Everything You Need to Know About Having an Open Bar at Your Wedding

Keep the alcohol flowing all night.
chapelle johnson the knot associate editor
Chapelle Johnson
chapelle johnson the knot associate editor
Chapelle Johnson
Associate 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 Jan 25, 2023

Open bars at weddings have been popular for a long time, but over the past couple of years, bar companies and to-be-weds have been transforming the way we see the typical open bar. According to The Knot 2021 Real Weddings Study, 79% of couples offered an open bar at their wedding, but a fully stocked open bar isn't the standard anymore. And we're all for it, especially since alcohol takes up a sizable chunk of a couple's wedding budget. It's hard to go wrong with hosting a wedding open bar, but if you want to know the pros, cons and cost of one, we got you covered. Plus, learn about tipping etiquette for open bars, how to prevent your guests from drinking too much and what open bar variations you can try.

In this article:

What Is an Open Bar?

An open bar at a wedding is when the host pays for all their guests' drinks. No money is exchanged between the guest and the bartender for a drink purchase at this type of bar. An open bar is unlike a cash bar because guests are expected to pay for their own drinks, which helps the host pay for liquor costs.

Frequently Asked Questions About Open Bars at Weddings

Open bars may seem straightforward, but there's etiquette and other important information you should know. Read below to learn everything about wedding open bars.

What are the pros and cons of having an open bar?

There are a lot of pros to having an open bar at your wedding, one of them being it provides your guests with a pleasant hospitality experience they'll love. Your guests won't have to think about bringing cash or a card since everything will be paid for by the host. Jade Martemus-Brown, owner of Bar SoHeaux, offers more open bar pros. "Open bars bring excitement to the event. Guests are usually appreciative of the nice gesture since they have already spent money on wedding-related expenses. [There are] faster lines at an open bar too. Waiting in long lines at the bar can be frustrating for guests. An open bar doesn't slow the line, unlike cash bars." Unfortunately, there are some cons to hosting an open bar at your wedding. "Certainly, overindulgence can be an issue, which is why portion control becomes important. But the biggest con is cost. It's more expensive to have an open bar, but there are ways to mitigate that," Nate Usrey, executive director of Blue Book Barkeeps, explains.

Do you tip at an open-bar wedding?

Usrey thinks having a tip jar at an open-bar wedding is acceptable, depending on certain factors. "I think it's okay to do. I prefer not to because I find them to be unnecessary. The people who are going to tip at a wedding bar are always going to tip, whether there's a tip jar out or not. So I always leave it up to the host." But if you're considering having a tip jar, the tips shouldn't be the bartenders' main source of income for the night. "I think the underlying issue and why [wedding tip jars] are so controversial is because some people aren't making sure the bartenders are getting paid enough. At the end of the day, the bartenders should be paid to a point, so the tips are extra, not necessary," Usrey says. For the bar contract, Usrey suggests you look it over carefully, so you know if there's a gratuity added. "I know many companies do a 20% or 22% service fee gratuity that's automatically added on top of the entire bill. I think couples need to keep in mind that the prices they initially see are only 80% of what the cost is going to be––sometimes there are hidden fees at the end or ones that aren't advertised. Couples should ensure it's clear if a tip is going to be added at the end of the night so they aren't surprised." (Psst. Check out The Knot's Wedding Vendor Tipping Cheat Sheet for more insight.)

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How much is an open bar at a wedding?

The Knot 2021 Real Weddings Study found that couples spent an average of $2,300 on alcohol for their special days. But even though that's the average, the cost of a wedding open bar depends on what drinks the host is serving, the glassware, labor, gratuity and insurance. If your wedding venue offers a drink package, which many couples like since it puts less responsibility on the hosts, you'll most likely be quoted a per-guest price. If you want an open bar with lots of beer, wine and liquor options, your bar costs will increase.

How much alcohol do you buy for an open-bar wedding?

