cash bar, wedding?
August 14, 2010 3:23 PM   Subscribe

Should we have a cash bar at our wedding?

My fiance and I are getting married in December. Her parents are paying for the wedding and my parents are paying for the rehearsal dinner. Our budget is $15,000 for everything. We live in a major city. We've managed to stay within that budget so far. One of the ways is with a cash bar. My concern is...many people are flying cross country to be at our wedding. I hate the thought of asking people to pay for their own drinks, especially when they've traveled so far and spent a lot of money on the trip. However, the truth is...we really can't afford the open bar. It could conceivably cost us another 3 to $5,000. My question is, will guests be mad? Are we being really cheap? My fiance and her parents don't drink. They've voiced their opinion that there's no need for an open bar. They say they're not paying for people to come and drink. I understand where they're coming from but I don't feel they're being realistic. I have some extra money saved away. I could probably come up with another $2,000 by dipping into my limited savings account. Is it worth it? Should we just go with the cash bar? Any thoughts here would be very helpful.
posted by ljs30 to Human Relations (145 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Yeah, I think it'd be weird. Can you just go beer/wine to cut down on the costs?
posted by xmutex at 3:26 PM on August 14, 2010 [4 favorites]

To be honest, I'd feel a little short changed if I flew across the country for a wedding and was then asked to buy my own drinks.

That being said, I'd feel even worse if I found out that my friend had to dip into his limited savings account just so that I could have a few drinks.

Perhaps you could reach a compromise - some limited tab on the bar so that people can have a drink or two, and those who want to have a bit more can then start to pay for it?
posted by twirlypen at 3:27 PM on August 14, 2010

I'd have wine on the table (one bottle for four people) and one ticket per person for an alcoholic drink. Cash bar otherwise - except free non-alcoholic drinks. What's wrong with encouraging people to drink responsibly?
posted by aroberge at 3:30 PM on August 14, 2010 [8 favorites]

Like twirlypen's suggestion, our reception venue offered a limited-time host bar option, switching to a cash bar after an hour, two hours, or four hours depending on what you wanted to pay. Is that a possibility? Bonus - less people shitfaced at the end of the reception, and less likely to drive home drunk.
posted by killy willy at 3:32 PM on August 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

Seems pretty frugal. I've never really heard of anybody doing this. Can't it be an hour or two of open bar with well drinks, not top shelf?
posted by fixedgear at 3:33 PM on August 14, 2010

Aaaagh! No!

You can choose not to serve alcohol, or you can serve a set amount of wine at dinner, but please do not invite people to a major social occasion which many will feel obligated to attend, and then when they arrive, having put forth no small effort and expense, nickel-and-dime them for a drink. The part of you that thinks this is tacky, is right.
posted by tel3path at 3:34 PM on August 14, 2010 [41 favorites]

I disagree completely with the previous comments. Who expects to drink for free at a wedding? Free champagne, wine with dinner - but anything else is a bonus.
posted by ascullion at 3:36 PM on August 14, 2010 [13 favorites]

And when I say champagne I obviously mean cava
posted by ascullion at 3:37 PM on August 14, 2010

If your fiance and her parents don't drink then conceivably a fairly large subset of folks at the wedding do not drink either. If her parents don't want an open bar and they ARE paying for the wedding you can always blame the lack of alcohol on their side. I would hope people would come to the wedding because they love you and not just for a free drink and I think you probably could use that extra couple of thousand YOU have stashed away for your future.
But if you are really troubled by this perhaps you could simply pony up for some champagne or sparkling wine and leave it at that.

(full disclosure-I have a glass of wine once in awhile and see nothing wrong with alcohol in moderation when appropriate. Also, fwiw, the vast majority of weddings I have attended have had no alcohol whatsoever.)
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 3:37 PM on August 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

People expect food and drink at a wedding- that's just how it is. Our family is hosting a wedding where red and white wine will be at the table, and there will be beer available. There are also ingredients for a signature cocktail, to provide another option.

I think a cash bar is a bad idea, and I am quite frugal myself.
posted by rachaelfaith at 3:38 PM on August 14, 2010

I'm from the UK so I don't really see the issue with a cash bar. Having said that, just put a small amount of money behind the bar (limit it to wines, beers and singles) and when it's gone then it's gone.

A token or two on each persons place setting is another way to do this.

Yes, people have travelled a long way to see you get married but (a) they didn't have to come (b) they knew what they were getting into (c) they got champagne at the reception from you for free and (d) they got the wedding breakfast food from you for free.

As a guest, a free bar is great but I fully accept that it's a lot of money.
posted by mr_silver at 3:39 PM on August 14, 2010 [4 favorites]

Just serve beer and wine and pick up the tab. You can buy a lot of beer and wine for under $1000.
posted by tristeza at 3:40 PM on August 14, 2010

As someone who absolutely HATES beer and wine, I wouldn't be offended if it were just a beer & wine bar. Ok, no biggie, I'll have a coke/water/whatever. I would be offended if there was a full bar and I had to pay for my rum & coke.

I know it sounds silly, but ultimately, you're hosting a party. Would you host a cookout at your house and ask for a couple bucks every time someone grabbed a beer from the cooler?

I've been to a few dry weddings in my day. One because one of the people getting married was an alcoholic, others because (I'm assuming) financial issues. It was a non-issue for me. It probably was an issue for someone though. People expect open bar. Do what you want, you can't please everyone.

On preview: signature cocktail. Do that, if possible. Beer, wine, and the ljs30 martini.
posted by AlisonM at 3:40 PM on August 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Most weddings I've been to are open bar for an hour or until the bride and groom arrive from whatever it is they do after a wedding ceremony. Then the guests pay for their drinks. For one thing it will prevent , help prevent, otherwise normal people turning into lushes.

They're there to witness the ceremony and celebrate you and your new spouse. not drink all night for free.
posted by Gungho at 3:40 PM on August 14, 2010 [4 favorites]

My solution would be to serve no alcohol beyond the champagne toast.

A cash bar is tacky, and so are intoxicated relatives.
posted by archivist at 3:41 PM on August 14, 2010 [4 favorites]

Can you do a consumption bar instead and only pay for what people actually drink rather than a flat rate per person?
posted by pised at 3:41 PM on August 14, 2010

I disagree completely with the previous comments. Who expects to drink for free at a wedding?

You're in the UK and I'm from Ireland where it's the norm (as it would bankrupt you on our side of the pond!), but not over here. Wouldn't offend or upset me at all but I don't think I've ever been to a north american wedding with a cash bar. Limiting what's behind the bar is a good option as is the beer/wine only suggestion - it's definitely not worth going into debt so people can have their double vodkas.
posted by jamesonandwater at 3:43 PM on August 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

If I go to a wedding, I expect there to be a cash bar, with maybe open bar for the first hour or so.
posted by Ruki at 3:44 PM on August 14, 2010

With a wedding as big as what it sounds, I'd not be offended by a cash bar. Last big wedding I went to was a large Catholic affair, and it was my cousin, but I ponied up the cash just like everyone, including Grandma.
posted by deezil at 3:45 PM on August 14, 2010

I'm in New England, btw.
posted by Ruki at 3:45 PM on August 14, 2010

Having just gotten married myself, I completely understand your position and I feel for you. That being said, I think cash bars at weddings are tacky. I would opt for the beer/wine option to lower the cost or make it a dry affair.
posted by Nutritionista at 3:47 PM on August 14, 2010

As I think the answers up to this point suggest, opinions and guests expectations will vary pretty widely. Personally, I wouldn't be greatly disappointed by a dry wedding, but I would be more than slightly put off by a cash bar. The most fun weddings I've been to have all had open bars with a small selection of very inexpensive liquors, but I guess it really depends on what kind of reception you're looking to have. Beer/wine sounds to me like a great compromise.
posted by bluejayk at 3:48 PM on August 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Would you host a cookout at your house and ask for a couple bucks every time someone grabbed a beer from the cooler?

This. If you do something in the iffy category of tackiness (meaning that some/possibly many people would likely consider it tacky/cheap), that's the main thing people will remember about your wedding. I would strongly recommend having limited alcohol (beer, wine, signature cocktail if you want) that's free to guests, or just make it a dry wedding.

I do NOT think, though, that you should go dipping into your savings for this. If there's no way to reduce the alcohol cost by limiting offerings or something, I'd fall on the side of having no alcohol rather than having guests pay. But I am not a big drinker, so I'm biased. Others may really, really, really, really want to drink alcohol and they might prefer to have the option to purchase it.
posted by hansbrough at 3:50 PM on August 14, 2010 [3 favorites]

Not every individual who attends will be offended by a cash bar, but that does not make it a nice thing to do. They're your guests, you're the hosts, so it's your job to entertain them at your expense and within your means and their job to show up and accept your hospitality in the spirit in which you intended it - as an expression of your esteem for them. If you charge money for any part of your hospitality, you could make an impression that is at odds with your obviously good intentions.
posted by tel3path at 3:51 PM on August 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Don't invite someone to your house and demand money. Period. And even if it's in some reception hall, your invitation makes that the same as your house for a while. Cut back in some other way, chicken alking or something, don't demand money, unless you're saying you are a charity of some sort.

You don't have to get everyone there soused, but it's your party, don't ask for contributions after you the people are already there.
posted by Some1 at 3:52 PM on August 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

The funner weddings I've been at have all been open bars. Cash bar weddings, people tend to leave earlier and things are just a little duller.

For me, and I'm not a big drinker at all (probably less than 10 drinks per year), I think a cash bar is a worthwhile investment for a wedding - but I also am from a culture that tends to give cash/cheques as gifts, so I imagine a lot of the costs get recouped.
posted by backwards guitar at 3:54 PM on August 14, 2010

I'd suggest having a budget for alcohol but only serve beer & wine. People totally understand this is a way to economize and I think people will be way more understanding of a limited bar than a cash bar. If you're really worried about not having any hard liquor, would you consider offering one signature mixed a Cosmopolitan or something that could fit in with the "theme" of your wedding? The drink you had the night you met or something like that?.

We had a small wedding (50 people) on a very tight budget and EVERYONE was from out of town. We offered a nice selection of bottled beer, a keg of Sam Adams or something and then bottles of red and white wine. Also, besides not having hard liquor, we basically pre-bought the beer and wine and the bartenders understood that once it was gone, it was gone. Needless to say, we ended up with 1/2 a keg, a case of beer and about 7 bottles of wine at the end of the night...and we partied until 2:30 am!
posted by victoriab at 3:55 PM on August 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

I personally had beer and wine only at my reception. My husband and I were 23 and pretty broke :) My sister is getting married in 3 weeks and is having an open bar for five hours and switching to cash for the last hour, mostly to encourage people to sober up.

