Category Archives: Alcohol

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


Your Reception, Your Way

A cocktail reception, with just drinks and assorted hors d'oeuvres, may not actually be less expensive than that buffet dinner. Plan wisely!

A cocktail reception, with just drinks and assorted hors d'oeuvres, may not actually be less expensive than that buffet dinner. Plan wisely!

Every bride has her own preferences. Some want a sunset wedding on the beach. Others want full-blown church weddings.  Some want slinky sheath dresses, while others want Cinderella ballgowns. Some want laid-back parties, and some want swanky black tie affairs.  But every bride wants to make sure she, her new husband, and their guests have a fabulous time.  And when it comes to receptions, there are so many ways to do that.

The thing is, your reception is going to take over at least half your wedding budget. That’s just the way it goes when you’re feeding several dozen or several hundred guests. At receptions, some type of food is mandatory, but by choosing your reception time and style, you can find food that fits your budget.

Breakfast/Brunch Reception

Following an early morning ceremony, nothing beats an elegant breakfast or a creative brunch. For intimate affairs, consider hosting the party at home or in your back yard; for larger celebrations, a country club or boutique restaurant should fit the bill. You’ll save money by not  serving hors d’ourvres, and it’s a rare guest that will expect alcohol (unless you make it a champagne brunch) before noon. While you’ll still need tables, linens, and centerpieces, you can go simply elegant for a breakfast or brunch — the over-the-top “wow” factor of many dinner receptions would seem out of place in the cheery daylight.  A breakfast or brunch reception is a lovely way to cap off a sunrise beach wedding, a quiet chapel or garden wedding, or a ceremony at home.

Lunch Reception

In the early afternoon, you can bypass multi-course meals and serve a simple buffet or offer a dinner meal. For lunch, many venues offer the same quality food in slightly smaller portions, and at a lower price. But, seeing as it’s lunch, instead of serving filet mignon or sea bass, you could put out a gourmet spread of cold cuts, artisan cheeses, crisp fresh fruits and vegetables, flavorful dips, and unique microbrews. At small, casual gatherings, you can bypass assigned seating, saving money on escort cards and table numbers. And your guests will likely feel at ease, more relaxed and laid-back than at a fancier nighttime gathering. If you’re hoping for a no-nonsense fun time, a lunch reception could be your dream party.

A cocktail reception can be a fun mixer -- literally.

A cocktail reception can be a fun mixer -- literally.

Cocktail Reception

Taking place any time from mid-afternoon to late evening, cocktail receptions are heavy on alcohol and finger foods and light on silverware and seating charts. You won’t need arranged seating at a cocktail reception, which will save you money on escort cards, and since your guests will be mingling the majority of the time, you can keep tables to a minimum as well — slashing the number of linens and centerpieces you’ll need to purchase or rent. (Just be sure there are plenty of seats for guests who want to rest their feet!) Keep in mind that guests will likely consume more alcohol at a cocktail reception than at a dinner reception, simply because mixing — with cocktail shakers and with other guests — is the main objective.  You’ll have to keep the hors d’oeuvres passing and the liquor flowing, but the fun festivities of an upscale cocktail party might be just what you ordered.

Buffet Dinner Reception

Traditionally less expensive than a seated dinner reception, but heartier than an hors d’oeuvres-only reception, a buffet can be as formal or casual as you make it.  Buffet servers in tuxedos lend an air of refinery, while a do-it-yourself approach can make your dinner reception less expensive than breakfast at a country club.  Keep in mind that you will need table space for all your guests, and assigned seating, as well as designating which tables may serve themselves first, is a good idea. That way you can ensure your elderly grandparents don’t get stuck standing at the end of the line. In some parts of the country, buffets are more expensive per-person than plated dinners, but you can all but guarantee your guests will get as much food as they’d like. If your guests’ comfort and a variety of mouth-watering foods are your top priorities, providing a buffet may be your best bet.

Seated Dinner Reception

The traditional seated dinner reception is most commonly associated with black tie celebrations — but it can also be a cozy, down-home shindig, if you’d like. In some parts of the country, seated dinners are less expensive than buffets. Just remember that you will be paying more in your gratuity, because you will need approximately one server per table, versus one server per ever twenty or thirty people at a buffet. One benefit is that your guests will be able to remain comfortably in their chairs, keeping the reception room traffic jam-free, as servers bring out their meals. Ideally, assigned seating ensures your guests share a table with other acquaintances, or at least other guests they’ll get along with, so prepare to pay for escort cards or a seating chart. Many brides also choose to provide their guests with a menu card, one per guest or one per table, if the guests have not previously been offered a menu option. But if you’re hoping for an elegant, hassle-free meal at your reception, the seated dinner is what you’ll want.

