it's one that's greatly appreciated by guests who are eager to celebrate the newly-married couple. But having drinks flowing freely throughout the night is expensive—some open bar packages cost as much as $4,000. If budget is a concern, the obvious option is to transition the open bar to a cash bar, where guest pay per drink, after the cocktail hour is over or before dinner is served. If that doesn't appeal to you, there are other ways to host an open bar all night without being buried by the costs; the experts share their tips here.

Go local.

Much of the added cost to alcohol is transportation, says Carlos Kronen, executive director of The Bartender Company. Using local brands is not only trendy, but it also helps save you money. In a state like California, where local wine is some of the most sought after in the country, you can get the highest quality wines and Champagnes for a fraction of the cost as shipping expensive varieties internationally.

Be selective with pricey bottles items.

Wedding guests tend to fly through bottles of vodka, which is why Kronen doesn't suggest splurging on this type of alcohol. Instead, he's a fan of keeping a few bottles of good quality scotch on the bar for guests who want something a bit more special. "The overall consumption is never that high," he says. "It's a great way to provide that look without drinking a ton." For other alcohols, provide the basics with a display of great mixers—you'll give everyone variety at a lower price point. That being said, if there's a specific type of alcohol that you enjoy most and want to splurge on, make that your priority and choose more affordable options for everything else.

Toast without champagne.

A Champagne toast might be traditional, but most guests never actually pick up the flute that's been poured for them; in fact, the majority of wedding guests simply toast with whatever drink they already had in their hand following cocktail hour. Christine Ellingwood, owner of Planned to Perfection, says, "Not everyone drinks champagne. I see so much go to waste." Instead of pre-pouring glasses at the tables, let guests order a drink of their choosing and toast with that—whoever wants Champagne is able to get it at the bar.

Serve signature drinks.

If a full selection of alcoholic beverages is too costly, create one or two signature drinks that guests can choose from in addition to beer and wine. This lets you have full control of what hard alcohols people are drinking, which can help keep costs down; you're also still giving guests a variety of drink options while further personalizing your event. Kronen says to offer no more than three signature drinks and to keep the recipes fairly simple, limiting the number of ingredients so that making them doesn't slow down the bar.

Buy your own alcohol.

Depending on your venue, some caterers will let you buy your own alcohol, says Ellingwood, which eliminates extra transportation costs from the caterer or bartending company. In some states, you can return unopened bottles to the store at the end of the night.

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