Beer/Wine or Liquor @ reception
March 9, 2006 12:50 PM   Subscribe

Should we serve hard liquor at our wedding reception or just wine/beer? Two sides of the family disagree...need arguments to decide and defuse the other side...

So we have to buy our own alchohol for our reception (just the way it works at the place we rented). Therefore we went with just wine and beer so save money. Now my parents have piped up and said they would pay for the hard liquor (the brides mom is paying for the rest of the wedding), because the family expects it and he things tongues will wag if there is just wine and beer. I can't tell him to just forget it though because they are paying for our honeymoon so I don't want to appear ungrateful.

My future mother in law (who I truly like) is concerned about the liability for us with hard liquor. She think that people are more likely to get ripped and drive into a wall to put it bluntly. My fiance shares her concern but is willing to change her mind. I think my future mother in law will only change with very clear statistics to back me up.

So any statistics or info that I can use? Something that will decide the argument in a factual way so the "wrong" side will give up?

Any suggestions on keeping this from turning into a war between the in-laws?

posted by UMDirector to Food & Drink (37 answers total)
If you are worried about liability you shouldn't serve alcohol at all. You can get just as ripped on wine or beer.

Best protection is a responsible bartender.
posted by konolia at 12:54 PM on March 9, 2006

"[P]eople are more likely to get ripped and drive into a wall" is the kind of statement I'd expect to hear when planning a high school kegger, not an adult celebration populated by your family and friends. Is there a real concern that the people you are inviting don't know how to control themselves around a few bottles of booze?
posted by samh23 at 12:57 PM on March 9, 2006

I don't have any stats, but (depending on where the wedding is, of course) could you or your parents arrange a taxi/shuttle/sober driver service of some kind back to wherever your guests are staying? (Although out of town day-trippers will still be an issue...) Even with just beer and wine it would be a considerate thing to do. If you have close friends who wouldn't mind, maybe they can help ensure everyone takes advantage of the service.

People are quite likely to "get ripped" on any kind of booze. If the family wants liquor, go for it.
posted by SuperNova at 12:58 PM on March 9, 2006

Wine and beer, though if you buy insurance (for example) then it doesn't matter what you serve, the liability is the same.

I say wine and beer because it just keeps things from getting out of hand as well as saves you money.

Also, it's your wedding, ignore all parents. It is not their decision uless they are paying.
posted by Pollomacho at 1:00 PM on March 9, 2006

Second the drunk bus suggestion, hard liquor or no.
posted by deadfather at 1:03 PM on March 9, 2006

I can't speak to statistics, but I found that I saved money by purchasing hard liquor to serve at my wedding reception (same deal -- I had to bring it in). Dollars-to-servings, hard liquor is a pretty decent bargain.
posted by jmevius at 1:03 PM on March 9, 2006

As konolia mentioned, the liability exists regardless of what alcohol is served at the reception. As for any statistics that will prove the "wrong" side (and this is a little unclear) actually wrong, I think you're expecting a lot. Drunk people, regardless of their beverage of choice, have a greater likelihood of doing something that you will be liable for if you were the one that served them the alcohol.

Get a responsible bartender and serving staff. Buy and provide whatever you can afford, and if anyone offers to give you money (without strings) to help with your wedding then by all means, take it!
posted by purephase at 1:04 PM on March 9, 2006

The real objection I would have to hard liquor is not that people would get ripped (those inclined to get ripped will do so anyhow), it's just the logistics. With beer and wine, your bartender has it easy, and can serve many people quickly. With liquor (and mixers) many mixed drinks are there out there? I can imagine a traffic jam at the bar.
posted by adamrice at 1:06 PM on March 9, 2006

Wow, this insurance plan actually does cover drunk driving accidents, up to $1,000,000 and it only costs $195.

* Alcohol-related accidents, A car accident caused by an intoxicated wedding guest leaving the wedding site may result in liability for the Bride and Groom. The Special Event Liability Insurance Policy responds to your social host liability.

$195 is less then you'll be spending on booze anyway, and will cover your beer and wine related risk.
posted by delmoi at 1:14 PM on March 9, 2006

I don't have statistics, but I have advice (an askme motto?). I got married in December, and I know that you want to make your parent's happy, and she wants to make her parents happy, and you want to make her happy, and she wants to make you happy, etc. The problem is, once a group has more than one person in it, not everybody is going to be perfectly happy, because not everyone is going to get exactly what they want. Compromise leaves nobody perfectly happy, but everyone pretty much satisfied.