Dessert Reception

A dessert reception is a delicious way to celebrate your new marriage.

A dessert reception is a delicious way to celebrate your new marriage.

Following an evening wedding, a dessert reception is a chic way to cap off the evening. Whether you choose to provide a wide array of unique desserts, or simply some sweets, wedding cake, and coffee, guests will have plenty of time to mix and mingle, as well as dance. Like a cocktail reception, few guests will want to sit throughout the reception, so you can use fewer tables and save on linens and centerpieces. Similarly, assigned seating and escort cards are unnecessary.  Brides who want a reception that’s out of the ordinary and heavy on sugar but light on alcohol should consider offering just desserts.  (Just make sure your guests know they should eat dinner before they arrive!)

Potluck Reception

While you might see this frowned upon in some bridal magazines and blogs, potluck receptions can be a beautiful and personal way for a couple to celebrate with their loved ones. That said, keep in mind — potluck receptions are probably best celebrated only with very close family and friends. Extremely easy on your budget, because of the many contributors, potlucks allow you to enjoy old favorite family recipes. But if there’s a chance your Uncle Ted will bring his infamous chili corndog stew, you might want to pass — or set up a potluck theme, which would give you a tad more control over the dishes served. Think ethnic to celebrate your heritage(s), or a Hawaiian luau theme if you and your new husband are headed off to the South Pacific. Assigned seating would seem pretentious at such an intimate gathering, and your decor could be as plain or as fancy as you’d like. For a couple who prizes family and simplicity, hosting a wedding potluck would make a wonderful new memory.

I’ve attended or at least known people who have held each of these types of receptions — and every kind has been a great and happy successes for the families involved.

Happy reception planning!

~ Laura

Curb Your Cashflow

When actress Elizabeth Hurley wed businessman Arun Nayar in 2007, the pair spent $2.5 million on ceremonies and parties in both England and India.

When actress Elizabeth Hurley wed businessman Arun Nayar in 2007, the pair spent $2.5 million on ceremonies and parties in both England and India.

Whenever I look at my reception plans, I want to whip out a pair of pruning sheers and snip off the extra expenses.  Those expenses are trying to overgrow my neat and tidy budget like kudzu swallowing up a garden, and people: if it happens, it won’t be pretty.

At least there are some couples out there who to whom money is no object.  Just this week, I browsed through a delightful slide show on The title says it all: “The 15 Most Ridiculous Celebrity Weddings.”

Holding your wedding at an English, Scottish, Irish, Italian or Indian castle or palace is, you know, normal if you’re a celebrity.  If Elton John and Oprah Winfrey and Donald Trump are going to watch your vow swap.  If your budget tops out at a measley couple million dollars.

For the rest of us, money is an object the size of Texas.

But as I’ve been doing research for the book, and working my way ever closer to my own wedding, I’ve picked up a few tips from the pros about where to save money.  (And, I like to think, sleuthed my way to a few solutions myself.)

So, without further ado: ten tips on how to avoid a budget buster at your reception.

1. The earlier in the day you plan your wedding, the more money you’re likely to save on reception costs.  Some sites have lower minimums for a daytime (or weekday) wedding, guests will expect less and food — and less formal food — and will consume less alcohol.

2. Serving a beer and wine bar instead of a full open bar will usually save you a few dollars per drink — and keep all but the most determined guests from getting tipsy.

3. Find out if your reception venue allows you to serve your own alcohol.  The site might charge a corking fee, but the price difference between your bottle of wine + corking fee and their bottle of wine might still come out in your favor.

4. Discuss your reception venue’s drink-clearing policy in detail.  Some locations instruct staffers to remove any unattended drink includingglasses that are completely full, which means that when your guest realizes her drink has gone missing, she’ll return to the bar — and you’ll get charged another $8 for her second appletini.

5. Paying a little extra for butlered hors d’oeuvres may well pay for itself: with guests only able to eat one piece of food at a time, you won’t have to deal with guests who decide the cocktail hour should be their first full meal of the night.

6. Ask about a kids’ entree for the little ones.  If your venue doesn’t serve kids’ meals often, ask if they can work with you to create something that’s financially proportional to the amount the kiddos will eat — and that’s palatable to the chicken-fingers/macaroni/hot dog-loving age range.