In my opinion, if you're definitely going to have alcohol, either of those will work. I do think having a cash bar all night is kind of tacky and as a party guest I don't particularly want to keep track of money all night.

I understand your financial concern for sure though. I would do just wine and beer again in a minute. 7 years later, people say they remember dancing all night at my wedding, not that they didn't have a cocktail.
posted by sugarfish at 4:00 PM on August 14, 2010

Agreeing with those suggesting beer and/or wine as a more cost effective alternative, with no cash bar. It may seem counter-intuitive, but no bar at all at a wedding is better than a bar you have to pay for.

Bonus points if the wine is tasty and the beer is local and interesting. It'd be worth taking the time beforehand to do some research and find vintages and brews that are cost-effective but delicious.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 4:01 PM on August 14, 2010

Most of the weddings I've been to have been totally dry or mostly dry with sparkling wine for the toasts. Do one of those things. Do not have a cash bar, and do not dip into your savings to pay for an open bar.
posted by shamash at 4:02 PM on August 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Alcohol is expensive, but I think you get a LOT more party for the dollar out of it compared to most other wedding costs. I like the beer and wine compromise.

And I'll throw out a crazy idea: perhaps a cocktail reception instead of dinner?
posted by monstrouspudding at 4:04 PM on August 14, 2010

Your first priority should be an open bar. Limit it to beer and wine if that works for you. But hospitality for your guests is the most important part of your wedding reception. Cut corners on almost anything else before you do a cash bar.

In light of this: "My fiance and her parents don't drink. They've voiced their opinion that there's no need for an open bar. They say they're not paying for people to come and drink," I'm wondering if there are cultural issues that imply that most of your guests don't drink? If that's the case, you could probably get away with serving non-alcoholic beverages but providing sparkling wine for toasts. But if you know in your heart of hearts that your guests generally drink and are going to expect alcohol to be part of a wedding reception, yeah, you kind of have to pony up.
posted by Sara C. at 4:09 PM on August 14, 2010

Channeling Miss Manners again: asking people to pay for their refreshments is the antithesis of gracious hospitality and celebration. Likewise, gracious guests don't grumble about the lack of free booze. The folks that do are usually the same ones who can't be trusted around an open bar anyway.
posted by space_cookie at 4:10 PM on August 14, 2010 [7 favorites]

If your wedding venue allows you to bring in your own beer/wine, then it's going to be a LOT cheaper than you think. Especially if you're buying from a place like Costco. A lot of places (Costco and liquor stores alike) will allow you to return what you haven't used as long as it hasn't been opened.

If your wedding venue requires that you use their own bar, you can always choose to pay per drink and shut the bar down (or make it cash bar) after you hit a certain amount.
posted by echo0720 at 4:11 PM on August 14, 2010

(and to actually answer the question you asked, personally, i think cash bars are tacky - for the reason you mentioned, people spend a lot of time/money to get to the wedding, I would hate to then ask them to pay for their own drinks)
posted by echo0720 at 4:12 PM on August 14, 2010

I just got married and we did beer, wine, and a couple of handles of hard liquor. I would not do a cash bar, personally. I think offering only beer and wine (or just one of the two) is a good compromise. You won't bankrupt yourself on booze and you can still feel like a gracious hostess.
posted by mmmbacon at 4:12 PM on August 14, 2010

I bet a local wine shop would make you a deal on case purchases. I'd put a bottle of white and a bottle of red on each table.

Then you can have fun picking out the real boozehounds, cuz they'll be the ones going table-to-table after dinner to see who didn't finish their wine.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 4:15 PM on August 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

You are asking a lot of people to sit together for a long amount of time. And they might not know each other well, be shy, or find weddings to be obligations. It could make for a boring wedding to have nothing at all. But mixed drinks are absolutely not needed.

Just do beer and wine. It will go a long way, save you money, and not seem tacky. One round of champagne might be nice for the toast.
posted by Vaike at 4:17 PM on August 14, 2010

Yes, people have travelled a long way to see you get married but (a) they didn't have to come (b) they knew what they were getting into (c) they got champagne at the reception from you for free and (d) they got the wedding breakfast food from you for free.

This is all really culture-specific and is generally not true from an American standpoint (at least my American standpoint - traditions vary even within the US).

a) I have certainly felt obligated to travel to weddings in the past - in fact almost every wedding I've attended has been a social obligation, not something I necessarily had the luxury to decline.

b) Unless you put it on the invitation (which is tacky IMO), they will not know what they're getting into.

c) n/a

d) Americans don't tend to do wedding breakfasts, and even at the reception itself food tends to be light. In my experience a full meal is more optional than a full bar, and I've been to lots of weddings where only hors d'oeuvres were served. Though this is something else that should be taken into consideration if people are traveling a long way - in that situation you REALLY need to be a good host and do right by your guests.
posted by Sara C. at 4:17 PM on August 14, 2010

I'm from the UK so I don't really see the issue with a cash bar.

Likewise. I've actually been to cash bar weddings in the US, and to weddings where the budgetary contortions to ensure an open bar meant that certain classes of guest were asked to show up at the reception late, which struck me as much more demeaning than asking guests to fork out for booze.

So, I'd like to say "provide the toasts and wine for the tables, but if your guests want to push the boat out, they can pay for it themselves", but apparently that's a cultural no-no that nobody ever spelled out to me before.
posted by holgate at 4:20 PM on August 14, 2010

Your first priority should be an open bar.

I couldn't agree more. Find other ways to cut corners in that $15,000 budget (Flowers, for example). And, if suggested above, half the crowd aren't drinkers that should allow you to keep the total down.
posted by cjets at 4:22 PM on August 14, 2010 [3 favorites]

Holy Christ. I am a big fan of drinking and I love an open bar and we had one at our wedding, but the idea that a cash bar is offensive is amazing to me. Either you folks don't attend a lot of weddings or you have some rich friends.

You can definitely try just beer & wine or a limited time for open bar (most locations will let you do a set amount and once it's gone it changes into a cash bar). My expectations about open vs. cash bar at a wedding are totally based on the couple. If I were going to a wedding of two rich people with no kids who were 40+, I guess a cash bar would seem tacky, but in any other case an open bar is gravy. Maybe wine/ beer/ gravy?


A Fan of Drinking
posted by yerfatma at 4:25 PM on August 14, 2010 [9 favorites]

At many weddings that I have attended (in the USA, fwiw), I have seen the hosts have an open bar for an hour or two before dinner, and then switch to a cash bar for the evening. I did not hear complaints from the guests about this arrangement, and everyone seemed to have a great time at the wedding. Just another data point to consider.
posted by philosophygeek at 4:25 PM on August 14, 2010

Open bar is definitely more important than flowers. The wedding is not just about you. If it were, you wouldn't be having a big wedding to begin with.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 4:29 PM on August 14, 2010 [3 favorites]

Echoing nearly everyone else, I would really really not go with a cash bar. You can do alcohol cheaply by doing beer and wine only, or liquor only. My catering book suggested that above a certain number of guests, it's cheaper to serve liquor only. I was surprised by that, but it makes sense. A bottle of wine serves 4 or so; a similarly-sized bottle of vodka or gin serves what, like 12 drinks? It's also worth thinking about how many people will actually be drinking and adjusting accordingly. I liked the book Bridal Bargains; maybe check it out for the authors' suggestions on this challenge.

There are other options for keeping the wedding inexpensive. Good friends had a mid-morning wedding; they served alcohol, but people are much less likely to drink or drink heavily. Dancing was a little awkward at first but with the right crowd that can be overcome.

We overcame the cost issue by having our wedding at a state park and doing everything ourselves. It was manageable but caused a lot of stress. The real cost savings there was that we didn't have servers and didn't have to pay a margin on anything. But it doesn't sound like that's the kind of wedding you're going for.
posted by emkelley at 4:30 PM on August 14, 2010

Serving hard liquor is mind-meltingly expensive. I don't like having guests pay for their drinks, but it's not hard for the bar tap to run into the many thousands with a decent sized wedding party.

I like the idea of putting some bottles of red and white on the table (note: no one drinks white wine. Hardly anyone, anyway. I usually figure 1 bottle of white per 6 red and have white left over) and then charging for the hard stuff at the bar. That wouldn't offend my sensibilities.

If you are allowed to buy your own stuff then you must do so. It will be one third the price. Maybe less. Don't have time? That's what the best man is for. Tell him to get down to BevMo/CostCo/whatever and strip the place bare. Ask the caterer how much you'll need (they'll know).

Mrs. Lurgi and I couldn't actually have hard liquor at our wedding. People drank wine and beer and were perfectly happy (and I was proud to note that the case of Corona that I had bought as a sop for those with uncultured palates was left untouched).
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 4:31 PM on August 14, 2010

Wedding guests should never, ever be expected to pay for the costs associated with having them. If you can't afford something, don't have it at your wedding - or trim your guest list. Have wine and beer only; have bottles of wine available at the tables with dinner (e.g., 2 bottles of white and 2 bottles of red per table, then that's it); or just have a champagne toast. I'd much rather attend a wedding where I was treated like a guest rather than a customer.
posted by pecanpies at 4:31 PM on August 14, 2010 [9 favorites]

Another vote for free beer & wine. I think it's a basic courtesy as the hosts and it skirts the pricey liquor problem with no points deducted.

With that said, while it would be momentarily odd if the bartender asked me to pay for my drink, I'd get over it pretty quickly and wouldn't dwell on it or associate it with the couple or the families.

I definitely don't recommend a dry wedding. It just helps to lube those social interactions with a lot of people, many of whom I don't know, and just in general to signify and promote a festive atmosphere. The one dry wedding I went to was dry indeed and a bunch of us left after having stayed an acceptable amount of time and all went out together. This was mid 20s people so ymmv.
posted by Askr at 4:34 PM on August 14, 2010

I had a cash bar, I'll admit it. I hated that we had to do it that way, but we were in no position to add $5k to the cost of our wedding - it was barebones as it was so we could invite everyone we wanted to come. We did 2 bottles of wine at each table (for 8 people) and a champagne toast on top of that as well. Really, ostensibly, you could get buzzed for free. I don't think three or four alcoholic drinks at a wedding is too few when the wedding's only a few hours long. But maybe I'm just trying to defend my tacky actions. Again, I wasn't dying to have a cash bar.

