Planning the reception dinner menu can be one of the hardest parts of wedding planning. Between deciding on the appetizer, soup or salad and the entree, let alone what desserts to have can make your head spin! Likewise, deciding on what kind of bar to have can be just as daunting. Open bars are great for your guests, but they can be expensive. A cash bar may seem cheap and a dry wedding maybe off-putting to some guests.  So . . . what is a bride to do? As you will see, having an open or cash bar or a dry wedding is more than just about money.


An open bar is usually preferred because it is seen as a reflection of the couple’s hospitality. With an open bar guests can refresh their drinks freely, can have what they like, when they like and they don’t have to fumble with cash, find an ATM or be left out because they don’t have any money. However, a open bar can have some draw backs with the first being the cost. It can be very expensive, especially if you are having a large wedding. Another draw back is that open bars can encourage guests to get . . . beyond tipsy.

We’ve all heard the stories or seen the sit-com of the drunk individual at the wedding. Usually it’s the best man, or the MC, or an uncle, who is too drunk to say their speech. I’ve been to weddings where the grandmother of the groom had a bit too much and started singing songs from the homeland or the divorced parents of the bride, in their inebriated state, compete for the microphone to say things about their daughter. Very awkward!

A drink or two can really get guests into a festive mood and get people up dancing and having a great time. But, drunk guests, making fools of themselves, throwing up, trying to convince themselves and everyone else that they can drive home . . . these things can be a real horror!

Tips for an Open Bar

If you are having your wedding reception at a hotel, winery, etc., the bar will be staffed by a bartender. To avoid waste and wasted guests, make sure that there is one bartender for every 50 guests.

Consider having a cooling down period for the last half hour of the wedding reception where only non-alcoholic beverages are available – rather than serving alcoholic beverages until the very end of the wedding reception and allowing someone to consume that last “one for the road”.

Non alcoholic beverages, including coffee, should be offered until the very end of the wedding reception. Although coffee will not actually sober someone up, it will help to dilute the amount of alcohol in their system, help them metabolize the alcohol faster, and help keep them a bit more alert. Make it clear to your bartenders in advance, that although you want your wedding guests to have a good time, you are equally concerned about their safety. The bartenders should monitor consumption and alert you if a guest has exceeded his/her limit.

Be sure to appoint someone from your wedding party to check with the bartenders from time to time about the condition of the guests. Although professional bartenders have the experience to track individual consumption, recognize signs of intoxication and tactfully slow an individual’s consumption when needed, you should take the responsibility for the overall safety of your wedding guests and intervene when necessary.

CASH BAR e6c12623c4895ccd653e855b32a77e88

If having a bar with assorted alcoholic beverages is important to you, but the cost is prohibitive, a cash bar can be a great way to save some money. A cash bar can allow you to focus on having more food, or more decorations. However, it will probably make you look cheap, can come off as a bit rude, and can be annoying for guests especially if they don’t come prepared.

I, however, usually find people who complain the most about the lack of liquor at a wedding (or any event for that matter) to be big drinkers. If you have a lot of big drinkers coming to your wedding, you may seriously want to go with a open bar. But, if only a few people are big drinkers, consider wine on the tables or a limited cash bar.  

Tips for a Cash Bar One option is to have an open cocktail hour one hour before the receiving line or dinner begins with a cash bar afterwards. You can supplement this with some wine on the table at dinner. This way you keep the bar expenses down but still offer bar service to those who desire it. Of course, non-alcoholic beverages should be available throughout the reception. Having hors d’oeuvres at an open or cash bar will help to limit the amount of alcohol your guests consume. My Pictures24 Another idea is to give two or three free alcoholic drink tickets to each guest. Once these are used up it’s a cash bar. I think it’s important to not be stingy on the tickets, give people two or three, the appropriate amount that people should be drinking in public anyway.

Having wine on the table for dinner is important regardless of it being an open or cash bar. Wine is an important part of the dining experience. I feel that pop or juices for dinner just don’t complement the food. Having some good wine on the table for dinner will make your guests rave about the food and the experience.

Two more points on a cash bar. First, there should be no charge for non-alcoholic beverages and, second, check the prices that your location will be charging for a drink. Make sure that the price is reasonable and cheaper than a bar. It’s not fair to expect people to pay “market price” at a wedding, or over the bar price either. If it is going to be expensive, consider paying half towards the bar, that way people should only be paying $3-4 for a drink instead of $5-$10.


There are some good reasons to have a dry wedding. The time of day, like a morning or early afternoon wedding; a wedding where you are not having dancing or a late night. Religion may also play a role. If you don’t drink for religious/moral reasons, it’s perfectly acceptable to have a completely dry wedding. By making people aware of your religious beliefs (Muslim/Mormon/Seventh Day Adventist/Baptist, etc.) your guests should not expect you to serve alcohol, just as when you go to a wedding you don’t expect them to not have any alcohol just because you are there.

Tips for the Dry Wedding

If you simply don’t drink, or don’t like drunk people, I’d go with a cash bar. Your guests might not be the happiest, but this is what you are offering them. If you don’t want any alcohol, consider having the wedding take place at a time when drinking is not socially expected. If you’re getting married at 11 am and having a brunch, most people don’t notice the lack of alcohol. Consider offering some non-alcoholic champagne, other sparkling beverages, or punch for toasting. Here is a link to a site with some fabulous alcohol free drinks.

alcohol free drinks

If you are not having alcohol, make sure that you wow them in other ways. Have a lot of non-alcoholic drinks besides pop. Have a few different punches, have mocktails available. Make sure there are lots of appetizers and not just four pieces per guest with your guests having to hunt them down. Make sure there is FOOD!!!!! If people are eating, they won’t notice the alcohol situation as much. Don’t keep guests waiting for food to be served.

You may want to give them a few hours between the ceremony and the meal if you are having your wedding reception in the evening, so they can go get a drink before dinner. Also, have games, a photo booth, or things to keep them entertained instead of sitting there bored because they are not drinking.

As the hostess and host of your wedding, it is your responsibility to make sure your guests are happy, well served and safe. If most of your guests don’t drink, a dry wedding is perfectly acceptable. I would sure love to try some of those non-alcoholic beverages I posted above!

All the best! Jordin

Don’t forget to check out our wedding sites. For weddings in the Niagara area go to For location weddings in the Hamilton area go to