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Save money on your wedding: Trim the Bar Budget

Updated on March 30, 2014

Cut your bar budget and save.

Is your wedding budget starting to look a bit tight? A good place to cut costs is your bar. Most bar packages at wedding venues are bloated with stuff you just don't need. If you do it right, you can save a lot of money without feeling the pinch.

Or, just have a candy bar. Everybody loves candy
Or, just have a candy bar. Everybody loves candy

Tips on a DIY bar

* Keep the bar open for only a couple of hours instead of all night.

* Limit your selection to one or two kinds of beer, one or two wines, and one or two mixed drinks, or skip hard liquor entirely. What you don't want is a dozen half-empty bottles left over at the end of the night that you have to pay for.

* Shop around well before the big day to find the best deals. If you are serving beer, buy cases from a bulk grocery like Sam's Club or Costco, or a bulk ABC store like Total Wine, instead of buying a keg. A lot of venues don't allow kegs. Kegs are messy, the extra accessories can add up, and the cost works out to be about the same per-drink for bulk cases versus a keg.

* Also, if you're providing your own alcohol, chances are you probably have to provide your own ice, cups, and mixers, so don't forget those. You may even need to provide coolers as well. The cost on this can add up fast!

* Be sure everything is at the reception site several hours early so it can be chilled. Hot chocolate good, hot chocolate martini = nasty.

* Your venue will limit what you can do. Hotels and country clubs usually have liquor licenses, meaning you have the option of a cash or a free bar. Other venues, like churches, are sometimes completely alcohol-free or only allow certain types of alcohol (no mixed drinks, for example). Almost every venue will charge extra fees for bringing in alcohol, on top of the cost of the alcohol itself. It adds a lot of liability and increased insurance costs on their end.

Hire a Licensed Bartender

Sometimes you have to spend money to save money--and sanity. If your reception venue doesn't provide one or if you are having a wedding at home, hire a licensed bartender. A licensed bartender will pay for himself by preventing problem guests from over-indulging, which both saves money and reduces the likelihood of problems. He may even keep you out of legal trouble. If you provide free-flowing alcohol, you can be held liable if one of your guests drives drunk and injures / kills somebody.

Mocktails: Cheap and Chic
Mocktails: Cheap and Chic

Cash Bar: The Great Debate

Above all, remember that while many people consider a cash bar poor etiquette, it is not at all rude to have a completely dry wedding, and is not uncommon in some parts of the country and in some cultures. If you can't afford alcohol or don't wish to have it at your wedding for whatever reason, don't allow yourself to be steamrolled by friends or relatives. This is your wedding. If they wish to drink, they can arrange (and pay for) an after-party. No matter what you do haters gonna hate.

Be aware of the liquor laws in your state--it might not be legal for you to have a cash bar at your particular venue! In my state, you can only charge for drinks if the venue has a liquor license. In other states you may be able to purchase a temporary one-day permit to sell, to the tune of $100-200. I can't advise you on this because every state is different.

Are Cash Bars Ever OK?

Whether you say yea or nay, I think there is one thing we can all agree on: charging for water / soda / non-alcoholic drinks is WHACK. Don't punish the DD, y'all!

Cash Bars: OK or no?

Disposable Glass Options

Even if you are using real dishes at your wedding, a lot of people do (nice) disposable cups at the bar, just so there's not hundreds of extra glasses to deal with. If you're having 100 people at your wedding and you have an open bar, you can count on 1.5-2 alcoholic drinks per person (obviously there is a big range here but this is average), which can mean a lot of extra glasses to deal with in addition to people's drink glasses from dinner. The place can get real cluttered-looking real quick.

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