I wanted to do drink tickets (3/4 of our guests were regular club/bargoers and it could've been kitschy to have customized ones) but no one else was on board. Maybe people hate us for it to this day, but everyone save a very select few travelled less than 1/2 hour for the wedding and parking and stuff was plentiful and free. I've been to weddings in major cities where I had to pay for parking. I think because most of our guests were also broke 20-somethings accustomed to club and bar culture, they weren't really sad by the lack of cash bar, but again, they could hate us to this day.
posted by kpht at 4:36 PM on August 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think this also might be a regional issue, I'm from northern NJ and I have never gone to a wedding in the metro NYC area with a cash bar. I had no idea cash bars even existed until I started to going to weddings in the South and Midwest. I personally think cash bars are in poor taste, but I wouldn't boycott the wedding or anything. I think that if you are inviting people to celebrate, you don't ask them to pay for it. My husband, on the other hand, is actually offended at the idea of a cash bar. We went to a wedding last weekend with a surprise cash bar and he was extremely grumpy about it.
posted by crankylex at 4:41 PM on August 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've been to weddings with cash bars, weddings with open bars, weddings with an open bar only during a post-ceremony cocktail hour and just one glass of champagne with dinner, and dry weddings. It just depends on how you manage expectations.

At one cash bar wedding, where the bride and groom had been telling us (the friends) for weeks about all the great wine they'd picked out "for everyone" at their wedding. At the reception I discovered the only free wine that they had picked out was an incredibly sweet, practically dessert-ish wine, and I hadn't come prepared with much cash for the cash bar that had any beverages at all palatable with dinner. They'd focused so much on telling us about the wine, they had never mentioned anything else was cash bar only.

The other was at a good friend's wedding, where she'd told several of us in advance that the bar was open for beer and wine all night, and cocktails were cash only (as a budget-saving measure). Unfortunately through miscommunication with the venue, the venue instead opened the bar completely up to a certain dollar amount (which was immediately taken up by multiple rounds of shots for some of the guests), so by the time any of us was going for wine with our dinner, it had switched to cash-only and, as with this other wedding, I hadn't brought any cash because I thought I was sticking with free wine all night.

So on one hand, I was a little annoyed that I wasn't properly prepared to have the drinks I thought I'd get to have. It might have been a little more tipsy dancing fun if I'd had the cash on hand for another drink or two. But honestly, in the end, my friends all still got married, everyone still had a blast, and it was not that big a deal.

tl;dr: Whatever you decide to do, mention it to some of your guests well in advance so they can pass it around to everyone else, so that everyone knows what to expect. The worst thing is to be expecting free drinks and show up without any cash. In the end, it really doesn't matter THAT much.
posted by olinerd at 4:43 PM on August 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

Miss Manners answers this question all the time. You should have the wedding within your means. A cash bar is ipso facto evidence that the wedding is not within your means. If you can't provide beer and wine without expecting payment, then you should do one of the following (a) not provide it at all, (b) cut back somewhere else, or (c) invite fewer guests. I'm guessing it's too late for option (c) now. Personally, I think having no bar at all is a better option than having a cash bar, but others (including some of your guests) will disagree.

Maybe people hate us for it to this day

This is a straw man—these are supposed to be your loved ones. Personally I give marrying couples a lot of slack, because I know organizing one is majorly stressful. I would never comment on the cash bar to the hosts or other guests.

The question isn't whether your guests will find a cash bar "offensive" or "hate you" for it. The question is whether you should have a cash bar. No, you shouldn't.
posted by grouse at 4:46 PM on August 14, 2010 [10 favorites]

No, in standard USA etiquette you can't have a cash bar even if you are from the South or Midwest. It violates the hospitality principle.
posted by tel3path at 4:49 PM on August 14, 2010

I whole heartedly disagree that an open bar should be a priority. It's a wedding, not a frat party.

Weddings are about friends and family ushering in their loved ones into a new phase in their lives. If you can't do this without three Manhattans under your belt then your idea of being a good guest needs some tinkering.

Hospitality requires that the hosts entertain as warmly and generously as they can within their reasonable means. It's rude to expect guests to make up the difference between their budgetary realities and their party fantasies. It would be unconscionable to, say, budget a meal at $15 bucks a head, but give the option for a $30 meal if the guest is will pony up the difference. I think booze follows the same principle. If you can't afford it, don't serve it.
posted by space_cookie at 4:50 PM on August 14, 2010 [15 favorites]

We had an open bar for a couple of hours and then beer and wine after that - seemed OK to me! An open bar for the whole night would be really expensive, so figure out how long you can afford to have it open, and then be sure to pass the word that the bar is closing at a certain time.

But no cash bar. If you can't afford to have an open bar at all, just go for beer and wine if you can afford it.
posted by thatone at 4:54 PM on August 14, 2010

I think a cash bar is tacky. Open bar or no bar at all. Both are fine options.
posted by inturnaround at 5:03 PM on August 14, 2010

Last big wedding I went to was a large Catholic affair, and it was my cousin

The cash bar wedding I attended was a large Catholic affair in NJ. I'm now really curious about the socio-geographical atlas of paying for your drinks at weddings in the US.

To my mind, hospitality entails providing your guests with enough booze to warm their cockles, while those who want to pass out under the table do it from their own wallets. Also, Miss Manners can fuck off.
posted by holgate at 5:07 PM on August 14, 2010 [5 favorites]

Wow, I am amazed at the amount of people who are making out like a cash bar is the worst thing ever. Your guests are there for your wedding, not for a free party.

We had a cash bar at our wedding, but it was a hybrid. We bought all of the booze ourselves, and after the ceremony, everyone got lots of bubbly and nibbles. There were also bottles of wine on the table, and there was plenty of wine to last the whole evening for wine drinkers. If anyone wanted hard drinks, they helped themselves to our honesty bar, which was basically £1/drink. Most people just chucked in a tenner at the beginning of the night then drank without worrying about it. That was great for us - it offset the costs, but it wasn't an expensive night for our guests.

And yes, I live in the UK so things are different here, but I'm also from the States, and I'm still reeling from how many people are calling this tacky. Your guests are there to celebrate your happy occasion - decide what is best for you and don't let what other people think bother you.
posted by ukdanae at 5:20 PM on August 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

Your guests are there for your wedding, not for a free party.

wedding = free party, last I heard. I mean, sure, there's the ceremonial aspect of it, but I've literally never even heard of anyone having a ceremony and no reception (even in the "would it be terribly gauche?" sense). And reception is a synonym for party.

Also, there's something that I think is getting lost in this conversation. I can't speak for others, but when I've said that a cash bar is tacky, I'm saying that the decision not to provide free alcoholic beverages at all, but to make a cash bar available your guests to pay for any alcohol they may want to consume, is tacky. Serve only beer and wine, or serve only wine at the tables to be consumed with dinner, or serve only sparkling wine for a toast, sure.

I guess the idea here is that we associate weddings with parties, and parties with alcoholic beverages*. Not to provide the latter implies that you're not being a good host.

I think an "honesty bar" or BYOB could work if it was a very casual wedding - but then it had damn well be a very casual wedding. If the bride is wearing a $2000 gown and the reception is being held at a country club, you pony up and be a good host. Period.

*Unless it's a wedding among certain religious/cultural groups where alcohol is taboo. But then you have a dry wedding, you don't try to squeeze cash out of people as some sort of penalty for being lushes.
posted by Sara C. at 5:34 PM on August 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

in standard USA etiquette you can't have a cash bar even if you are from the South or Midwest.

Um, what is that supposed to mean? Because it sounds like a stereotype-based slur. Surely I misunderstand you.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 5:34 PM on August 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

No, I was responding to a comment from crankylex "I had no idea cash bars even existed until I started to going to weddings in the South and Midwest." My point was that it's not a regional thing.
posted by tel3path at 5:37 PM on August 14, 2010

No, you should absolutely NOT have a cash bar at your wedding - at least not in the U.S.

You decide on your guest list, then you decide on how you can afford to entertain those guests within YOUR budget, not theirs. If you cannot afford to pay for liquor, don't. If you can only afford to pay for a certain amount of liquor, or beer, or wine, then you pay for that, and when it's gone it's gone. If you can't afford to pay for it, then you don't offer it, and if your guests are unpleasant about it, that's their fault and problem, not yours.

If you choose not to serve liquor, that's absolutely fine - we had beer and wine at our wedding and everyone was perfectly happy. And that wasn't even because we couldn't afford it; we just chose to limit the selection so that 1) there were fewer barroom brawls and 2) we could serve *really good* beer and wine, and a lot of it.

If you feel like you must offer an alcoholic option, find other places to cut corners. But people are coming to a celebration someone is hosting - not heading out to the corner bar for a drink they should expect to pay for out of their own pockets. Be a good host. Take care of your guests appropriately.

But do not ask your guests to finance the wedding you *want* to have - you finance your own celebration. I'm not an old fuddy-duddy (well, maybe I am) but this is just one of those things, like throwing your own baby shower, that I think Is Just Not Done In Polite Company.
posted by Lulu's Pink Converse at 5:37 PM on August 14, 2010 [5 favorites]

The last two weddings I've attended. (family - cousins) have been cash bars, and I expect the one coming up next month will be as well. It doesn't "offend" me, but frankly I would prefer not to have to pay to take the edge off an event that I didn't really want to attend in the first place.

If it was a friend's wedding - somewhere I really wanted to be - then I wouldn't really mind, I guess.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 5:41 PM on August 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

Ah, weddings, where it's tacky to ask your second cousin to pay four bucks for a cocktail but classy to ask him to pay eighty bucks for a soup pot you picked out.

There's one important thing I think people are overlooking in this question, which is that asker's wife-to-be and her parents have already decided that having an open bar isn't important and isn't worth their money.

No, I don't think you should deplete your savings account as you and your wife prepare to start your joint financial life. But actually, what I think isn't important. What's important is that your WIFE doesn't think this is a good use of what's in your savings account -- which, in December, is going to be BOTH of your savings accounts. If you've got to choose between offending your second cousin or your wife -- sorry, cuz.

