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Cheers or tears – should you consider a ‘free bar’ at your wedding?

20 November 2017

We all know how exciting it is to see the words ‘open bar’ when we receive a wedding invite through the door.

However, The Scribbler knows that such a luxury is not always feasible when trying to budget all the costs for the perfect day.

But don’t panic. The options to keep your guests ‘well-oiled’ throughout the day are extensive, from beers and wines, to fancy cocktails and champagne - it’s a fine art keeping everyone happy!

Open bar or 'open your wallet'?

First things first: Do you splash out and open the bar? Or are you on a tight budget and need guests to pay their own way?

Well, who says it needs to be so black and white? There’s a growing trend in UK weddings that there is a combination of the two: on top of the glass or two of bubbly straight after the ceremony, there might be some money put ‘behind the bar’ to get things going… but beyond a certain threshold, the guests will have to dig into their pockets.

If the budget allows it, an open bar is always winner with guests

However, according to a 2017 report by Bridebook.co.uk of 4,000 recently-married couples in the UK, just 21% of couples offered a free bar.

The Scribbler understands why a cash bar is often favoured. The study estimates that the average wedding now costs £26,989, with £4,747 being spent on catering, which would almost certainly go through the roof with additional costs for free-flowing alcohol.

Let's get technical and ‘do the math’:

A bottle of spirits contains 30 singles or 15 doubles.

A bottle of wine or Champagne contains six glasses.

A keg of beer contains 165 can servings or 124 pints.

So now we know that… how do you break down the alcohol ratios? From the many weddings The Scribbler has attended over the years, wine tends to be the more popular option – particularly over the meal – followed by beer and then spirits a little later in the evening.

With that in mind, perhaps estimate two drinks per hour, per person during the drinks reception and one drink per hour from then on. Make sure that you have at least 10-15% extra so that no matter what, you don’t run out of alcohol. You can always save it for the honeymoon!

A cash bar is easier on the pocket

During the wedding planning phase, couples often realise the extent of what their dream wedding might mean for their purses and wallets. A free bar often becomes the first things that gets cut from the list.

A positive of a cash bar, besides saving a serious amount of money, is that the guests can cater to their own specific tastes. However, a little offering of a glass of Champagne to go with the speeches is always appreciated.

Bridebook.co.uk founder Hamish Shephard said, according to Stylist website: “Couples can wait until the absolute last minute – even the night before the wedding – to decide whether to pay for drinks or not.

“So many couples overspend on their budget that when it comes to shelling out an extra three or four thousand pounds for drinks, it can make more sense to let guests buy their own. It won’t affect their enjoyment of the day and each individual will be spending a fairly small amount.”

Alcohol plays a big part in the wedding day, but it is a choice for the couple to make, not a requirement. For a guest, the average cost of attending a wedding in 2017 is £432 – so some free booze will be a welcome treat!

Additionally, though, think about the guests and the potential for things to get out of hand. We’ve all been to weddings where someone has had one too many – a cash bar simply reduces the chances of that happening.

And don’t forget…

There will almost certainly be a number of people coming to the wedding reception who will not be drinking alcohol: whether it is due to their age, personal preference, religion, that they have to drive, or indeed they might be pregnant!

So, make sure that when you are finalising your drinking ratios across the guests that there is an ample selection of soft drinks – fizzy and non-fizzy – to keep them happy.

But to finish off with the booze…

Free drinks are a huge perk, but certainly not a necessity for a beautiful day. Whatever is decided on the alcohol front, friends and family will be thrilled to share in your big day. Everyone can say cheers to that!