Cost Of An Open Bar At A Wedding [Should You Even Have One?]

An open bar. Should you do it? While it may sound great to prepay for your guests drinks, is it even going to be financially feasible for you? In researching for our own wedding, I spent some time running the numbers to find out exactly what we would need to budget. I would like to share my findings here with you today.

So, what is the cost of an open bar at a wedding? An open bar typically costs $20 per person for a four hour reception. According to the Bridal Association of America, the average number of guests at a wedding is 170, which means the average cost of an open bar in total is $3,400. However, it is likely couples will need to factor in extra budget to cover additional costs, such as bar tender hire, taxes and gratuities.

Open bars are a popular option nowadays. They allow your guests the option to go and order a drink of their choosing, without needing to take on the cost. Its a fitting way to give back to your guests and a way to truly celebrate with them.

And while this may sound like an expensive thing to do, there are a number of different ways that you can stretch your budget to make it work.

Equally, what is important here is gesture; its not about covering absolutely everything, and you should only be looking to cover what you can realistically afford.

But by doing so, you can make your wedding reception a much more enjoyable, inclusive and memorable celebration.

Let us now take a closer look at the different open bar options that are available to you and address some of those questions that you will likely have. Such as how do you even budget for one, should you have one and how much money should you be looking to spend on alcohol for your wedding altogether.

So if this sounds like something that you want to do, be sure to keep on reading so you can budget accordingly!

Types of Open Bar, Costs and What’s Included

The total cost of an open bar is dependent on three main factors; the number of guests, how long your wedding reception is, and what you are going to serve.

Of course, the first two factors are already going to be defined; but it is the drink options that can really reduce the cost or where it can quickly get out of hand.

Thankfully, a lot of venues are pretty flexible these days, giving you various options as to what drinks you can make available for guests.

These are commonly broken down into the three main options:

  • Limited Bar
  • Full Bar
  • Full Bar including some more premium options

Let us now take a closer look at the numbers for the different types of open bar available, against weddings of different sizes.

Limited Bar

As it sounds, a limited bar includes a limited range of drinks. Typically, it involves a pre-selected range of beers, house wine and non-alcoholic options such as soda/juice.

This is the cheapest bar option, and typically works out between $10-$20 per person. It breaks down on average to the following:

Guest CountExpected Total Cost
25$250-$500
50$500-$1000
75$750-$1500
100$1000-$2000
125$1250-$2500
150$1500-$3000
175$1750-$3500
200$2000-$4000

Full Bar

A full bar includes a more comprehensive range of drinks. It will depend on your venue, but generally, these are the types of drinks that come included

  • Vodka
  • Scotch
  • Rum
  • Gin
  • Bourbon
  • Tequila
  • Domestic beers
  • Imported beers
  • White and Red wine
  • Ciders
  • Soft drinks
  • Water and juice

This is the second-tier bar option, and typically works out between $20-$30 per person. It breaks down on average to the following:

Guest CountExpected Total Cost
25$500-$750
50$1000-$1500
75$1500-$2250
100$2000-$3000
125$2500-$3750
150$3000-$4500
175$3500-$5250
200$4000-$6000

Full Bar With Premium Drinks

The full bar with premium drinks provides all of those drinks referenced above, but will also include a range of more expensive brands of liquors, beer and wine choices.

Consider that not every guest will opt for the more expensive choice, but it is increasingly more likely if it is available.

This is the most expensive open bar option, and typically works out between $30-$40 per person. It breaks down on average to the following:

Guest CountExpected Total Cost
25$750-$1000
50$1500-$2000
75$2250-$3000
100$3000-$4000
125$3750-$5000
150$4500-$6000
175$5250-$7000
200$6000-$8000

Other Costs To Consider

If you go for an open bar, do not forget that there may be some additional costs such as:

  • Bar tender that caterers charge around between $30 and $200 for each event.
  • Providers prefer hourly fees for their bar tenders. The average cost is $25 per hour.
  • Plan to tip 10% to 20% of the total alcohol bill on the head bartender.
  • Bartenders charge $1 to $15 per bottle as corking fee if you provide the wine. Some bartenders charge around $1 to $5 for service fee for each six-pack of beer you provide.
  • Add an extra $3-5 per person for glassware in place of plastic cups.