If there's something you can do cheaply -- like, open beer and wine before the first dance -- sure, go ahead. If not, just don't serve alcohol. Plenty of weddings don't.
posted by escabeche at 5:42 PM on August 14, 2010 [6 favorites]

People are there to celebrate your wedding, not get drunk. Have a cash bar. There is no reason to go into debt for some cheap inebriates (BTW, I love to drink and would find a cash bar at a wedding ok).If you feel that a cash bar is "cheap," only serve wine (and only wine of a middling sort).
posted by fifilaru at 5:42 PM on August 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Well, at our wedding we offered free beer and house wine (as much as you can drink). Anything else (spirits, brand-name wine, imported beer) was cash. We could have had an open bar - my father in law would have paid for it - but the reception host advised me that it is just an excuse for some guests to get totally shit-faced. Knowing some of my relatives, this was not bad advice!

Speak with the host or caterer of your reception - you should be able to work out a cost per head that would suit you. We were given four "per head" costs - 1) dry 2) local beer and house wine 3) local and imported beer and house wine 4) open bar. Let me tell you that 4) was waaayyy more expensive than even 3). We went for 2) as I mentioned.

I would talk with your parents-in-law to be, and ask them if they would at least consider local beer and house wine only. Also, a point with the cash bar - if they are *that* anti-drink, will even a cash bar upset them?
posted by humpy at 5:45 PM on August 14, 2010 [3 favorites]

escabeche - To be honest, I find registries gauche, myself. Unless you're 18 years old, chances are you already either have all the household stuff you need, or you have the money to obtain it. I think wedding registries made sense in the time before consumer goods were so cheap and easy to get, which coincided with the period when people who were getting married were leaving their parents' homes to establish their own independent household for the first time. Nowadays? Buy your own goddamn soup tureen.

However, I know nobody agrees with me on the wedding registry front, not even my fellow radical feminist anti-marriage folks.
posted by Sara C. at 5:48 PM on August 14, 2010 [5 favorites]

People will understand an attempt to economize, but they will regard having to pay for something (or its blatant absence) as tacky.

For example, if you can't afford a live wedding band, and you have a DJ, people will still enjoy themselves. There's music, and people can get up and have a good time. A pay-jukebox would be regarded as tacky, and the absence of music would make the wedding seem dead.

Likewise, a beer-and-wine open bar would be considered fine (I like the bottles-of-wine-on-the-tables idea, too), but a cash bar or dry wedding would seem cheap or tacky. Not that I haven't seen it done, but in that case the bride wanted no alcohol served but the venue wanted to make money off the cash bar so they acted like they didn't hear her request.
posted by deanc at 5:49 PM on August 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

I live in the UK, and expect to be married in the UK, and I've seen many episodes of Four Weddings and I would never expect to have a cash bar. Invite how many people you can afford to accommodate, or elope.
posted by goo at 5:53 PM on August 14, 2010

So you've got a hard $15,000 cap on costs. Based on the comments above, there's a general agreement that a straight-up cash bar is tacky. Yes, some people don't see it that way, but that's not going to change the mind of the rest of the crowd.

So don't have a cash bar. Can you play with some other costs to get some beer and wine? Can you hire five $400 suits instead of five $600 ones? I'd say some beer and wine with dinner would add more to the occassion than someone's clothes being a little bit nicer, or the flowers being a little bit more impressive.

Your fiance's parents say 'they're not paying for people to come and drink'. If you play with the budget will they still be opposed to it? In that case, no budgetary solution will solve the problem, as they still won't be interested. Perhaps you could ask your parents to reduce the cost of the rehearsal dinner somehow, and use that money to go towards drinks at the reception?
posted by twirlypen at 5:53 PM on August 14, 2010

There's one important thing I think people are overlooking in this question, which is that asker's wife-to-be and her parents have already decided that having an open bar isn't important and isn't worth their money.

Then they have a dry wedding and toast with lemonade or sparkling cider, and if people want to hit the local bar after the reception, they're welcome to do that on their own time. It's extremely tacky to clutch one's pearls over the idea that People! might Drink Alcohol! at a gathering you plan to host, but then also be willing to enable such undesirable behavior via a for-profit scheme.
posted by Sara C. at 5:54 PM on August 14, 2010

Another vote against a cash bar - I've been at weddings where the bride and groom could afford only KoolAid and snacks, and it was infinitely better than being asked to take out my wallet at a social event. When I lived in the UK, I was always vaguely horrified by people whose flash cars represented many months' income offering only a cash bar option. It's the norm there but I never managed to adjust.

Treat your guests like guests at any level you can afford - not paying customers.
posted by mozhet at 6:00 PM on August 14, 2010 [3 favorites]

My wife answered above but I wanted to add my 2 sesterce to the pot. A cash bar is tacky. Beyond that it feels dismissive of just how much effort some people expended getting to the occasion. We just returned from a wedding last week, and have three more to attend before the end of the year. We also just got married some 6 months ago (justice of the peace, partly so we wouldn't be spending money we didn't have) and we aren't rolling in money by any stretch of the imagination. All but one is mandatory (they're family, so fat chance getting out of them) and just in travel and miscellaneous expenses we'll easily be in the low couple thousands of dollars when all is said and done. Driving hundreds of miles or flying thousands of miles (which we'll be doing in a few weeks time) to a cash bar wedding feels to me a lot like helping someone do something rather major, without so much as a thank you in return. Even if you ignore what your guests had to go through to get to the wedding, how can you ignore that your guests will be bringing you gifts (hopefully large gifts of the monetary sort) and that you'd surely think them "tacky" anyone who came to your occasion empty handed? So think of it this way;

"Dear guest, who has very likely traveled many miles at great expense and will most likely give us a gift of not insignificant value, we thank and welcome you now with a cold drink of your choice and a thank you card at a later time to be determined."

If you can't afford to welcome your guests with a thank you and a small, purely symbolic token of your appreciation then I suggest that you either cut back someplace else or just have a smaller/different style wedding that you can actually afford.

All of this being said I can totally get behind a hybrid cash/open bar, where perhaps wine and beer are covered and hard liquor is cash. Of course, if there are cultural/religious considerations, or half of the family or guests are recovering alcoholics then certainly a dry wedding would be the wisest choice. But that you are asking this question leads me to believe that these are not relevant considerations for your wedding.
posted by chosemerveilleux at 6:17 PM on August 14, 2010

Wow, every wedding I ever attended had cash bars, with the exception of one that served no liquor for religious reasons.

At the most recent, where two tasteful billionaires married each other (and fed the guests steaks and pheasants, and paid for taxis to the site) table wines were provided, and the bar was open for the first two hours. After that, the best man and the father of the bride wandered around socializing and supplying handfuls of extra free drink tickets. It was absolutely not tacky, and absolutely not a money-saving measure. In the end, I don't believe any guest paid for a single drink, despite the "cash bar" designation.

I think the presumption of entitlement that comes along with an open bar encourages people to drink more than they usually would, and to behave as if the drinks are free instead of a gift from their hosts. The extra free drink tickets made sure that nobody felt shortchanged, and also that people paced themselves, rationing their own consumption. The people who wanted to get drunk got their head start early in the evening, and tapered off naturally. Nobody's vomiting stumbly uncle was overserved, and guests felt valued, like the father of the bride was buying them, individually, a drink. Which he was!

(I'm not trying to say that people should be more grateful at receptions -- that was just a side effect.)

Of course, I am aware this might be a cultural difference -- I'm in Canada -- but really, I don't see what's so tacky about it.
posted by Sallyfur at 6:24 PM on August 14, 2010

When I was married in New England in 1997, the inn where it was held gave us some pretty strong legal documents to sign in the event we opted for an open bar. We decided on a toast and nothing more. Guests were free to order whatever they wanted, but had to pay for their own drinks.
Look into the legal aspects in your area as another consideration.
posted by littleflowers at 6:33 PM on August 14, 2010

Alcohol is expensive. I don't think a cash bar is tacky, because you're providing these people a free meal and alcohol is optional... it's not like you're asking them to pay for soda. And you're providing a good, unlike the extremely tacky dollar dances where you pay money to get the "privelege" of dancing with the bride.
posted by IndigoRain at 6:39 PM on August 14, 2010

The main thing to keep in mind here, ljs30, is that this is not as important as it feels right now. Five years from today, very few if any of your guests are going to remember what the alcohol arrangements were at your wedding, even if they're put out about it at the time.

Look, here's the complete list of things about weddings that actually stick in people's minds:

* Groom doesn't show up
* Bride doesn't show up
* Bride is pregnant

"What I drank and who paid for it" isn't on that list, so you're good.
posted by escabeche at 6:55 PM on August 14, 2010 [5 favorites]

There are a lot of comments in this thread, so forgive me if I'm making a duplicate suggestion here because I stopped about 1/3 of the way down to write this.

First, agreeing with all the others who have said a cash bar is a little tacky. If you can provide just beer & wine, you'd not be disappointing any guest who came to your reception hoping to see a bar. It's a very economical option.

Second, if you had in mind a full bar, does your venue or catering contract allow you to buy the bottles and have the bar staff serve only that? The advantage to this is that if a bottle gets opened you still get to take it home, as with any unopened bottles you brought with you. Some bar contracts charge you per open bottle, whether it's 5% full at the end of the night or 95% full, which I would have to say is a grand ripoff. For what it's worth, this is how we did it at my sister's wedding and it worked out great. Bonus: they had about 5 years' worth of liquor and wine at their house afterward, as I suppose there was a certain amount of over-estimation. (We're Irish Catholic, of course we expected people to drink!)

While I think it's cool to respect your future in-laws' teetotaling habits, the biggest party of your life calls for some compromise. Especially if the bride & groom are the ones footing the bill.
posted by contessa at 6:57 PM on August 14, 2010

Mark me down for being surprised (almost shocked) at so many folks coming down against cash bars as tacky. Every wedding I've been to in recent memory has had a cash bar, except for the ones put on by folks with deep, deep pockets. Having no bar at all is the unthinkable option, IMO.

But like Sallyfur, I'm from Canada.
posted by freem at 6:59 PM on August 14, 2010 [4 favorites]

Sorry, I think a cash bar is tacky, too. I think just beer and wine is totally fine, and I think open bar for x hours then cash is fine.

