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Barnett Whitener, Kay Mitchell Photography

A Bar without Breaking the Bank

Barnett Whitener, Kay Mitchell Photography

Open bar versus limited bar … price per person versus consumption. Cash bar – no way! Remember, these are your guests, not your buddies out for a night on the town. Bar budgeting is a key part of reception planning and Christopher Williams, Event Manager for The Fish Market, has some great advice.

An open (or full) bar includes wine, beer, and a variety of liquor (both rail and call brands) and is the most expensive to host. When estimating consumption, Chris says, count on two to three drinks per person. Beer is $4-$5 a bottle; wine $5-$6 a glass, and mixed drinks run $5-$6 for rail liquor (such as Aristocrat vodka) to $7 for a call brand, such as Absolute. “Plan on more than less,” advises Chris. “That way there is no sticker shock and if your bar comes in under budget, great. And your event manager will let you know when you get close to budget so we can slow things down.” And some venues offer, in lieu of consumption pricing, a flat price per guest for bar service.

To help curb bar expenses, consider a limited bar. “Couples are going back to basics,” says Chris, “and offering rum & Coke, vodka tonic, and Jack Daniels & Coke.” A limited bar should include a craft or seasonal beer, along with a domestic or import, white and red wine selections, and signature cocktail. And keep that signature drink simple. “The simpler, the better,” Chris says. “It will please more people and have less ingredients – which cuts down on mixing time.” Count on using one bartender per 20-30 guests to cover the mad rush at cocktail hour.

Another way to cut bar expenses is to offer a full bar during the cocktail hour, then switch to beer and wine during the dinner hour, explains Chris. “It’s a better alternative than shutting down the bar during
dinner,” he says. And you don’t need to offer liquor at your rehearsal dinner. “You don’t want to overdo it,” says the event manager.

Chris sees two trends with bar service for today’s couples. “I’m seeing smaller groups for the actual rehearsal dinner and then opening up the room for other guests after dinner for cocktails and trays of light hors d’oeuvres. And for the reception, it’s an open bar for cocktail time, beer and wine for dinner service and going Dutch treat for the after party.”

And don’t forget your guests who enjoy a non-alcoholic beverage. “Those beverages are usually included in the menu price,” says Chris, “but check to be sure. Offer coffee, tea, soda or lemonade – and maybe a signature drink like a Shirley Temple.”

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