Open Bar vs Cash Bar – Wedding Planning

Open Bar at Wedding

vs Cash Bar at Wedding

The choice to serve alcohol or not at your wedding is one of those factors that can often times create a great deal of discussion amongst everyone involved in the planning process. Everybody has an opinion, and sometimes the solutions can become an arguable point. Now, why does the discussion about alcohol become such a heated topic? Because there are a number of options, where cost is probably one of the biggest concerns. We’re going to dive right in, sharing some pros and cons along with a few tips you should consider when choosing to serve alcohol at your wedding or not.

Moet champagne, champagne bottle display

Photo by Adam Barnes via Southern Weddings

{Open Bar} An open bar is probably one of the more popular choices when planning your cocktail hour (usually a time when the bride and groom are taking portraits) and your reception.


  • Easy for your guests. No worries for them if they didn’t bring enough cash with them.
  • Guests have many choices and varieties of drinks (both alcoholic and non), especially when the wedding is held at an established venue such as a restaurant or banquet house that is well stocked.
  • An open “bar” is more conducive to guests getting their own drinks rather than waiting for staff to wait on them.


  • Possibility of overindulgence by a small group of your guests. Only you can be the best judge of your family and friends.
  • Expense. Having an open bar can be a budget buster and that is why many opt out.
  • Depending on your guest list, an open bar can be a distraction from other events at your wedding reception. I have been to weddings where some guests were more interested in hanging out at the bar because the drinks were free, than watching the cake cutting, first dance or bouquet toss



{Cash Bar} A cash bar is when your guests will be expected to pay for all of their alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages with the exception of a champagne toast at dinner.


  • Easy on your budget.
  • Usually, lesser chance for overindulgence by your guests.


  • Your guests may feel a little disgruntled especially if the drinks turn out to be very expensive. The price will depend on whether your wedding reception is held at the local Moose Club, where beer is $2.00 a bottle, or at the Four Seasons, where it might be $7.00 a bottle. The bigger the price tag for your guests, usually the less they will drink. It might even chase them out of your reception sooner; like right after the meal. Kind of sad, right?

chilled champagne glasses, champagne toast

Photo by Hazelnut Photography via Style Me Pretty

{Limited Bar Open or Cash} A limited bar is just that. Limited. Choices include one or two different beers (regular and lite), red and/or white wines, even limitations of soda Coke, ginger ale and/or club soda. No hard liquor but a signature drink both alcoholic and non-alcoholic may also be available. You may offer a champagne toast with dinner, which is a nice touch when having a limited bar.


  • A limited bar can save everyone money, whether open or even cash.
  • Most guests are satisfied with options of beer or wine.
  • It’s a happy medium for everyone.


  • Choices for guests are limited. Maybe they don’t like beer or wine. Then they are left with only soda (maybe not even one that they like) or water.

rustic limited bar sign, Izze sparkling juice drinks served in vintage rustic coca cola crate

Photo by Anna Page Photography via Style Me Pretty| Photo by The Nichols via Style Me Pretty

{Non-Alcoholic} The decision to serve no alcohol can be a very personal choice. It may be based on religion or other personal circumstances. Either way, family and friends who know and love you will understand and respect your decision. Katelyn James, a popular wedding photographer in Virginia whos personal wedding we featured in January, did not serve alcohol at her wedding. She observed, that while no alcohol was served, everyone had the best time ever!?? Dont believe me? Then watch her awesome wedding video, starting at 4:13. Evidence that alcohol does not a party make, because when all is said and done, it is your day, a celebration of your love and marriage. 🙂

A couple of other things to think about when considering the types of refreshment to serve at your wedding. When having an open bar, to save money, you can place a dollar limit of your choice. We did that at our wedding. When we were close to the limit, the head bartender came to us and let us know. As we were very close to the end of the evening, we opted to keep the tab open, resulting in only an additional $30 to our original budget. If you do reach your limit, you can then convert to a cash bar, however, it may create a bit of awkwardness for your guests.

non-alcoholic beverage decanters, signature drinks, drinks bar

Photo by Dan Cutrona via Inspired By This

If you’re having a backyard bash, there are other options that you have available. If you have a caterer, check with them if they will be providing the liquor and what their pricing will be. Since you are hosting, a better option might be to purchase your own liquor and save a bunch of money if you are able to take advantage of a discount liquor store. Be sure to advise the caterer or hired bartender to not open all the bottles or get the labels wet on the unopened ones. This way you can easily return items that were unused and save some money.

One last tip, when working with your venue or caterer, ask if there is a package/fixed price for the bar or if you could pay on a consumption basis. Guests sometimes will surprise you and not drink as much as you originally might have thought or planned. You can save a fair amount, especially on those guests that will nurse a drink all night long.

signature cocktails in mason jars, bride and groom toast

Photo by Adam Barnes via Southern Weddings

Now, if all this has your mind a totally jumbled mess, then my last recommendation hire a wedding planner, tell them your budgetary needs and wants, and let them handle it! 🙂

You can see why this topic could cause some angst with so many (maybe too many) options. Who knew, right? Anybody else feel this way? How will you or did you handle serving alcohol at your wedding? Let us know in the comments below!

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