Her parents, not being drinkers, may regard alcohol as something consumed solely for intoxication, and thus they see no reason to pay for the guests to basically be doing drugs at your wedding. Try to get it across to them that offering someone a drink really is a significant custom of hospitality, and that drunkenness is not really the goal. (I can't think of a great example of something else similarly imbued with cultural tradition that would seem superfluous to someone from another culture, unfortunately.)
posted by desuetude at 7:03 PM on August 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

at our wedding we paid for beer & wine, and had liquor on cash basis. all were served at the bar. it seemed really simple to me, and the few people who really wanted mixed drinks got them, without any particular angst that I'm aware of.
posted by toodleydoodley at 7:08 PM on August 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

roomthreeseventeen writes "Open bar is definitely more important than flowers. The wedding is not just about you. If it were, you wouldn't be having a big wedding to begin with."

As indicated above maybe this is a regional thing (or maybe my family and social circle is cheap) but I've been to plenty of weddings in Canada and exactly one had an unlimited open bar (but it was a big drinking wedding; there was also beer and coolers served at the ceremony). A limited amount of wine per table or a limited amount of wine + cash bar was otherwise the norm.
posted by Mitheral at 7:12 PM on August 14, 2010

desuetude - a good example would be a cake, actually. Sweets are considered sort of superfluous to most people. But it's pretty important to serve them when you're entertaining guests, even if it's just fruit, or supermarket brand ice cream, or brownies out of a mix. And a wedding without cake is almost blasphemous. But if you decided that you weren't going to have wedding cake or any comparable dessert, because "what, are we throwing this party so people can just come and gorge themselves on fatty junkfood?!" - people would be pretty shocked by that.

Of course, with alcohol it's sort of understandable thanks to the puritanical attitudes of some prevalent religious groups within the US and Canada - so even if you didn't grow up Mormon or Southern Baptist or whatever, chances are the culture of where you grew up was influenced by the temperance movement of the 19th century. Whereas I don't think there are any predominant societies on earth that see indulging in sweets in moderation as a horrible sin for which you will be eternally damned.

And all the Brits in this thread seem to be assuming we're talking about whether unlimited hard liquor cocktails should be available - they're not even conceiving of an alcohol-free wedding!
posted by Sara C. at 7:17 PM on August 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

We had a similar budget to yours and managed to meet it. We had wine served with our dinner, and cocktails before we arrived. After that it was a cash bar but we put down enough money for everyone to have one or two free drinks, and gave my father (groom's side) a long strip of tickets so that he could make sure anyone who was looking for a drink could get one without paying.

Guests loved it, my dad loved it, and it came out to WAY less than an open bar would have cost for 6-8 hours. We're Canadian, if that matters.
posted by furtive at 7:18 PM on August 14, 2010

If it's data you want, I got married about three weeks ago. We had 200 guests (say 160 adules) and an open bar. Total bar tab for the night was $2800 including white and red wine on every table (fairly inexpensive ~$12 bottles).

This was less than we expected, and quite a few people got completely smashed (which was awesome).

We were of the thought of many posters above - our town is pretty tough to get to, and I didn't want to drag someone all the way here and have them shell out cash for drinks at our party.
posted by davey_darling at 7:36 PM on August 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

And a wedding without cake is almost blasphemous.

You can betcha that if the price of a wedding cake added 30% to the cost of the entire wedding, which is what the asker is talking about, there would be plenty of folks who didn't do it.
posted by escabeche at 7:37 PM on August 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

I've been to one wedding with cash bar, and while I didn't think it was tacky exactly, I was completely surprised and embarrassed by it. I went up, ordered a drink, and the bartender asked me for $5 or whatever it was -- and I had no cash because I'd had no idea it was a cash bar and I hadn't brought money to the wedding. So after a very awkward exchange, I went back to my seat feeling humiliated and confused.

If people aren't expecting it, it's bad. (So obviously it depends on expectations among your group.)
For myself, I would much rather have soft drinks, or just wine, or beer/wine, than a cash bar.
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:38 PM on August 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

We had a dry reception. No alcohol was served - not even champagne. No one even noticed. Seriously. There was singing, dancing and fun times until the venue asked us to leave because it was time for them to close.*

If you invite someone to a party I think it's implied you are treating them. If you can't afford the treat, just forgo it. (Personally I've never found a cash bar tacky, though.)

*ymmv depending on your family/friends of course.
posted by geekchic at 7:44 PM on August 14, 2010

I know a lot of people get really pissy and find it tacky, but you also have to keep in mind that if you have an open bar, there will be a lot of wasted booze. People will forget where their drink is, or it will get warm, and hey, it's free, right? So they'll just go get another, or two or three because if they don't finish it, it's not like they wasted their money. Except they've wasted yours (unless you get a usually-high flat rate per guest), and those drinks add up quickly. Even if you expect every one of your guests to act responsibly and appropriately, there will most likely be a few who will surprise you. And a surprise! terribly high open bar bill on what's supposed to be the most awesome day of your life may not be so great.

I really don't think you should do nothing for your guests, but wine on tables and/or an open bar hour/drink tickets should satisfy the majority who want a few drinks with dinner/dancing. As a host, you're also responsible for making sure all your guests get home safely, as well. I'm not of the mind that you should spend beyond your means to satiate every guest's alcohol consumption. And I'm a girl who likes her booze (and who doesn't mind or care about a cash bar, no matter how far she's travelled).
posted by kpht at 7:44 PM on August 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yerfatma: I'm glad you got to have a wedding where a high price of admission was such a beneficial force, driving away unwanted guests.

My own experience has been that I go to lengths to attend the weddings of people I care about, and I presume that I am wanted and the hosts want the guests to feel comfortable. (Right? We all like each other on both sides of this equation?) I presume that the OP wants his guests to feel comfortable and that's why he's asking this question. I'm saying if you're not expecting it, a cash bar can produce an uncomfortable experience, which is what hosts try to avoid. He needs to think about what people he's inviting will expect, what's the norm in their social group. If a cash bar will be a surprise, maybe it's the kinder option to have just wine, for example. To me that would cause less social discomfort. Social discomfort at a wedding is obviously not "like living through Nazi Germany", but it's what the OP is trying to minimize, because he likes his guests, so that's what we're talking about.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:05 PM on August 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

all the Brits in this thread seem to be assuming we're talking about whether unlimited hard liquor cocktails should be available--

Well, no. But in an attempt to reach across the cultural divide here, it might be worth agreeing on common definitions within the context of this thread.

For me, "cash bar" in the context of a wedding means "There is a bar. If you get up and go to the bar to buy drinks additional to those provided at the table, you pay cash." This, to me, seems unobjectionable, and certainly not profiteering on the part of the hosts. If, by "cash bar", you mean "if you want to drink at all, you'll need to buy it from the bar", then that's uncomfortable, but so is the idea of having a booze ration that, once used up, renders the party dry, save for those who have smuggled in hip flasks.

In the context of the question, that translates to "budget for wine on tables, plus toast, perhaps drink tickets or a limited pre-prandial open bar for those who don't like wine." Distinguishing between "table drinks" and "bar drinks" also allows a degree of sensitivity to the bride-to-be, her parents and other non-drinkers when seating everyone.

--they're not even conceiving of an alcohol-free wedding!

I'm sure they can conceive of such a thing, though they might have more experience of weddings where the officiant is first in line at the (cash) bar.
posted by holgate at 8:14 PM on August 14, 2010 [4 favorites]

[few comments removed. seriously what is wrong with you guys?]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:26 PM on August 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

To get back to practicalities, a common rule of thumb for "wine on the table" is "half a bottle per person plus a glass of fizzypop", and then the question becomes whether it's more economical to go with the venue's wine list, or pay the corkage and buy your own wine from somewhere with a generous case discount and a decent return policy (see previously). Either way, I think it crosses the hospitality threshold without busting your budget.
posted by holgate at 8:36 PM on August 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've been to one wedding with cash bar, and while I didn't think it was tacky exactly, I was completely surprised and embarrassed by it. I went up, ordered a drink, and the bartender asked me for $5 or whatever it was -- and I had no cash because I'd had no idea it was a cash bar and I hadn't brought money to the wedding. So after a very awkward exchange, I went back to my seat feeling humiliated and confused.

Seconded. Also, logistically, it gums up the works and creates an even longer line at the bar when the bartenders have to take money and make change.

holgate, by "cash bar" I think a lot of us are indeed envisioning that all alcohol is provided through the bar.
posted by desuetude at 8:38 PM on August 14, 2010

Re a half-bottle of wine per person - maybe I'm the only responsible/considerate/lightweight out there, but that's about the maximum of what I'd drink with an open bar limited to beer or wine. Maybe a slight uptick if I put my glass down, went off to dance, and came back to discover that the busboy had cleared it away by accident. Is it realistic to think that most people are going to drink to excess in a situation like this?
posted by Sara C. at 8:42 PM on August 14, 2010

At my wedding in Poland, we did the standard expected thing: huge crates of vodka, free and unlimited, with every guest getting as shitfaced as they wanted and nobody needing to leave until they were good and ready. The last guests left at 8am the next morning.
posted by Meatbomb at 8:50 PM on August 14, 2010 [6 favorites]

Since you're doing the rest of the financing in the traditional way, it might interest you to know that the groom's family traditionally covers alcohol for the wedding reception. Could this be why the bride's family is suggesting cash bar -- they're thinking they shouldnt be the ones paying for this?

Nthing that if you go with just beer/wine, it shouldn't be too expensive.
posted by palliser at 9:19 PM on August 14, 2010

I'd just like to say that as someone who really enjoys a drink or two at weddings to help calm the social anxiety, I would Far Prefer a cash bar to the totally dry wedding advocated above. An open bar is nice, or the open bar during pictures but like others here have mentioned, but I will never think less of non-millionaires if I have to pay for my own booze at their wedding.

As others have said, communication through friends is great - whatever you opt for, just spread the word through friends. And mazel tov on your impending nuptials!
posted by ldthomps at 9:29 PM on August 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

i fucking hate american weddings. do it up like ireland and if your guests want to get shitfaced they can pay for the beer until it runs out, bitch about it for five minutes, then dance until the hotel shuts them down (man, that was an awesome wedding i stumbled into in ennis that one time).

seriously, do what you can afford to do. have you seen reality shows? no one is tasteful or tactful or classy anymore? should they be? yes. but apparently no one else is, so you're under no obligation to be either.

if you can't afford an open bar, don't dig into your savings for it. you'd much rather have those savings for an emergency, wouldn't you?
posted by misanthropicsarah at 9:33 PM on August 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Coming back to this thread, I have a change of heart. Really, if people love you and support you, who cares about the details. It is about you, your partner, and the love you commit to. Do what you need to do financially. If they love you they should support you without judgment.
posted by Vaike at 11:25 PM on August 14, 2010 [3 favorites]

I am in the US (NYC-area), have been to dozens of weddings in the past two years, and have never been to a wedding with a cash bar, and I agree that is is tacky. However, I have never planned or financed a wedding.

