It is one of those great conundrums – do I put myself out of pocket for the sake of everyone else’s fun, or do I run the risk making myself look cheap and having to deal with resentment from my guests?
This is a question that gets asked time and time again by couples all over the land, and there is no simple answer.
Perhaps the easiest was to reach a conclusion is to run the following tests:
Can you afford it?
Critical to planning and organising a great wedding is the need to create and maintain a detailed wedding budget. Right from the start you should have a rough idea of what you can afford to spend on your big day and how you plan on spending it.
Having an open bar is great but it is not as important as booking a photographer, securing the dress of her dreams and putting on some fantastic entertainment. Cost out all the critical requirements first and see how much you have left – only then should you investigate how much putting on an open bar would cost.
Do your guests need or want an open bar?
Take a look at your guest list. Who have you got coming? If they are a crowd of young single mates who you know like a drink or eight, then you may want to ensure they are kept plied with enough free booze to keep them interested. If on the other hand you guest list consists of other married couples and children running all over the place then perhaps you can treat everyone to an entirely more civilised affair. It is worth remembering that a lot of guests may have driven to your wedding and may not be able to drink at all – they might resent you even more if they see a free bar they can’t even make the most of!
How much drink are you giving them already?
You are probably serving your guests several drinks throughout the day: a glass of Pimms after the ceremony, wine during the meal and champagne for the toasts. For many people this may be quite enough booze already and you may find that your open bar does not get much use out of anyone but the hardiest of partiers.
This ties back into looking at your guest list and attempting to calculate how much people will drink. There is no point paying for a lavish free bar when it will only get used (and no doubt abused) by a small group of people.
Could you reach an alternative arrangement?
Many wedding venues have a fixed price for putting on an open bar which is usually calculated based on the number of guests you have attending. If you cannot afford this, or don’t think your guests need it, but still want to put something on for everyone you should ask your venue if they will let you put some money ‘behind the bar’.
By doing this you can invest any remaining cash from your budget into the bar tab, and rest easy knowing that once the limit is reached you will not be liable for any costs in excess of this.
If you do go down this route make sure you have a discussion with the bar manager about which drinks are allowed to be bought by guests. You do not one person ruining it for everyone by blowing the whole tab on a glass of 200 year old cognac. Stick to beer, cider, wine and house spirits and everyone should be happy.
Can you do it yourself?
If your venue allows it, or if you are having the reception at home, you may want to buy in all the alcohol yourself and hire someone to serve it. You can get great deals on drink when you bulk buy from a cash-and-carry and getting a barman for the day shouldn’t set you back more than £200. You may even want to restrict what you serve to one or two signature cocktails as this will make it easier for the staff to prepare.
The most important lesson is to understand that whatever you do your guests will have a great time. They all probably have a rough idea of your financial situation and will not be expecting you to have to fork out for everyone’s drinks if they know you can’t afford it.
If you think any of your guests will get really grumpy and annoyed at the fact they have to pay for their own drinks, you should ask yourself if you really want them there in the first place.