Should You Have a Cash Bar at Your Wedding?

Here are our two cents on the matter.
chapelle johnson the knot assistant editor
Chapelle Johnson
chapelle johnson the knot assistant editor
Chapelle Johnson
Assistant Editor
  • Chapelle writes articles for The Knot Worldwide. She covers all things wedding-related and has a personal interest in covering celebrity engagements and fashion.
  • Before joining The Knot Worldwide, Chapelle was an editorial intern for Subvrt Magazine.
  • Chapelle has a degree in English writing from Loyola University New Orleans.
Updated Jul 15, 2022

We know that spending money on an abundance of alcohol can seem like a heavy hit to your wedding budget. It doesn't matter what kind of wedding you're having, big or small, alcohol is one of the biggest wedding expenses. According to The Knot 2021 Real Weddings Study, couples generally pay an average of $2,300 on alcohol for their wedding. With that kind of price point, you might be thinking that having a cash bar is the best option to decrease your alcohol costs. But there are wedding etiquette rules attached to this controversial bar option. So, before you decide to have a cash bar at your wedding reception, learn about what a cash bar is, the pros and cons of having one and some fun budget-friendly alternatives.

What Is a Cash Bar?

A cash bar is a type of bar at an event where guests order their beverage of choice but are expected to pay and tip for all of their drinks. The traditional cash bar setup functions the same as a commercial bar and the cash bar's payment options depend on the event and the host. A cash bar allows the host to pay minimal or no costs for the event's alcohol.

Most Commonly Asked Questions About Cash Bars at Weddings

Simply knowing the definition of what a cash bar is might not be enough. Here are comprehensive answers to the top cash bar questions to help better your understanding:

What are the pros and cons of having a cash bar at a wedding?

By having a cash bar at your wedding, guests will have to pay for their own drinks which can potentially encourage guests to drink less. This helps decrease any disorderly behavior, which has a slightly higher risk of happening if you have an unlimited open bar. The main pro that some couples like about cash bars is that it allows them to save money on one of the biggest wedding expenses. But keep in mind that these pros only benefit the couple or whoever is paying for the reception. Jason Rhee, owner and Director of Celebrations of Rheefined Company Weddings and Special Events, says having a cash bar shifts the relationship between wedding host and guest. "It puts the responsibility and cost on the guest, which may or may not affect the overall experience," Rhee says.

Cash bars at wedding receptions have a negative perception because it goes against the hospitality relationship between host and guest. Many guests expect an open bar (or at least a limited bar) that is paid for by the host. Many guests expect this since they're taking the time to celebrate (and bring a gift) for your special day. Besides the potential negative effect on guests, you and your partner can be poorly impacted as well. Since the bartenders are making the drinks and handling the payment, there will be increased wait times resulting in long lines at the bar. Bar lines interrupt your reception schedule because you'll have to wait for your guests to get seated before moving on to the important events of the night.

Is having tip jars for the wedding bartenders okay?

Desireé Dent, founder of Dejanae Events and Marry Me Chicago, thinks that a tip jar at a wedding reception is a big no-no. Dent adds, "...the look of tip jars cheapens the celebration." Usually, gratuity is included on the final reception bar bill, so asking guests to tip (especially with cash) is inconvenient and unnecessary. Having a tip jar at your bar has a negative connotation because it "...requires your guest to pay towards the experience you've invited them to," Rhee explains. Tip jars can make guests feel like tipping is required and not optional. But no matter if you're having a cash bar or not, you should cover the tip, so your guests' only worry is having a good time during your reception.

Do I have to clarify that I'm having a cash bar on my wedding invitations or wedding website?

Yes, you should inform guests that you're having a cash bar at your wedding reception. Dent suggests that you let your guests know your decision in advance. "This could easily be mentioned on the details or information page of your wedding website or shared on an information card included inside of your wedding invitation suite," says Dent. On the weekend of your wedding, politely ask members of your wedding party to remind guests about the cash bar. This will act as a final reminder so guests have time to get cash from an ATM, if necessary.

Your cash bar invitation wording should be concise and tactful. Here are some examples you can use for your wedding website or invitation:

  • We're beyond excited to celebrate with you on our special day! We're hosting a delicious dinner but unfortunately, will not be able to host the bar. So, please bring cash or a credit card for the cash bar if you want to indulge in any alcoholic beverages.

  • We can't wait to party with you on our wedding day! Dinner is on us, but unfortunately, we will not be hosting an open bar. Please bring a credit card or cash so you can enjoy the bar.

  • Ready to dance the night away? We are too! Sadly, we won't be able to host the bar, but we will be providing mouth-watering food for dinner. So, remember to bring cash or a credit card if you want drinks.

How to Have A Cash Bar At Your Wedding

If you feel like the pros outweigh the cons, having a cash bar at your wedding is pretty simple. A cash bar is just like a traditional bar, so the setup shouldn't be complicated or confusing. There are two types of cash bars you should know about:

  • Traditional: The bar is fully stocked and guests pay for each of their drinks.

  • Ticketed: The bar is fully stocked, but you give each guest one or two drink tickets, each representing a free drink. Once guests have used all their tickets, they have to pay for their drinks out of pocket.

Once you and your partner decide what kind of cash bar you want, talk with your beverage team about where the bar should be set up in case of long lines and how to handle guests if they've consumed too much.

Cash Bar Wedding Alternatives

If you want a budget-friendly option but don't want to commit to a cash bar, there are cash bar wedding alternatives that will keep you and your guests happy. Rhee suggests that you think about how much or how little your guests drink to help you determine what kind of bar to have.

Have a Limited Bar

This kind of bar has a limited selection of alcohol (that means no specialty spirits or liqueurs). Just have the essentials like vodka, tequila, bourbon, gin and rum. But if that list is more than what you need, decide what alcohol would work best for your wedding on your own or get help from your beverage team. You can host this bar or guests can pay for their own drinks.

Have a Consumption Bar

Trying to choose if you should have a cash bar or an open bar at your wedding can be a tough decision, but luckily a consumption bar is a great in-between option if you can't make up your mind. Speak with your venue coordinator and beverage team about if you can have a consumption bar, which is a bar where you pay for however many drinks are served. If your guests don't drink as much, you'll save money, but if your guests are heavy drinkers you might spend more than you would prefer.

Dent encourages to-be-weds to offer guests free drinks but suggests couples consider capping the consumption bar at a certain point, so they don't exceed their alcohol budget. Once that limit is reached, the bar becomes a cash bar and guests will have to pay for their drinks. This way guests can feel like they're being treated, but you're not breaking the bank.

Only Serve Beer and Wine

If you don't want to serve any spirits at your wedding, that's okay too. Offering only beer and wine still gives guests a way to cheers to your marital bliss but also helps decrease your bar tab since you're not serving liquor, which comes at a higher cost.

Only Serve Your Signature Drink

Consider offering your guests one or two signature cocktails. Not only does this option allow you and your partner to personalize your bar, but it also makes it easier on the bartenders and keeps your alcohol tab on the low end.

Only Serve Champagne

Want to serve something simple yet timeless on your special day? Then bring out the bubbly for the wedding toasts. You can opt for more expensive champagne to help you celebrate the toasts and then serve prosecco, which is cheaper, later in the night to save money. If you really want to indulge in all the champagne fun, consider having a champagne tower display for a classic and elegant vibe.

Forgo Alcohol Altogether

Just because you would rather have a dry wedding doesn't mean it has to be boring. There are numerous fun non-alcoholic drinks on the market that will surprise you and your guests with their delicious flavors. You can also do some research or ask a bartender for mocktail ideas---just about any cocktail can be made into a tasty mocktail.

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