However, I agree with the comments above me--guests should not be expected to pay for any part of the event (even if it's optional). If you wanted to be able to provide other dessert options other than cake (assuming you were having wedding cake), would you ask guests to pay for them?

I like the idea of unlimited beer and wine that you can provide yourselves--you could even make cutesy wine labels as your table numbers or something. Or an open bar during cocktail hour only, then wine and beer during dinner/dancing?
posted by inertia at 1:19 AM on August 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Where I'm from, cash / open bar refers to hard liquor or cocktails only. When I got married (at a winery), we were given the option of wine and beer open plus or minus hard liquor cash. If we wanted a completely open bar, we were asked to put down an additional $2K damage deposit. We elected for wine and beer open; the venue provided 5 wines and 3 beers, plus soft drinks, tea and coffee, and sparkling water. I figured that if that was insufficient for someone, they were welcome to wander into the main part of the winery and buy their scotch and soda or whatever at the retail bar out there. But I really didn't want to have a cash bar; it offended my delicate sensibilities.

For our 115-person wedding, btw, the alcohol costs were something like $1100. The facility only charged us for bottles opened. I see absolutely nothing wrong with providing wine & beer only, particularly as I got married at noon; if someone really needs to be drinking unlimited vodka gimlets at 2 PM to have a good time, their problem is not with me.
posted by KathrynT at 2:01 AM on August 15, 2010

Another idea instead of a cash bar, is to have, beer, wine and one signature cocktail that is served. This way you have something different that you picked out but, not an entire open bar to pay for. I would never have a cash bar though, as I wouldn't want my guests to be uncomfortable when they realize that drink they ordered was 5 dollars and they have no cash on them.
posted by SuzySmith at 3:51 AM on August 15, 2010

Inviting people to a party and then charging them money is tacky. (*) Especially a party where large gifts are the norm.

The only way for this to work is if it is at a restaurant/tavern/club kind of place where everyone eats, and then joins the regular crowd for the rest of the evening.

Also: yes, a half a bottle per person is pretty standard. This is two standard-ish glasses per person.

(*) Unless it is a raging kegger.
posted by gjc at 5:21 AM on August 15, 2010

I know this is late but...its all cultural. If you've been to several cash bar weddings that means its probably kosher. If every wedding you have ever been to has an open bar then you gotta do an open bar - but just do beer and wine. A dry wedding I would probably leave as soon as I could.

I love the anti-alcohol sentiment expressed by some people here btw.

I personally have never been to a non-open bar wedding in the US and imagine that had my own wedding been cash bar my friends would still be giving me shit for it.
posted by JPD at 6:58 AM on August 15, 2010

I am honored to be invited to someone's wedding. I'd be absolutely ashamed if I took any umbrage because the hosts were not willing to buy me free alcohol.

Weddings are expensive, and people in this thread are saying that wedding = free party? And they need alcohol to have fun?

Someone said they'd be offended if the host asks him to pay for refreshments. Alcohol is not "refreshments." Maybe I'd be upset if I had to pay for a glass of water. Alcohol is expensive.

I shake my head with sadness when I read this thread. I hope my friends are not as petty as the people here. Unfortunately I could be wrong.
posted by massysett at 7:06 AM on August 15, 2010 [3 favorites]

I have been to a few large weddings where the beer and wine was complimentary, but they also provided a limited-selection cash bar for mixed drinks and liquor. That seemed to work perfectly fine.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:14 AM on August 15, 2010

wedding = free party? And they need alcohol to have fun?

a wedding reception isn't a free party, but it is a party and yes some people like alcohol to have fun .

You can get married without a reception you know.
posted by JPD at 7:17 AM on August 15, 2010

My vote is for VERY tacky. Data point--I have gone to weddings mostly in the northeast and in Texas and have never seen a cash bar. I wouldn't be mad or resent coming out of pocket another 20 bucks for drinks, but I would certainly raise an eyebrow. For me it would be like asking people to pay a cover charge to get into the reception if they intend to drink....which it is except that the money is not collected at the bar and not the door (and no hand stamp).

I do think it is COMPLETELY acceptable to only offer beer and wine though. If you need to save money, trim the fat elsewhere. I can guarantee that no one will notice missing flower centerpieces or a cheaper wedding dress or the chocolate fountain or other decorations. Nor will anyone mind food served buffet style as opposed to sit down service, a DJ instead of a live band, or a less expensive reception venue, and no one will blink an eye if you all are transported from church to the reception in your own car as opposed to a limo.

You can keep the costs down elsewhere so please don't ask people to pay for their own drinks if they want them.
posted by murrey at 7:31 AM on August 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

I hope my friends are not as petty as the people here.

To me it's a cultural issue, not a petty/materialistic issue.

If you come from a culture where "party" implies there will be alcohol, it is your responsibility as a host to cover that to the extent that your budget allows. Especially if your budget allows for you to otherwise throw a formal wedding.

If you come from a culture where "party" does not imply alcohol, then you're in the clear of the responsibility to provide it. However, if your parties don't usually have alcohol (especially if there is a social stigma against drinking), it's still gauche to have a cash bar. Either you're for people drinking and you provide that to the ability that you can afford to, or you're against people drinking because you think alcohol is wrong.
posted by Sara C. at 7:49 AM on August 15, 2010 [3 favorites]

Put another way: if I have a few friends over for dinner, I make sure I pick up a couple bottles of wine or a 12-pack of beer. If I can throw a casual dinner party and assume it's my responsibility as a host to provide alcohol, then I can make the same assumptions when I get married. Even if it means wearing a prom dress, riding in a taxi, and using an iTunes playlist in lieu of a DJ.
posted by Sara C. at 8:02 AM on August 15, 2010

I find that couples' weddings indicate what's important to them (either individually or as a couple). For us, food and drink are integral to having a good time with our family and friends, so we cut some other corners so we could have free-flowing beer and wine. (We avoided hard alcohol due to a few family members that might abuse such drinks.) No one seemed to care that we didn't have a DJ and dancing (in an afternoon garden reception) because they were having a good time eating, drinking, and mingling with each other.

It worked out for us because the food and drink emphasis was also something that was guest-focused. What sometimes annoys me, as a guest, is when a wedding has other costly elements (a live band or two, pricey decorations) but something related to the hospitality of the guests gets cut. It makes the couple seem a bit selfish.

That said, if one person in the couple doesn't drink, I wouldn't be too judgmental as a guest about limited bar options (including no alcohol) because that's not something that's important to that person's social gatherings. But what about you? If drinking is central to your gatherings with friends, your friends might be expecting alcohol, and in that case, they shouldn't have to pay for it. (Personally, I would dip into my savings, but that's just me.) I'd say whatever entertaining the two of you have done as a couple might serve as good precedent. Do you avoid alcohol when one of you hosts a bday party for the other? Do you have limited quantities of beer and wine that are expected to last through the evening? Do you have a limited or extensive bar and offer to mix drinks for people?
posted by Terriniski at 8:34 AM on August 15, 2010

Just another data point...

-- I have never been to a wedding that didn't have free alcohol, at least beer and wine.

-- making people pay to have ANY drinks is tacky. The various other suggestions above are for the most part perfectly acceptable.

-- I'm getting married next Saturday, having resolved all this turmoil at last. We're having a bottom shelf open bar for 4 hours. That makes the reception end a little earlier than would be ideal, but hey -- the resort has a bar, and they know to expect us. :)

No cake! (Dessert, yes. Just no cake. Who actually likes to eat wedding cake?)
No registry! (I completely agree with Sara C that registries are a little tacky for people over 30. Plus, we're making people pay a lot of money to travel, so gifts are optional.)
posted by kestrel251 at 8:41 AM on August 15, 2010

This answer is so wrong it hurts.

Weddings aren't expensive. You can always go to the justice of the peace and get married for like $75. I almost did.

Receptions are expensive, yes. Flowers and fancy dresses and harpists are expensive. But if you're paying for that shit and not for beer, you're being selfish. Setting aside substance abuse or religious reasons for having a dry wedding, of course.
posted by kestrel251 at 8:46 AM on August 15, 2010 [4 favorites]

If any host doesn't want to serve alcohol for any reason, that's up to them. They are only obligated to provide refreshment for their guests. If all they want to serve is coffee, lemonade, juice, or even tap water, they've met their obligations.

It's true that some of the guests may not like it. To many people, a party without alcohol is unimaginable and just not a party at all, ever, in any way, shape, or form. It's up to the hosts to figure out whether and how they might choose to accommodate this mindset if they think a majority of their guests are in it. It's up to the guests to show up and gratefully receive such hospitality as is extended to them, even if it doesn't match the choices they would have made for themselves, because going to someone else's party and being entertained as their guest is not the same as being a customer at a restaurant or bar.

FWIW I don't drink for all practical purposes, but I'm always careful to provide sufficient wine or beer for whoever I entertain; if I chose not to, I hope they'd still like me anyway.
posted by tel3path at 9:06 AM on August 15, 2010

It's all cultural. If dry weddings are the norm in your circle, that's fine. If cash bars are the norm in your circle, that's fine.

BUT, it sounds like roughly 50% of your guests are from a culture where drinks are expected at weddings, and where cash bars are not the norm. I am from this same culture. (In my case, northeast, Catholic, for those tracking the stats.) In my world, cash bars are tacky (verging on rude) and surprising. I have been to two cash weddings and (a) they weren't much fun (b) everyone commented on the cash bar. That's my world, and it was a big enough deal that it overshadowed the wedding. In wedding (b), the ceremony was one of the most beautiful I've ever witnessed and I am thrilled I attended the wedding. But the cash bar stands out in my mind, 3 years later, as one component of the wedding. When my friends reminisce about that wedding, we also joke about the cash bar. None of us have gone the cash bar route, even though that meant our weddings cost more. It was enough of an anomaly, that we still remember it. We don't hate the couple - we adore the couple, a pair of wonderful, fun, remarkable people - but we do think of them as being a bit tacky/cheap. That's hardly the end of the world.

