The Complete Wedding Bar Guide

The Complete Wedding Bar Guide


Wedding bars are an expensive but essential part of any wedding. This investment can vary depending on the number of days your celebration will last, but for a single day wedding you can expect around 20% of the day's cost to center around the bar. This includes the alcohol, bartender, mixers, alcohol health and recovery products, garnish, tools, fees, tips, and other costs.

The investment of a wedding bar makes it an important place to strike a memory with guests. Similarly, while the alcohol may help guests enjoy their time during the reception, it can leave them regretting their actions and clouding their memory the day after. Making sure the bar strikes the right balance is essential.

This guide, along with my assistance during our conversations will give your event an amazing experience on your budget.

Professional vs. DIY

A professional bar is a great low maintenance and low stress option. Professional bars are fully stocked with alcohol, mixers, tools, and include bartenders. This added convenience comes at a cost though, as they often charge a markup on the alcohol and will include a service fee.

Staffing for this option can often come from either the venue itself or an outside vendor. If an outside vendor is used rather than the venue, be sure to check any fee or insurance requirements.

An alternative to a professional bar service is doing it yourself. A DIY bar is a great way to save money if your budget is tight. While it requires more time, effort, planning, and can potentially cause last-minute headaches, many couples are able to make this option work. It must be noted that what you are able to do with a DIY bar is very venue specific. The rules and capabilities of each venue can dramatically change what is and what is not possible.

If doing a DIY bar, it is recommended to still hire a professional bartender to serve guests drinks. Self-service bars can be challenging for you and your guests. On your wedding day, the last thing you want to worry about is the potential for a guest spilling a drink or breaking glassware and causing a scene.

A recent trend that is just starting is a combination bar, where you purchase the alcohol and then a vendor provides the services associated with a professional bar such as bartenders, rentals, setup, and cleanup. This option depends on the vendor and some will not allow it.

Providing add-ons to a professional bar though should not be a problem, regardless of vendor. Common addons are signature cocktails as well as specialty bar snacks. One increasingly common add-on is the addition of alcohol health products, such as Ralli, for guests. The products can either be provided through the bar or as gifts for guests at the end of the night and are designed to prevent hangovers. Other add-ons include hard-seltzers, for vendors that do not include them in their standard packages.

Types of Bars

Open Bar is when the host pays the vendor a flat fee and guests are able to consume as much alcohol as they want. Vendors usually offer a standard and premium option, with the premium option costing more per guest but including additional premium brands. Open bars are the most common bar type and tend to offer a better experience during the event. Guests are able to focus on the event and you have a set price for the bar, helping avoid any fear of a surprise charge after your wedding.

Consumption Bar is similar to an open bar, but you pay based on the consumption of alcohol by guests, not a flat fee. Consumption bars tend to be better options if you want to provide a premium experience to guests but expect many people to not drink. One concern with a consumption bar is a costly surprise at the end of the night.

For both open and consumption bars, one increasing-trend to save costs is to limit the selection of alcohol provided. Beer and wine only bars are an effective way to help keep costs down, especially for daytime weddings. The addition of a signature cocktail to a beer and wine bar can help add class and elevate the experience while keeping costs down.

Cash Bar is when guests are required to pay for their own drinks throughout the night. This option is less common, but can be a solution if you are on a very strict budget. The process of opening a tab, paying it at the end of the night, and tipping the bartender can become a distraction from the celebration. To help make this process as smooth as possible, make sure to inform guests that it will be a cash bar early in the wedding invitation process.

Dry Bar is a bar that serves only non-alcoholic beverages. Service for the dry bar can come in the form of an open, consumption, or cash bar.

How Much Alcohol

The most common calculation is to assume one drink per guest per hour. Across types of alcohol, here is a useful calculator per 3-hour open bar.

A Pint of Beer A Bottle of Wine A Bottle of Champagne A Bottle of Liquor
Per 1 Guest  Per 2.5 Guests Per 6 Guests Per 5 Guests 


In terms of purchasing alcohol, you can assume

  • Bottle of wine = 5 glasses
  • Champagne = 8 flutes
  • Bottle of liquor = 18 cocktails
  • Keg = 124 pints

While these guidelines are helpful, you should consider your guests carefully. You don’t want to run out of alcohol at the event, so if you have an excited crowd you will want to adjust the numbers upward.

In addition to traditional alcohol service, a growing trend is the addition of select products to the bar. Many couples enjoy having a signature cocktail or two to share with their guests. This cocktail is either meaningful to them or simply used to elevate the event. Hard seltzer, such as White Claw, is another common addition that is consumed similarly to beer. Finally, alcohol health and recovery products, particularly Ralli, have also gained popularity. These products typically are ordered on a one per guest basis for use at the end of the night and can help avoid unpleasant scenes the morning after – when guests are sick or miss travel plans because of overindulging.

One item that has gone to the wayside is shots. In addition to often ending poorly, they significantly increase the cost of buying alcohol. 

Buying Alcohol

When purchasing alcohol for your event, you will want to make sure you purchase enough that you do not run out. Liquor stores should allow you to return unused alcohol so long as it has not been opened. Additionally, having some extra for your own enjoyment is not the worst outcome.

Local liquor stores are usually able to provide a discount for large bulk orders. In addition to price, you will also want to explore day-of delivery and pick-up services. Having the alcohol delivered the day of your wedding is one easy way to reduce the stress of a DIY bar. Local liquor stores may also be able to provide you with recommendations on types of alcohol.

In general, it is best to think about the season when choosing alcohol. Spring and summer tend to have more white wine than red. Similarly, hard seltzers and refreshing cocktails are in greater demand during this time period. In fall and winter, having more red than white wine is common. Heartier cocktails and spirits such as scotch and bourbon are also more common.

Additional Potential Fees

Corkage fee is a fee you may have to pay your venue to bring in your own alcohol. This fee is usually done on a per bottle or per person basis. Make sure this amount is explicitly spelled out in any contract if you are considering a DIY bar.

Liability insurance is commonly required or beneficial. If you use an outside service, they should have it available. If you do the bar yourself, you may be able to purchase it cheaply, along with a liquor license.

Tip if not included in a service or gratuity fee. The common amount is 20% on top of the final bar tab. If there is a service fee there is no need for a tip.

Physical bar and glassware rental if the venue does not have a physical bar or if you have your own. If doing the bar yourself, you will also have to rent glassware.

Logistics & Décor

The location and bar experience is often neglected. For large weddings where people are spread out across a ballroom, you may desire multiple bar locations. Depending on the vendor, this may incur an additional cost but it can improve the guest experience and avoid long lines at the bar.

Similarly, the décor of the bar is often neglected. Having a beautiful reception let down by a bar stuck in the back corner can be a disappointment. Consider decorations such as a floral arrangement or ambience enhancing twinkly lights to help elevate the bar.

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