With Engagement Season just around the corner, we thought it would be fitting to talk about one of the largest wedding expenses, and quite honestly, sometimes the hardest decision a couple must make in the planning of their wedding reception – the bar! More specifically, whether or not it is appropriate to have a cash bar at the reception.

Here’s a quick description of the terms being used:

  • cash bar is when your guests are required to pay for their own drinks. Couples usually lean towards cash bars to reduce the cost of the reception, however this is not proper etiquette.
  • An open bar is when the couple pays for all costs associated with the bar at their wedding, including staffing and gratuity. With an open bar, the host pays for all drinksbased on consumption at the end of the event (also called a “Hosted Bar”), or by pre-selecting a bar package that the caterer or venue offers.

Here’s the biggest question, is it rude or tacky to have a cash bar at your Wedding?

Traditionally, having guests pay for anything is a big NO. They are being invited to watch one of the most exciting days of a person’s life. The reception is a party to say “thank you” to your guests for celebrating with you. And as such, your guests should not be expected to pay for anything at the reception.

But let’s talk if you’re on a budget. That is the biggest thing we hear from Brides. Reading an article from Glamour, they asked their readers what they thought of cash bars. “It’s not tacky—it’s practical.” The reader Carrie goes on to talk about how excited she was when she got engaged but didn’t realize how much the cost of alcohol was. Her first choice was to have an open bar but then felt, “it’s OK to offer up a cash bar”. This is a major challenge when brides and grooms first start their journey on planning their wedding. You start hearing all these massive numbers, and panic.

champagne toast

Photo by Zavier

A couple of other readers from the same article go on to say “It’s not tacky—as long as you give your guests the heads-up.” And, “It’s not tacky—because your guests aren’t there for the alcohol.” Glamour did have some readers with opposing views, such as Mila stating, “It’s tacky—if you wouldn’t do it any other time.” She talks about how it can create a different atmosphere for her guests.

Your best option when being on a tight budget is to first decide which type of reception you want to have for your guests, a wedding with alcohol or without? If you can’t afford to have the top shelf bar package, how about just offering a beer and wine package? If you do decide a cash bar is your choice, you should consider notifying your guests ahead of time so they are aware and they can come prepared to purchase drinks. However, if there are financial or even personal factors that prevent alcohol from being served, we recommend you have coffee, tea, soda, and water available for your guests.

groom with liquor

Photo credit: Mojica Photography

Mainstream etiquette says a cash bar can be somewhat insulting to your guests. Put yourself in your guests’ shoes. They are planning on coming to your wedding to celebrate with you. They may also be bringing you a gift that you picked out on your registry, or think about the parents that are paying their babysitter $60-$80, to come out and have a good evening. In our opinion, at the Overland Park Ballroom, we stick with the etiquette of gifting your guests with a fun experience on the house! So when deciding what to do for your bar, consider hosting an open bar or a limited bar package to be sure that your guests are entertained throughout the night and that they feel appreciated. If a cash bar is a must for your reception, be sure to include a short note on the wedding invitations so your guests can come prepared. And always provide non-alcoholic beverages as a courtesy!

The OP Ballroom Event Team