For me, it all comes down to hospitality. In my culture, people expect at least wine/beer at a wedding. It's like the weddings I've been to that have very little food and people are starving and talking about how hungry they are. If you can't afford to check off the basics of what hospitality means within your culture, then have fewer guests. Your wife and her parents, for example, might have some component of what they consider wedding hospitality that you consider unnecessary - ask them how they'd feel if you nixed that. (Or don't, that sounds like a fight. But you get the point.)

I recently got married, and my goal was to make the wedding meaningful to me and my husband, and to make the wedding guests feel welcomed and to have fun. It was a resounding success - a few months later we still get a comment every few days from different guests about how much fun they had, how happy they were to attend our wedding, and how loved they felt at our wedding. The bar was part of that general feeling that we were thinking of our guests' happiness and that we wanted them to feel welcomed. We had to dip into our savings (not deplete them though) to have the bar, and I don't regret it now and I doubt I'll ever regret it.

It sounds like half of your guests will expect/appreciate an open bar. I would go with economical choices of beer and wine and only have that on hand. Maybe have more beer/wine than you expect to get through. You're likely to be able to return the extra wine, anyway. It shouldn't cost you as much as you think.
posted by Amizu at 9:09 AM on August 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

Someone said they'd be offended if the host asks him to pay for refreshments. Alcohol is not "refreshments."

Okay, see, this is a cultural difference.

I would totally consider alcohol to be within the normal definition of "refreshments" for a formal party. If there's table wine to drink with dinner, I'd be okay with a cash bar for mixed drinks. But if wine is only available at the bar, I'd find it quite inhospitable to have to pay cash to drink something other than soda or water with my dinner.
posted by desuetude at 11:03 AM on August 15, 2010

I almost think someone should set up a wiki for wedding questions-these things vary so much by region of the country or (probably) ethnic origin as to what is expected.

When I was young a wedding had wedding cake, punch, little mints, nuts and maybe other refreshments. Sometimes you had a bit more substantial finger food (this was mine-I had finger sandwiches, fruit salad served out of a carved watermelon, cheese, crackers, etc along with the previously mentioned items.)

Now, at our very large church, I have observed weddings that varied according to who came from where-I was shocked to learn that in many parts of the country, a sit down meal was de riguer. Other folks, on a budget, went in the direction of a complete dessert buffet, with no "real" food at all. In venues where the reception was not in a church hall, then and only then did the alcohol come out. As I rarely drink anywhere but at home, I don't know if they had a cash bar or not-I did see wine bottles and beer as well.

I said all that to say this-this particular question really can't be answered completely without fully knowing the backgrounds of the participants, but I still think that the person(s) paying for the wedding would -or should-have a better idea of what is appropriate for the particular region and the particular groups in attendance. I suspect the main deal with this question is it's a bit of a mixed marriage wedding custom wise.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 11:47 AM on August 15, 2010

This isn't a regional thing. The guests' expectations about what will be provided may vary according to many things, including region, social circle habits, individual and group experience, class background, ethnic background, religious upbringing, and individual assumptions and prejudices.

Standard US etiquette, however, doesn't vary. It holds that: "Guests [...] should be fed a meal if the reception and/or ceremony is during normal meal times. [...] However, while hosts must supply beverages of some sort, they are considered under no obligation to provide alcohol. Those who do so are obliged to provide neither unlimited nor specific types of alcohol." Since the OP knows that the majority of guests will have travelled great distances, that increases the importance of providing a meal.

The idea of getting guests to pay for any part of their refreshments is a post-consumerist innovation, not part of any deeply-held tradition of hospitality of any ethnic group that I have ever heard of other than post-consumerist Brits and North Americans. However IANAAnthropologist.
posted by tel3path at 12:07 PM on August 15, 2010

Part of the expense is that the server must be licensed and trained to serve alcohol. I just went to a wedding and got 2 drink tickets. soft drinks were free.

An alternative is to make a mildly alcoholic punch, and a non-alcoholic punch. Make it thirst-quenching if there's dancing.
posted by theora55 at 12:47 PM on August 15, 2010

In my experience as a southern transplant to the US northeast, the difference is that "yankee" weddings tend to be less churchy, especially when it comes to the reception, and most often held in the evening. So it's almost unavoidable that the reception will be held during dinnertime. Thus, a sit down meal or at least a substantial buffet, which beverages appropriate to the formality of the setting.

On the other hand, most of the southern weddings I've attended have been during the afternoon, with a reception directly following the ceremony. Depending on how religious the family, the reception is often held on the church grounds itself. Food tends to be hors d'ouevres, and if it's an evangelical or baptist wedding with a reception held in the church hall there is likely to be no alcohol served. Alternately, if the family is less religious, the reception will be held at a casual venue like a family home, where type of food and drink served is at the family's discretion.

Most of my family weddings tend to be of the latter sort, and in fact my divorced parents are already making moves about who gets to host what aspects of my hypothetical future wedding. And I don't even have a boyfriend. As a data point - weddings in my family tend to be open bar, though focused more towards wine and beer, as do all my family parties. It would be weird to have a cash bar at a wedding seeing as there's a fully stocked open bar at Thanksgiving.
posted by Sara C. at 12:49 PM on August 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

I had a wedding for ~6000. I had an open bar (beer, wine, and champagne for toasts). People care more about getting dinner and drinks than your pew bows, flowers, and cake. I'm of the school that the wedding isn't for you guys, it is for your friends and family (otherwise, I would've gone to the courthouse with the fiance and later bought 6000 worth of shoes). Maybe make a chart of all the things you think you need, and then decide if any can be sacrificed? Or plan to use some of your wedding cash to cover this? For example, I got 6 big, really beautiful decorated round cakes (painted chocolate, etc.) from the fanciest bakery in the area delivered for way, way less than the terrible tasting tiered cakes I'd been trying out.

I think cash bar is tacky. Also, you are going to be getting a fair bit of cash and/or presents. It sucks to be invited to something where you are obligated to travel and give a couple hundred dollars to the new couple, and then be told to buy your own drinks.
posted by Acer_saccharum at 2:30 PM on August 15, 2010 [5 favorites]

Addendum: if you find religion, or have religious family, you can totally get out of it - but don't have a bar available at all, in this case.
posted by Acer_saccharum at 2:30 PM on August 15, 2010

Been to a few weddings in the UK, and at least half did the typical 'limited amounts of free wine' and cash bar. I may have been to one wedding with unlimited free drinks - that was a pretty well-off family. But I also recently went to an equally well-off family's wedding, and I paid for a few drinks myself (after having some free wine). No big deal to me, I wasn't offended and I didn't hear a bad word or whisper from anyone else there either.
posted by adrianhon at 4:14 PM on August 15, 2010

Nthing beer and wine (whether free-flowing or in limited quantities on the table) good, cash bar very very tacky. In response to the comment that claimed Southerners are ok with cash bars, that is entirely untrue, and my mama would die of shame if I had a cash bar at my wedding.
However, I, like Alia, have been to several Southern wedding receptions with a buffet or even just hors d'oeuvres rather than a sit-down dinner, although I think sit-down meals are more in vogue now in the South than they used to be. So, cultural norms are going to vary, and you can't please everyone no matter what you do (and I know how stressful that is to people planning weddings). However, I am pretty solidly on the side of no cash bar for any reason whatsoever.
posted by naoko at 4:50 PM on August 15, 2010

However, I, like Alia, have been to several Southern wedding receptions with a buffet or even just hors d'oeuvres rather than a sit-down dinner, although I think sit-down meals are more in vogue now in the South than they used to be.

Agreed. I've been to my fair share of Southern weddings with the aforementioned mints and snacks and cake and punch. But this really only makes sense when it's a local affair without a lot of traveling guests, especially those unfamiliar with Southern wedding customs.

When you have guests coming in from across the country at your request, hospitality says that you feed them. Once upon a time, this was a more limited occurrence within a family, and the bride or groom's family could take care of the traveling guests. Now that it's less typical for people to live their whole lives in their hometown, the balance is frequently tipped toward out-of-town guests, which makes it simpler to just feed everyone.
posted by desuetude at 7:31 PM on August 15, 2010

Completely agreed. I will also say though, that some of the best weddings I've been to split the difference with a substantial buffet dinner - everyone gets sufficiently fed, the guests have options, less food, goes to waste and you can do something more interesting than the tired old chicken whatever thing that you get at most weddings. Done right, this should be cheaper than sit-down.
posted by naoko at 8:21 PM on August 15, 2010

tel3path writes "This isn't a regional thing. The guests' expectations about what will be provided may vary according to many things, including region, social circle habits, individual and group experience, class background, ethnic background, religious upbringing, and individual assumptions and prejudices.

"Standard US etiquette, however, doesn't vary."

FYI: there are regions outside the United States and the OP gives no indication in either the question or their profile where they are located.

And the wiki page you linked to starts off by saying: Etiquette rules are not uniform in North America, varying among the very diverse societies which exist in both the United States and Canada. That page is in dire need of a good edit with special attention to NPOV and internal consistency.

Interestingly, to me anyways, the article also says that the most important thing in planning a wedding is the guest list from which all other decisions flow. The suggestion made several times to curb the guest list to allow an open bar would be a terrible Faux Pas. And bizarrely it's how my wedding planning went. Glad to see I did something right.
posted by Mitheral at 11:20 PM on August 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

I thought the OP was writing in North American English, that is why I made this admittedly unwarranted assumption.

If the OP is Mzrgrxian-American then the choice of whether to follow Mzrgrxian customs, or American ones, depends on whether the vast majority of the guests (>90%) are Mzrgrxian and on whether or not cash bars are a revered tradition of Mzrgrxian hospitality.

Also, you seem to be drawing the opposite conclusion from the one presented in the article: "The guest list should have priority over the arrangements, which is to say that you ask first who should be there, and then what you can afford to feed them, rather than the other way around."

As I said, there is no tradition of hospitality which reveres cash bars or asking guests to pay for things that I know of, except in recent years within post-consumerist North America and the UK. I find that I'm quite often asked to pay to attend parties at friends' houses[1], therefore it must be acceptable within my region and social circle and etiquette should be redefined so that I view this as polite, shouldn't it? Or should I just accept that sometimes people are just rude, and when being rude works in their favour they tend to continue to be rude in the same ways until it catches on?