Take your dad aside and say, "Dad, I don't care 'how it looks', we aren't trying to impress anybody, we are trying to celebrate making a life long commitment to each other by having a day in which we enjoy ourselves. If you pay for the hard liquor then it makes my future mother-in-law look bad. Thanks for offering, but that is not how I want to start out my life as a member of their family, and mine and my future wife's new family". Or something.

Also, you seem like a nice guy, so here is some advice for the future: statistics are not going to win you arguments. People rarely make decisions based on reason and logic. The reason people do things is also very often not the reason that they say they are doing things. I doubt the reason that your future mother-in-law isn't serving hard liquor is because of liability. Statistics are very rarely going to help you win arguments especially with your wife.
posted by ND¢ at 1:15 PM on March 9, 2006 [1 favorite]

Wow...I had no idea such insurance existed!!! I am not sure if that will do the trick or not.

Her mother is the rock and my father is the hard place! :)

Of course it doesn't help matters that her side of the family doesn't drink much....they DO drink just not as much. Not that we are a bunch of lushes but a lot of my family is Russian! :)

I think the shuttle bus may be out of our price range...FYI. However we might be able to swing the insurance (I am just guessing a bus going to a # of hotels will be more than $195).
posted by UMDirector at 1:18 PM on March 9, 2006

Maybe this compromise wouldn't satisfy the concerns, but at my reception we formally served only wine and liquor but I had a few of bottles of the good stuff (the 12yo scotch and such) "under the counter" for those few who wanted a belt and everyone seemed satisfied. We had an exceptionally low key and convivial affair, though.

As a child of a family of just all kind of alcoholics (they weren't a problem at the reception because they are all either dead or recovered or basically immobile by now) I will second the sentiment, though, that hard liquor is unlikely to cause more problems than wine and beer. Having to consume 3-5 times as much liquid is not going to stop anyone, least of all a person who is inclined to get hammered anyway.
posted by nanojath at 1:18 PM on March 9, 2006

If your friends and family cannot survive without hard liquor for one night at one of the most important events of your life...well, then if there was any griping, I would say, I'm sorry, if it is terribly important to you then we will miss you being there on that day.
posted by agregoli at 1:19 PM on March 9, 2006

At one wedding I attended wine and beer were served at the table and at a small bar. The father of the groom walked around the room with a very expensive bottle of scotch and poured single shots for the guests. It was kind of sweet, and there was no guzzling.
posted by StickyCarpet at 1:21 PM on March 9, 2006

It is up to you, as others have said.

On having some hard liquor 'under the counter' - don't do something like this unless you have enough for everybody and can somehow make it known that it's there - unless everybody at the wedding knows about it, people will feel left out when they inevitably learn about it. I went to a wedding with beer and a secret bar, and it was lame because only certain people knew about it, and once word had spread, it was 'kicked'.

I may be in the minority, but I would be dissapointed at a wedding with no hard liquor. I am not a drunk, but I prefer hard liquor to wine and beer. Hiring a good bartender will help make sure your guests are enjoying their liquor responsibly. The insurance might be a good idea if you are concerned with liability.

It's your wedding, though, that's the important thing, so do what you are comfortable with.
posted by drobot at 1:28 PM on March 9, 2006

We made it through our wedding with just wine (bought by my folks) and beer (homebrewed by our friends) with no problems.

If your family really wants to do a shot in celebration or whatever, they can smuggle in their own booze, or better yet, do the scotch thing that Sticky above mentions. Make sure you give your mom-in-law the heads up, though!
posted by robocop is bleeding at 1:29 PM on March 9, 2006

Always err on the side of more alcohol.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:36 PM on March 9, 2006

The liability insurance is usually carried by the hall you rented. Find out for sure. Otherwise, its normally required. You are liable for the alcohol you serve under most state dram shop laws.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:38 PM on March 9, 2006

I'm missing something. Is serving hard liquor at a reception some kind of a status symbol in the US? Is it something that stems from your family's ethnic background (eg vodka at a Russian wedding)?