Typically, one bartender is capable of serving 100 persons, but you may want to have more as a means of speeding up the process, giving the bartender a less stressful night etc.

Also, don’t forget important details such as:

  • Napkins
  • Swizzle sticks
  • Cocktail decorations
  • Enough cups

Some venues may provide these free of charge, or they may be included in your venue hire package.

Otherwise, you can expect these to cost a further $200-$300, depending on the amount and how fancy the items are.

How Do You Budget For An Open Bar At A Wedding?

Strategic budgeting for an open bar at a wedding is very important. Otherwise, you risk ending up accumulating a huge bill for alcohol.

Trouble is, once the drinks are ordered you will need to pay – there can be no refunds here!

Let us now take a closer look at some practical ways to budget, and ensure your open bar does not soon get out of hand:

  • Serving only specific brands of drinks is a good way to save cost. This option is very flexible and allows for different price ranges.
  • Putting limits on the amount of drinks that people can order at a time, or over the duration of a certain amount of time can also work. This can be difficult to manage for larger guest counts.
  • Using a ticketing system where guests exchange a ticket for a drink. Guests will need to be provided with these ahead of time.
  • You could introduce fun games, such as ‘roll the die’. If it lands on a 6, the guest pays.
  • At the reception dinner, allowing two glasses per guest may be a money-saving option. For wines less than $15 per bottle, the average cost per guest would be as little as $2.

How Many Drinks Per Person?

Shortly put, you should plan for one serving per guest per hour.

Let’s say your wedding will be attended by about 100 guests for four hours, you will need 500 servings in total for an open bar.

Simply multiplying the number of guests by the hours you have planned for the duration of the reception and you will receive a general idea of the servings.

Then, based on your budget, decide on the drinks.

Should You Have An Open Bar At Your Wedding?

If you can afford it, you definitely should consider having an open bar.

Its a great way to thank your guests for coming, and it is also a way to take some of the financial burden off of them (whom have already likely spent on their attire, accommodation, travel etc.)

Besides, if your guests are required to pay they may be more reluctant; which can unfortunately result in people not having a good as a time as they potentially could.

If you want to spoil your guests, and can afford it; then you can look at the more inclusive open bar options.

However, most guests will appreciate and understand the costs involved with a wedding. They’ll likely be happy with whatever they are served; so long as they can enjoy it freely.

Do not worry too much about a limited open bar, so long as it has a few different drink options to suit different preferences and tastes, than the gesture should be taken well.

How Long Should You Have An Open Bar At A Wedding?

An open bar typically runs for the duration of the wedding reception. When you consider the average duration of a wedding reception, this is around four hours.

Most open bars will also close between 15 and 30 minutes before the end of the reception. This is considered courteous to the bar staff, and should give everyone plenty of time to finish their last drink and hit the dance floor for one final song.

However, each open bar is different. Some will be shorter, others longer than the four hour average.

Its dependent on a range of factors such as:

  • The venue – their policies and how long you have it booked for,
  • The staff – and if they are willing and able to continue, and if you can compensate them for it,
  • Any laws – around alcohol and when it can be legally served,
  • Your budget – and if you can keep the bar going
  • Your preferences – and how you want the reception to continue/end.

Never forget, that the longer you decide to keep the bar up and running, the more it will cost you.

How Much Money Should You Spend On Alcohol For A Wedding?

How much money you should spend on alcohol for your wedding will depend on the number of guests, your budget and how you can the alcohol to be provided/served.

Either way you should have a number and a budget in mind; and have safeguards in place to ensure you do not exceed it!

That being said, the average wedding is attended by 100-200 people, and the typical price of alcohol per person is $20. This means that a good budget to have in mind is around $2000-$4000.

Consider that whether you opt for an open bar, or you get your guests to bring your own (if the venue permits it), can make a big difference in that referenced price.

Besides, the price for alcohol can vary quite dramatically.