[1] Yes. Literally. In the sense that there is an entrance fee. No, there's nothing I'm not telling you.
posted by tel3path at 11:36 PM on August 15, 2010

Oops, no, I've misread you: "The suggestion made several times to curb the guest list to allow an open bar would be a terrible Faux Pas." You are actually saying the same thing the article said. Apologies.
posted by tel3path at 11:55 PM on August 15, 2010

I am in the UK and the weddings I have been to typically have wine and water on the table with a cash bar for any subsequent drinks and I don't think the majority of people were offended. Perhaps it is a cultural divide between USA and UK/Canada!

I would allocate 1/2 bottle of wine per person with bottled/jugs of water on the table too. If you are concerned about whether that would be perceived as stingy maybe get cheaper wine and make it up to one bottle per person with an even distribution of red/white. Don't put all the bottles out at once though, get the waiters to replace them as they go. There may be some tables which are more jolly then others and so you don't want to deprive them by having a rigid allocation! Then allow your guests to go to a cash bar if they want anything different or extra, this event is about your marriage, not about getting drinking.

I hate the idea of not inviting people to your wedding just so the people who do attend get free drinks all night. Isn't this event meant to be about sharing the beginning of your marriage with those who you love. Excluding friends or family for the sake of those who are prioritised being able to drink freely seems to defeat the purpose of sharing your wedding to me!
posted by lilyflower at 2:32 AM on August 16, 2010

Perhaps it is a cultural divide between USA and UK/Canada!

No, as previously stated, it's the difference between the UK/Canada assumption that there will be some alcohol provided free of charge, but it will not be unlimited hard liquor, and the USA assumption that when we're talking about a cash bar, we're talking about a cash bar for everything.

Many commenters have repeatedly stated that it would be OK to have a cash bar for cocktails if you were providing beer and/or wine, or after a certain period of time, or really any permutation of providing some drinks to the guests but not all drinks.
posted by Sara C. at 4:11 AM on August 16, 2010

Just as an extra data point: the cash bar weddings I've been to (which, yes, we felt kind of weird and jilted for having come all that way and then being asked to pay for our own drinks--but read on!) have had some sort of open-bar-for-an-hour-then-cash-bar-afterwards arrangement. And all three of them have had the guy in charge of paying for the thing (usually the bride's dad) get drunk during the first hour and then roar loudly "open bar on me for the rest of the night!"

It is possible that I just have friends with alcoholic parents, but I'm just sayin', maybe if you plant the idea in your in-laws' heads once the liquor begins to flow, the problem will solve itself :-)
posted by Mayor West at 4:35 AM on August 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm a day late to this conversation, but it vexes me, so I want to participate.

My tip top answer is to do what makes you happiest. Period.

My personal opinion:
You have no reason or obligation to financially bankrupt yourself so that some hotel somewhere can overcharge you like a fiend so your demanding relatives can have some rail drinks served to them at your event. Now realistically at my wedding there won't be anyone flying cross-country (and if they were, it would be because they loved us and wanted to see us, and as friends and loved ones they wouldn't give half-a-crap about some free El Toro.) but we will, most likely, have a single keg of decent beer and some champagne around, and anyone who doesn't like it can leave early to go to the bar.

Seriously. I largely disagree that "it's not just about you". I mean, you want your guests to be happy, but it is ABSOLUTELY about you, and doing what YOU want.

$3-5,000 for me is...well, that's a month of vacation for two people.
posted by TomMelee at 5:33 AM on August 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

A final bit of cultural anecdata from my experience of British weddings: beer was rarely, if ever, provided by the hosts, and that's especially true with the (northern, Catholic, working-class) family weddings of my youth. I suspect it's born of a subtle attempt to discourage the beer-drinking menfolk from having pints at their table: it's a wedding, not a night at the pub.
posted by holgate at 8:16 AM on August 16, 2010

Not enough time to read through all the posts, so forgive me if this has been said before:

The last wedding I went to was a younger couple with a relatively limited budget and they had a very interesting compromise: Free Coors on draft, free middle-grade wine, and a champagne toast. All other liquor/beer/wine at the bar had to be paid for. I didn't complain, and I didn't hear anyone else complain. Most people got what they wanted and the heavyweights/snobs paid extra.
posted by Ndwright at 8:33 AM on August 16, 2010

It's not that I don't love and want to see the couple at weddings I have to travel to attend.

It's that it's really expensive to fly cross country to attend a wedding. It usually involves at least one personal day from work (unpaid in my case), a flight ($250+ for my typical destination), and multiple days of having to pay my way in whatever city. And that's assuming I can crash with family or friends who live in the city in question, don't need to rent a car, and before any consideration of a gift. It can easily come to $1000+ depending on the arrangements that need to be made.

All this for a 20 minute ceremony and a party. I'd be a little disappointed if I took time off work, flew across the country, spent $500-1000, and the party component turned out to be a veggie platter and a keg.
posted by Sara C. at 8:36 AM on August 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Thanks to everybody who has taken the time to respond here. At the end of the day, I'm hoping that my fiance and I will be able to swing an open bar with beer, wine, and champagne with a cash bar for mixed drinks. It seems to me that this would be a good compromise. And truth be told, I agree with everyone who says it's tacky to have a cash bar. How can we make friends and family who are spending upwards of $1000 and then some to come to our wedding plus getting us a gift and then turn around and say you have to pay for all your drinks? I come from an upper middle class background, non religious. My fiance comes from lower/middle class, non religious. And I hate to say it but that's the difference here. My father would never have a cash bar. Unfortunately my father was out of work for a year due to the economy and has only recently(thank god) gotten a job. Him and my mom are still paying for the rehearsal dinner by going into their retirement funds. But at the end of the day, they can't afford anything more because of the economy. And neither can my fiance's family. But because of my background, many of my friends and family are also upper middle class or upper class. And so yes, they will expect free drinks. And to be even more brutally honest...I expect an open bar when I go to weddings. Seeing everyone else's opinion here has opened my eyes to the fact that my instincts are right. So somehow, we've gotta make this happen. I think we'll be able to. If I have to pay $1000 of my won't be the end of the world. Cheers...
posted by ljs30 at 8:48 AM on August 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

You can choose not to serve alcohol, or you can serve a set amount of wine at dinner, but please do not invite people to a major social occasion which many will feel obligated to attend, and then when they arrive, having put forth no small effort and expense, nickel-and-dime them for a drink. The part of you that thinks this is tacky, is right.

OK, I live in a smaller country, so flying cross-country isn't an issue, and I've never given any thought to what my wedding (if it happened) would be like. But I don't expect drinks to be covered at weddings. Meal and table wine/champagne (or equivalent) for toasting, yes. Not drinks afterward. I have never been to a wedding where every drink was included, and that includes a couple of fairly traditional weddings. I'm going to a reception in September in a pub - there will be a bit of fizzy wine for toasting, but drinks aren't covered. I'm not going to refuse to come because of that. I'm not going to get pissed on someone else's money, I'm going to celebrate a marriage. It worries me that people think it's so tacky.

Just as you shouldn't expect your hens/stags to cough up hundreds of pounds to attend your pre-marriage parties, your guests won;t expect you to put on a free party. You're hardly being this bride.
posted by mippy at 8:51 AM on August 16, 2010

ljs30, are you from a culture where the bride/groom's parents are expected to pay for some of the costs? I ask this because it happens over here, and it seems odd to me - more and more people are well into adulthood when they marry and sometimes with parents with less spare cash than they have, yet parental contributions are still the done thing. If it's a choice between free bar and parents going without, I;d rather not go with the free bar,
posted by mippy at 9:24 AM on August 16, 2010

I've been to a lot of weddings in my 21 years (mother comes from a large family, all my cousins are 5-7 years older than me if not more) and they have all had the same setup: open bar until X o'clock, usually 2-3 hours, after that you're on your own.

To me, this strikes a good balance - everyone's first few drinks are free, and times are good, but by the time people would start to get tipsy the cash factor kicks in to discourage it.
posted by smistephen at 10:41 AM on August 16, 2010

ljs30, I'm glad you found a compromise that works for you (though in the end it doesn't seem you had to compromise -- all the beer, wine, and champagne you can drink is an open bar by anybody's standards!)

One thing, re "Seeing everyone else's opinion here has opened my eyes to the fact that my instincts are right." Just remember that your instincts are "right" only in the sense that they're appropriate for your family and your upbringing. Which is totally fine in this case, since half the people at the wedding are from this family/upbringing.

But I think it's really important, as you go forward in your marriage, to remember that the cultural instincts your wife brings are just as "right" as yours. In particular, if you have really different ideas about what things are important enough to dip into savings for, please figure that out now.
posted by escabeche at 10:32 AM on August 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

Yes... when you say you "have to" do it, I'm sure you realize that you don't have to have to, right?

And I know you don't mean it that way at all, you're just trying to weigh their likely expectations and figure out how to please - but I would encourage you not to think of this as a class thing. The fact that many of your guests are upper-middle-class does not mean you have to raid your savings in order to provide unlimited alcohol for guests that you think might have lower expectations if they were lower-middle-class. If it helps, I'm from a working class background and I nevertheless was brought up with the expectation that a host gives generously and within his means and a guest receives gratefully in the spirit in which the hospitality was intended. It is possible that you provide refreshments without charge and still have higher expectations of your guests than you think.
posted by tel3path at 11:21 AM on August 17, 2010

Seriously ljs30, just lose the cash bar altogether. If you're doing wine, beer, and champagne for free, no one will miss the liquor. I went to a wedding this past weekend that was open bar beer, wine, and champagne, and I can attest that everyone had a really fab time and felt that they had plenty to drink and never thought once "where's the hard stuff?" Of the 5 or so weddings I've been to as a adult, 4 of them went this route and it was just fine (the other one had cash bar after a certain hour, which I thought was pretty scandalous but it may have been a cultural thing). I think it's better to have no liquor at all than a cash bar for liquor, even if you're offering other free drinks.
posted by naoko at 9:35 AM on August 18, 2010 [3 favorites]

However, good friends of mine are tying the knot in november. I cant imagine an open bar being an option for them. They are both struggling financially, do not want to be beholden to their parents for a wedding the groom's stepmother is already being nasty about, and I make more money than either of them. I loves me the drinking, and wouldn't want to be deprived of the option at a dry wedding, but frankly if I showed up to an open bar that I knew either of them were struggling to afford, that would feel tackiest of all.
posted by custard heart at 5:07 PM on August 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

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