I'm not saying you shouldn't serve it. For me, it'd depend on the booze. Classy cocktails? Sure, if you can afford it. Sticky's scotch thing is a cool idea, but might be tricky / expensive if you can't BYO. I just had no idea there might be social repurcussions if you didn't serve the hard stuff at a wedding. Would they think you were cheap, or a wuss, or what? I'd just be stoked to be there.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 1:39 PM on March 9, 2006

Julia Child recommended allocating one bottle of wine per guest at a sit down dinner function. Also, don't forget the non-drinkers, I have been to a reception where the only other choice besides booze was tap water. Fruit juice and seltzer?
posted by StickyCarpet at 1:46 PM on March 9, 2006

I guess a lot of it boils down to my father somehow feels it will be emberassing if we don't have hard liquor. I tend to agree with obiwanwasabi that people should just be grateful to be there. We invited the people we wanted there not the people who would bring the biggest gifts. So they should be there for us not the booze.

Problem is I don't think my father understands that. Status to him is very important. I think he wants to impress people with his sons wedding....which is silly cause my fiances mother is paying for the thing...
posted by UMDirector at 2:01 PM on March 9, 2006

I've been to a (half)Russian wedding and IIRC the vodka toast - the groom's uncle came in doing one of those Cossack dances with vodka on a silver tray for the bride and groom; it was very cool - was a big part of the whole thing. Is the absence of that maybe what's worrying your family? It seems like it would be easy enough to have vodka available for that one toast, explain to your future mother in law that it's a cultural thing and not worry about having a full bar. Usually, a full bar is only for evening receptions anyway; daytime is almost always beer & wine only. My experience as an event planner, by the way, has been that most people only drink beer and wine anyway; you'd be surprised at how much liquor gets left over.
posted by mygothlaundry at 2:03 PM on March 9, 2006

I can't drink wine as it gives me bad heartburn/acid reflux. And, I hate beer. So, I'm for hard liquor.

The idea that because I drink hard liquor and not 'soft' liquor means I can't control my drinking is, frankly, ridiculous and insulting.
posted by dobbs at 2:11 PM on March 9, 2006

If you have a full bar, you pretty much have to have a bartender, or it will be a total mess. If your dad drinks Scotch and soda, you could have it available, or pitchers of a mixed drink, like margaritas, that you think will be popular. Otherwise, you've got beer, red & white wine, vodka, gin, bourbon, scotch, 7-Up, gingerale, soda, tonic, Coke, ice, and the list can get get much longer. I don't think just beer and wine says "cheap," unless it's really crappy beer and wine.
posted by theora55 at 3:01 PM on March 9, 2006

UMDirector writes "I think the shuttle bus may be out of our price range...FYI. However we might be able to swing the insurance (I am just guessing a bus going to a # of hotels will be more than $195)."

It's amazing (to me at least) how cheap you can rent the services of a maxi-van or towncar + driver for an evening (say 4-6 hours). I'd check into it in your area if you think this is a service your guests could use depending on the size of your guest list.
posted by Mitheral at 3:02 PM on March 9, 2006

Another thing, you should switch your thinking around a bit, instead of expecting your guests to be grateful to be there, you should be grateful they came.
posted by The Monkey at 4:04 PM on March 9, 2006

I prefer hard liquor, too. We had it at our wedding and there were no out-of-control guests. Since people can get just as drunk off beer and wine, I'm not sure why your mother in law would be specially concerned about hard liquor. If I were you, I wouldn't worry about hard liquor causing problems, unless there are particular people you're inviting who tend to drink such stuff to excess.
posted by jayder at 4:34 PM on March 9, 2006

This is so weeeeeird. Both sides, frankly. I mean, people will be disappointed? I think your dad might be. People get drunker with liquor? Bah!

I prefer liquor at some events, though it depends whether it's a party-type reception or a dinner-type reception. At a dinner type, you may just tell the dad to save the cash on springing for everyone, and just bring a special bottle for a private toast, since beer and wine are made for meals. If it's a party, might as well have the liquor for those who like it. There's no additional danger, unless you plan on letting kids drink, at which point, well, they're on their own. Part of growing up is the first post-wedding hangover.
posted by klangklangston at 4:43 PM on March 9, 2006

If the issue is really liability, your answer is some combination of bartender/event hall/insurance. There's no reason the liability should fall anywhere near you or your mother in law. If safety is her concern, then you should explore the shuttle option. You don't need a whole bus, just a van is fine, remember it's just for people who are too drunk to drive, not for everyone. Don't advertise that it will be available, just offer it when needed. It could just be a friend with a minivan who doesn't mind staying sober for the night - i.e. no cost whatsoever. As ND says though, that's probably not the real issue - so you need to figure out what that is and argue to that.