It depends on the venue, how you are looking to serve it, the type of alcohol to offer and of course how long guests will be able to continue drinking.

Even non alcoholic drinks such as LaCroix or Pellegrino sodas can be quite pricey – so do not assume that alcohol is the only drink that can bump up the price.

Also, do not forget the fees for the bar tender, caterer, gratuities, hours, etc.

Alternatives To An Open Bar

If the costs mentioned above have you a little nervous, or you do not think its going to be financially viable; that’s fine.

You do not have to go for a sophisticated open bar with fancy drinks and 12-year old whiskey.

If your budget is tight, you can consider other options which are just as classy and can be very personalized.

Bubbly Bar

Instead of a bar, your caterers can set up a table with a selection of drinks such as Prosecco, juices and fresh fruit garnishes.

You can kindly instruct your guests to visit the station.

Your bartenders can pour a glass to your guests every now and then.

Another money-wise acceptable is option is to offer also Aperol.

Both Prosecco and Aperol and much cheaper options than regular wine, beers, whiskey, gin, etc and most people like them.

Signature Cocktails

Instead of offering a full bar with 3-4 options for drinks, you can come up with 2 signature cocktails – one for the bride and one for the groom and offer them as the only option for drinks.

This is very personalized and creative idea and will cost you much less!

Order Hour

Instead of an open bar for the wedding reception duration, you can set up a specific time for each of your guests to order a drink.

You can provide your guests with their own drinks menu that they get while at the reception dinner (it will be all the same but printed for each guest separately) and you can state that they can order a glass of wine, a beer or a Prosecco on the house!

Cash Bar

Of course you can always have a cash bar where guests pay for their drinks, as they normally would.

Bring Your Own

If your venue permits, you may be able to provide your own drinks, to be served by the barstaff.

Of course, you will need to consider the purchase and transportation costs and logistics. Plus, you will need to consider what you will do if you run out or have a surplus at the end.

But, here is a general overview of the number of drinks you should need per each guest size amount:

Bring Your Own For 50 Guests

  • 40 Bottles of Wine
  • 100 Bottles of beer
  • 5 Bottles of Liquor
  • 10 Bottles of Champagne or Sparkling.

Bring Your Own For 100 Guests

  • 80 Bottles of Wine
  • 200 Bottles of beer
  • 10 Bottles of Liquor
  • 20 Bottles of Champagne or Sparkling.

Bring Your Own For 150 Guests

  • 120 Bottles of Wine
  • 300 Bottles of beer
  • 15 Bottles of Liquor
  • 30 Bottles of Champagne or Sparkling.

Bring Your Own For 200 Guests

  • 160 Bottles of Wine
  • 400 Bottles of beer
  • 20 Bottles of Liquor
  • 40 Bottles of Champagne or Sparkling.

Consider you may want to adjust depending on your guests accordingly. Are they mainly wine drinkers? Beer drinkers? Consider your audience and plan accordingly.

Conclusion

Open bars are not cheap; but they do serve as an ideal opportunity to thank your guests for celebrating with you on your special day.

On average, an open bar at a wedding reception costs between $2,000-$4,000; this is based on a $20 per person price.

Whether you spend this amount however will likely vary. It is just an average.

The total cost will vary depending on the number of guests, the type of drinks served and the duration of your reception.

If you decide to offer fancy and expensive liquors, such as 12-year old whiskey or the best French champagne, you may be looking at $6000 and up.

When it comes to your budgeting, remember to talk to your venue; get their advice, recommendations and what previous weddings have done.

It also makes sense to enquire about any additional costs such as fees for the bartender, service fees and taxes on the alcohol.

From there, you should also consider any gratuities you would like to pay, any potential transportation costs, and if you need to provide any necessities such as napkins and cups.

If you budget is tight, you can go for much more affordable options such as a bubbly bar, signature cocktails or order hour. Don’t rule out a cash bar for a part of, or the duration of your reception. If your venue permits bring your own may be an option too.

All in all, try to enjoy the process of planning your wedding and try to stress. You can only do what you can afford; whatever that may be.

Just keep communication open with your guests and set their expectations, and all should be fine.