why it's rude to have a cash bar at your wedding

"We're keeping costs down, so we're having a cash bar at our wedding." Ouch! Those words make me cringe every time I hear them. In fact, I cringed a little just typing them. Having a cash bar at your wedding is one thing you shouldn't do. Nobody should ever do it. Why?

wine glasses

Well, your wedding reception is a party, right? It's a party hosted by you, your families, or some combination thereof, depending on who's paying and how you word your invitation.

When you have a party at your house, do you make people pay for their drinks? Of course not. Imagine this scenario: Your friend arrives at your house for a fun cookout on a beautiful afternoon. Being a gracious host(ess), you welcome her to your home and offer her a drink. She thanks you and says that yes, she'd love a glass of wine. You pour it, hand it to her, then say, "That'll be $5.00." Really? No, that would be silly and awkward. And rude! And it's just as rude to do that to your wedding guests.

I know, the wedding reception probably isn't happening at your house, and it's probably much larger than any other party you'll ever throw ever again -- until your own kids get married, anyway. But it's still a party, and you and/or your family are still the hosts. And the rules of etiquette still apply. You wouldn't charge guests at your home to drink alcohol; don't do it to your wedding guests either.

But, you say, my fiance(e) and I have friends over for casual BYOB stuff all the time and nobody ever complains! Okay, so are you going to put BYOB on your wedding invitation? I didn't think so.

How, then, are you supposed to deal with the question of alcohol at your wedding when you're on a tight budget? Here are some options:

  • Serving beer and wine only may cost less than a offering a full bar. It really depends on your guests, though. Sometimes when there's only beer and wine available, people just have more drinks and it doesn't turn out to be less expensive after all. But beer and wine only is a perfectly acceptable option. You don't have to offer a full bar.
  • If you want to serve cocktails, then just offer one signature cocktail or a small cocktail menu. You'll limit the varieties of liquor needed to stock the bar, and in some cases the drinks can be premixed before the reception begins. It'll keep the traffic jams at the bar to a minimum, and it'll make it easier to have passed drinks. It's also a great way to add a personal touch to your celebration.
  • Limit the availability of the bar. For example, have the bar open during your cocktail hour, close it during dinner, then open it again for dancing. And of course your bar should close before the end of the reception. In fact, you should follow that last rule even if you're not on a budget. Close the bar early enough that people will have time to sober up a bit before getting back into their cars. That's a loving gesture, not a limiting one.
  • Don't serve alcohol at all. Yes, this is totally okay! Etiquette does not obligate you to serve alcohol to your guests at your wedding reception. Now, here again, you know your guests. Some couples tell me that their friends and family would be upset if there were no alcohol at their wedding reception, and maybe they would. Frankly, I give the side eye to any guest who would actually complain about not getting to drink at a wedding (or at any party to which they were invited). But anyway, this is a legitimate option. You can have a really fun party with no alcohol at all, and you can still have fun and creative signature drinks. Warm chocolate chip cookies with milk shooters, a pretty lemonade or iced tea table, a gourmet coffee station... All of these are alcohol-free but still full of personality.

If you need help figuring out how to handle the alcohol question, then start crunching some numbers, and don't be afraid to get expert help. Talk with your wedding planner, your caterer, or the staff at your favorite liquor store about how much liquor, wine, and beer you can expect to use for the number of wedding guests you're expecting. Don't forget to factor in costs like bartenders, glassware, mixers and garnishes, ice, bar equipment, and a liquor license (depending on your venue, you may need to apply for a single-event license).

Whatever your approach, own your decision and have fun with it. Drinks of any kind are  a great way to add unique touches to your event. Depending on what you serve, they can even be a colorful addition to your decor. Please, just don't ask your guests to pay for them.