Brainstorming: Dry Wedding or Keg Party?

Fear not — these extremes aren’t your only options. But for a lot of brides, the extremes are what happens.

I’ve been to many a dry wedding, and for all the people who say no alcohol = no fun, I want to ask, since when do you require a chemical enhancement to enjoy a friend’s happiness? I’ve also been to open bar weddings, which have had varying levels of prudently imbibing vs. tipsy/obnoxious guests. And then there’s the wine bar/limited cocktail hour, where drinks are only served until the amount of alcohol consumed reaches a certain price point — then the bartender closes up shop. Or the much-maligned cash bar, where guests pony up for their own adult beverages.

And before I go any farther, let me just say I love every option — as long as it’s the right option for each wedding. But that’s up to you to decide, not some wedding etiquette guru who tries to tell you a wedding must have alcohol or a relative who insists you keep it dry. So let’s go through the pros and cons of each option.

No Alcohol:
Pros: You won’t be paying (likely a minimum of $500 or more) for drinks; you’re guaranteed no alcohol-induced shenanigans or embarrassing performances from guests.
Cons: Some guests might feel you’re neglecting your role as host; the dance floor is likely to be less lively than if you allow guests to loosen up with a drink; no champagne toast.

Is a no-alcohol wedding for you? Consider how many of your friends and family drink socially. Then consider whether you have friends or family who habitually overindulge. If the answer tilts toward the latter, an alcohol-free wedding will preserve your sanity on the big day. Also consider your budget: if a lot of your guests will be just as happy without wine to accompany their dinners, you’ll save quite a bit of cash while still enjoying a nice party.

Cash Bar:
Pros: This allows guests to enjoy alcoholic drinks without adding a hefty sum to your reception cost; a cash bar means guests can have the drink of their choice.
Cons: Some guests might be offended at the thought of spending their own money at your party; cash bars are frequently considered gauche by wedding experts (although my reception coordinator recommended it!); you might end up with tipsy/drunk guests.

Is a cash bar right for your wedding? Chances are, your budget is going to play the biggest role in deciding the answer to that. If you want to provide your guests with a lavish and gracious party, you might hesitate to ask them to pony up for the drinks they want, but if your budget is tight, making alcohol cash-optional is a way to let them have the option to drink without sending you into debt.

Wine & Specialty Drinks Only / Cocktail Hour / Cash-Limited Bar:
Pros: You get to offer alcohol to your guests on your own terms — serve “signature cocktails,” serve drinks for a certain amount of time only, or until you reach a certain price point, all of which save you $$.
Cons: With a predetermined cutoff bar or cash-limited bar, some guests might drink their way through eight brewskis and help you reach your cash limit well before other guests have even gotten their first drink; you might end up with tipsy/drunk guests.

Are any of these alcohol-inclusive but limited options for you? If you want to give alcohol to your guests but keep control over the cost or quantity of drinking that takes place, you’re best bet is to choose one of these options.

Open Bar:
Pros: You can truly wine and dine your guests.
Cons: You’re all but assured of a very high bar tab and quite likely to end up with tipsy/drunk guests.

Is an open bar the way to go at your wedding? If budget isn’t an issue and you have friends and family who love to sample different types of drinks throughout the night, an open bar is probably the way to go. But if you anticipate a lot of guests will overindulge because the booze is on you, consider scaling back to a quantity bar — after X number of drinks are served, it’s time to switch over to virgin cocktails and sparkling cider for the night.

Whatever option you’re leaning toward, when it comes to serving alcohol — or not –making sure you, your fiance and your family are comfortable with the decision is more important than trying to please anyone else, even your guests. You know what you do and don’t want at your wedding. You also probably know your guests well enough to to assess which offering would suit them best. Talk it over with your closest family and friends, and ask previous brides how they’ve handled it at their weddings (and what results they’ve had).

And, whichever way you go, cheers!

~ Laura


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