However, I disagree with his point about taking your dad aside and giving him a condescending lecture about this being your special day or whatever. It sounds like this is important to him, so why should he have to be embarrassed in front of his relatives just to assuage your mother in law's irrational fears? You need to find a compromise - the "private bar" or vodka toast ideas both sound reasonable.

[on preview: I strongly agree with The Monkey. The day is about you, but you have a crowd to please as well. If all you want to do is share vows with your wife, go to a courthouse. If you're going to make an event out of it, do it right. You don't want half your family to remember you as the couple that throws a shitty party.]
posted by rorycberger at 5:03 PM on March 9, 2006

Go for it, but you definitely need party insurance for a wedding.
posted by Count Ziggurat at 6:06 PM on March 9, 2006

What NDc said. I really enjoy a drink, but the choice of alcohol is pretty secondary to the occasion. I think it's cool that you are being considerate of your mother-in-law, but more than anything, people should let you off the hook. Even where i'm from (Wisconsin), drinking is not the focus of the wedding. Well, in Wi, maybe it is, but I damn well shouldn't be. Sure, it's great to be a good host, but it is your wedding.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 6:35 PM on March 9, 2006

I have been thinking about this since I posted, and I have changed my mind. You want to make your dad happy? Good for you. Your dad wants to impress people? Big deal, your dad's human. So, the trick becomes, how do you make your dad happy, without pissing off your fiance and her mother? I say play up the multi-cultural aspect of the situation. Are they russian? If not, give them the whole, "Vodka is a big part of the Russian culture, and it would really mean a lot to my family for us to be able to follow tradition. My dad really wants to contribute to the reception in this small way... etc." You know what I'm saying? Good luck buddy, somebody is probably going to end up being pissed off, you may just have to choose who it is going to be.

Also rorycberger, I hear you man. If I had a damn nickel for every time someone said I was being condescending. I swear!
However, I am not actually being condescending. I am really just better than most people.

posted by ND¢ at 7:04 PM on March 9, 2006

Every time you throw a party and serve alcohol, you run the risk that someone is going to drive away drunk and kill themselves and/or others. It could happen at a birthday party, a bar mitzvahn party, or a Sopranos season premiere party. We would all like to believe that our guests know better, and that some vestige of their good judgement in that regard will remain with them regardless of how much they drink, but there is always a risk. It's one of life's little moral ambiguities.

It's great that you like your mother-in-law, but the truth here is that she is being ridiculous. And, as someone mentioned above, her misplaced concern about liability is probably not the real issue. Maybe she had an abusive uncle who extolled mixed drinks at every opportunity; who the hell knows. I'm sure she's a nice person, but she is wrong, and when your mother-in-law is wrong about issues that pertain to you, you need to be able to tell her. Your father's desire to have liquor is not a moral imperative, but he is not arguing from a position of flawed (or non-) logic, as your mother-in-law is.

Also, think about the future. Which is worse: your mother-in-law harping about how there could have been a liability (or whatever it eventually comes out that her real issue is), or your father wishing out loud that his son would have had an appropriate wedding party?

Of course, the obvious counter-argument is: how will you feel if someone gets drunk and drives into a wall? But, as many people have stated correctly above, if you are really worried about that, then you should not serve alcohol at all. I'll add that in that case, you should also consider passing out pacifiers and blankies.
posted by bingo at 7:30 PM on March 9, 2006

We had the bartender recommend a couple of special cocktails for our wedding to add to the wine, beer, and non-alcoholic drinks. Less complicated and expensive than an open bar, and might be a workable compromise since cocktails are (generally) weaker than shots. If there are cocktails that are somehow meaningful to you and your bride, all the better.
posted by nadise at 8:20 PM on March 9, 2006

ND¢: I totally understand, I have the exact same problem
Including the fine print
posted by rorycberger at 9:41 PM on March 9, 2006

My own wedding, and most of the ones I've attended, had a cocktail hour before the reception, during which there is an open bar. Some of those weddings (including my own) had an open bar during the reception as well, but some had only beer and wine during the reception. This might be an excellent compromise for your situation: have the cocktails (with bartender) after the ceremony and before the reception to make Dad happy, but have only beer & wine during the reception to make your MiL happy.
posted by Sprout the Vulgarian at 5:13 AM on March 10, 2006

So I think we are going to go the signature drink route...a nice top shelf Vodka Martini. Other than that wine and beer. Apparently the future mother in law is immovable and since I generally like her I am just going to have to compromise and both sides will just have to like it.

Thanks for all the advice.
posted by UMDirector at 5:49 AM on March 10, 2006

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