7. If your reception venue has a wood, tile, stone, or cement floor, skip the rented dance floor and artfully arrange the edges of your dance floor with plants, ribbons, or flowers dangling from the ceiling.

8. Before you begin buying vases or decorations for your centerpieces, check with your venue to find out if they offer centerpiece basics for free.  If not, check with your florist, rental company, or local fabric specialty store to get price quotes for renting, rather than buying, the items you need.

9. Have your decor pull double duty: send it home with guests as favors.  Set out cheery wildflowers in aluminum watering cans or mason jars for a spring wedding; decorate with elegant conch shells and sand dollars for a summer bash; add a splash of autumn color with gold, copper and bronze votive holders in the fall; hang a miniature wreath over the back of each chair for a Christmastime celebration.

10. When it comes to your cake, most of the cost is directly tied in to the time and talent necessary to create it.  A simply decorated, butter cream-frosted cake will be cheaper than an elaborate fondant one; a few-tiered cake will be cheaper than a multi-tiered one.  Cheaper still: order a tiered cake that’s too small to feed your guests, and order an identical sheet cake to make up the quantity difference.  If you want a fancy cake without a fancy price tag, consider having your baker decorate a styrofoam cake, and just serving sheet cake.

Just remember: it’s your party, and probably the biggest party of your life.  You want to make sure it’s everything you dream of, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still cut corners, cash-wise.  Your wedding day is the beginning of your new life — and you probably want to start that new life with as little debt as possible!

~ Laura

A Bit of Bubbly

One wedding tradition I love is the champagne toast. There’s something so magical, so intimate about raising a glass with everyone in the room, drinking to the health and happiness of the glowing couple. Or perhaps I just love a good glass of bubbly. Either way, champagne toasts are one of my favorite parts of a wedding.

There's nothing like a good glass of Champagne...or Cap Classique, or Cava, or Espumante, or Prosecco, or....

There's nothing like a good glass of Champagne...or Cap Classique, or Cava, or Espumante, or Prosecco, or....

But these days, trying to cut costs often means substituting a less expensive drink for champagne, or skipping group toasts altogether. Look for unique ways to save your cash and save the toast — you’ll get points for creativity and get to share a special moment with your guests.

Cava is basically champagne without champagne’s price tag. Spanish-made cava sparkles a delicate white or pink, tastes delicious — and unless you tell your guests, or have a professional sommelier in attendance, there’s a good chance no one will even realize you’ve swapped wine from the Champagne region of France for wine from the country to the southwest.

Other countries craft their own varieties of sparkling wines: Italy offers refreshing Prosecco; South Africa’s version of Champagne is Methode Cap Classic or Cap Classique; Portugal produces Espumante. Here in the USA, we usually just call them sparkling wines.  The price range can start at under $10 a bottle, and climb into triple digits — though none of them can rival the prices of the world’s most expensive champanges.

Champagne punch is a tasty alternative to serving your guests straight champagne.

Champagne punch is a tasty alternative to serving your guests straight champagne.

If your reception site or catering agreement allows you to supply your own alcohol, you’ll save a considerable amount of money if you shop your local wine sellers for great deals on cases of great wines.

Another option is to offer your guests a lot of flavor with a little less bubbly: Champagne punch.

Mix up a batch of Pomegranate Champagne Punch, Pink Lemonade Champagne Punch, Guava Champange Punch, or Apricot Brandy Punch for your guests, or create your own recipe to coordinate with your menu or add a splash of just the right color.

If you’re not one to dilute your alcohol with fruit, consider serving kir

Elegant and delicious, kir is a cocktail traditionally made of a blend of creme de cassis and champagne, but it comes in varieties ranging from Kir Cardinal (which substitutes red wine for champagne) to Kir Breton(which substitutes Breton cider for champagne) to Hibiscus Royal(which features an edible hibiscus flower).  Hint: any kir with “royal” in its name features champagne, but you can easily swap a less expensive sparkling wine.

Sparkling cider is also good to have on hand for toasts.  Not only is it far less expensive (think $4 a bottle at your local grocery store) than alcohol, but there’s a good chance some of your wedding guests aren’t drinkers, or that you’ll have underage guests who would like to participate in the toast.  Besides, when you’re serving a nonalcoholic drink, you won’t feel bad if your guests keep going back for more — and more — and more.

With your drinks taken care of, all you’ll have to worry about is writing that pesky toast.  Cheers!

~ Laura