Food and beverages take up a large portion of a couple's wedding budget. So if you want to save money, consider buying your alcohol yourself instead of a drink package (if your venue allows it). How much alcohol you'll need to stock your bar depends on how many guests you have, how much alcohol you think they'll drink and what kind of liquor you're buying. (Use our helpful wedding alcohol calculator to figure out your alcohol estimate.) Martemus-Brown shares a wedding alcohol budget-friendly tip for couples. "Always start with a budget and stick with it. Many bartenders and caterers with a liquor license usually upcharge the alcohol to cover the cost, so purchasing the alcohol yourself saves you a pretty penny. Couples purchasing their alcohol should plan for one serving per guest per hour. Your budget will determine what those servings are." Another way to save money is by booking a dry-hire bartending service. "A dry-hire service doesn't carry a liquor license, but they can buy the alcohol for you, and it's yours to keep. Because of that, it's very customizable. You get exactly what you want, nothing more, and you keep everything at the end. Plus, with a dry hire service, there's no markup on the alcohol," Usrey says.

Do you put there will be an open bar on wedding invitations or a wedding website?

It's not required to inform your guests about your open bar, but it's a nice gesture––this way, guests don't have to worry about bringing cash. Mention your open bar details on the FAQ page of your wedding website or on the information card in your wedding invitation suite. You can write, "Yes, there will be an open bar at the wedding," or go into detail about what kind of open bar it will be, like a limited open bar.

How do you ensure guests don't overindulge?

Many people fear having an open bar at their wedding because they think everyone's drinking will go unchecked. But you don't have to skip out on an open bar altogether. The best way to ensure your guests don't overindulge at the open bar is by hiring an experienced bartender. "At the end of the day, overindulgence is the bartender's fault as much as the guest's fault. Slowing guests down usually works wonders, which is something a skilled bartender knows how to do through experience," Usrey assures. Don't be afraid to speak with the bartenders about a plan to ensure the night doesn't get too out of hand. "You can give directives to the bar company and say, 'No shots and no martinis.' I stress to my couples that they are in charge and can make rules. Bartenders will always make sure the guests are pleased even if they didn't get exactly the thing they wanted," Usrey adds.

How to Have An Open Bar at Your Wedding

A traditional open bar has a selection of beer, wine and basic liquors, like bourbon, vodka, gin, rum and tequila. Mixers for the alcohol are needed as well, like juices, club soda and tonic water. But don't make the mistake of putting your non-alcoholic selections on the back burner. You still need to appeal to your guests who don't drink alcohol, so talk to your bartender about serving specialty mocktails or other zero-proof beverages at your wedding open bar. Not only will this satisfy your sober guests, but it will also make everyone feel included.

Wedding Open Bar Variations

If you like the concept of an open bar but don't want to invest in a fully stocked bar, you're in luck. Read the four open bar variations you can have at your wedding, below.

Have a limited open bar.

This type of bar has a limited selection of alcohol (no specialty spirits or liqueurs) based on your tastes. You can stock your bar with the basic liquors we've mentioned before or only serve beer, wine and a signature cocktail. We suggest talking with the bar team about pre-batching the signature cocktail ingredients so it's quick and easy to make.

Only serve beer and wine.

Liquor isn't a requirement for an open bar, so don't feel the pressure to serve it if you don't want to. Plenty of your guests will be happy with several beer and wine options, which helps decrease your bar expenses. Consider having at least three beer choices, like a light beer, dark beer and something in between, and a red, white and sparkling wine to give your guests some variation. Martemus-Brown recommends having an open bar for the cocktail hour and transitioning to only beer and wine during the reception to help decrease overindulgence and your chances of going over your wedding bar budget.

Only serve signature cocktails.

This is one cocktail trend we simply can't stop loving. Offer your guests one or two signature cocktails at your open bar. Many couples create drinks that reflect their relationship or favorite beverage. Signature cocktails are a fun way to personalize your wedding and helps the bar line move quickly.

Only serve champagne.

Serve a drink that'll automatically put anyone in a celebratory mood. No matter if you choose champagne or prosecco, keep in mind champagne is typically more expensive than prosecco, your loved ones will love sipping on this bubbly libation. Go big and have a champagne tower display at your reception or Martemus-Brown suggests a DIY bubbly bar where guests pour prosecco into a flute with their choice of fresh-squeezed fruit juice or puree.

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