Great topic… it might not lay the Cash Bar vs Open Bar debacle to rest here on WBee, but maybe (just maybe) it will shed more light on the topic and WHY it is totally ok in some places to do this. (Culture / Economics etc)
I am Canadian, and over 50 years old… I have been to dozens of Weddings in my lifetime in Canada… from coast to coast. And by far the norm here is a Cash Bar or a bar that is somehow off-set in price for Guests.
The Open Bars I’ve seen are few and far between. They are mostly in our larger cities (Toronto – Montreal – Vancouver) or surrounding area, places in Canada that have a lot more in common in many cases with US major cities when it comes to socio-economics than they do with rural Canada. And where perhaps those holding the Wedding have more funds (than regional folk) OR… there was a cultural aspect to the Wedding that would make it a “loss of face” to make their Guests pay… like the BIG Italian & Chinese Weddings I’ve been to for University Chums and Work Colleagues.
In Canada, much like the UK alcohol is a highly taxed item because it is seen as a LUXURY… (or what we also affectionately call a SIN TAX… because drinking alcohol also means that one is more likely to need medical help in the future… and as we have a National Medicare Program for all our citizens… this is one way that the Government uses to pay for some of those costs thru taxes raised).
Alcohol is therefore a Government controlled substance… and the government sets the pricing… and distribution. In most Provinces one can only buy alcohol at a Provincially run depot… often known as the Liquor Commission. (In a few Provinces we have some alcohol… like Beer & Wine available at other retail operations… BUT the pricing & distribution is still controlled by the Government). Stand Alone Liquor Stores like that are in the USA (with competitive pricing) are unheard of here in Canada.
In the USA… booze is a very cheap commodity. Folks can buy a case of 24 beer for instance for aprox $ 1 per can. And their Alcohol Laws are such that they can do things like bring in their own alcohol to many venues, or have a flat-fee consumption rate per person. All things virtually unheard of in Canada (infact in many areas of Canada, if you are hosting a Private Event outside of your own home… so say at that local Campground – Community Hall etc… you still have to get a liquor license… and follow a long set of rules about where you buy your alcohol, how you serve it etc)
Lol, I have known many a Bride or her Family who had “a plan” for their alcohol service (we’ll bottle our own at one of those “make your own” places… or just buy XYZ and just serve that) ONLY to find out a little further down the road in the planning stage that there is A LAW that made their idea not feasible (and of course more expensive). Very frustrating !!
Off the shelf in Canada… in most locations coast-to-coast a case of 24 Beers at our Beer or Liquor Stores will be in the neighbourhood of $ 50
And that same beer at a Bar will run you $ 5 to $ 8 PLUS TAX & TIP. And it is ILLEGAL in Canada for a Bar to put Alcohol “on sale” or sold at a discount per se … so the $ 1 or $ 2 Beer for Happy Hour or some other event is unheard of (this relates back to Canada’s stance on alcohol being a controlled substance and basically not a healthy item)… so unlike the USA, there is no such thing as Happy Hour*, CHEAP Beer, or a flat-rate all you can drink venue.
*Happy Hour – In Canada if a Bar advertises Happy Hour… it means they are selling finger foods at a reduced rate… and they may have ONE Beer or ONE Cocktail that they are selling ever so slightly below the Bar’s Regular Prices (ie in that they could sell their Beer for $ 5… but they are a high-end place, so they normally sell it for $ 6… but for Happy Hour they’ll make it $ 5.50). In the end, there really isn’t any bargain… because the cost differences from one Pub to another are so minimal. People just go to Pubs where they like the atmosphere, Bar Tender, Service, Food etc.
So back to that $ 5 to $ 8 Beer at the Bar … it sits side-by-side with Wine that sells in the $ 6 to $ 12 per glass range… and Mixed Drinks are also similar in pricing. Then ON TOP of that you ADD ON our TAXES & TIP.
Taxes differ slightly from Province to Province… (In Ontario we pay 13%… but many Provinces are closer to 15%)… and the Tipping Norm in Canada is 15% (usually calculated on the PRE-TAX Total)… although there are certainly folks who just leave 10% and some that go higher than 15%. And some Venues will ADD ON the Tip portion themselves… at a pre-determined rate… of 18%. So combined Taxes & Tip… one is looking at around a 30% mark-up on a price that is more than double what many of our US Cousins are paying for a Beer in a Bar to the south of us.
So suddenly… with a consumption bar… that $ 5 Beer is more like $ 6.50 after the 30%. And the Wine or Cocktail somewhere in the $ 8 to $ 15.50 range !! And for a Wedding those numbers can add up really really fast.
100 Guests x 1 Drink ($ 10.00 ave cost of a drink) = $ 1000
Lol, and that could be chalked up in the first 15 minutes of the Cocktail hour easily !!
As well many of our Establishments here make it even more difficult by having their own rules about supplying Wine for events. Some places allow a Wedding Party to pre-order bottles of wine for their Dinner… at a significant mark-up (the profit for the Establishment), but then have strict rules about WHO owns that alcohol once it is purchased. So for example, the $ 15 Bottle of Wine at the Liquor Store will be marked up to $ 30 to $ 45 at the Venue (2x to 3x the price). And the couple orders lets say 4 Cases (48 Bottles = 240 servings… or aprox 2 glasses per person for a 100 Guest Dinner). The cost of that wine being $ 30 per bottle (low end estimate) comes in at aprox $ 1872 once Tax & Tip are added on… and most times that is a pre-paid expense, as the Venue has to order in the wine from the Liquor Commission. Now the venue may decide that any unopened bottles will be returned to the liquor store for credit to the couple… OR that the Hosts own them, and may be taken home… OR retained by the venue as theirs (too bad… sooo sad). Which is WHY it is imperative that when signing a contract that one is aware of what the policy is for the individual Venue !!
So, combining single serve drinks with pre-bought bottles of wine, can really add up quickly.
And lets face it, 1 Drink per person at a Wedding… is not gonna happen. In reality, folks are going to drink more like 3, 4, or 5 (and in some cases more). Especially seeing as Wedding Receptions in Canada are much longer than they are south of the border… we typically get the Celebrations underway here with a Cocktail Party around 5 or 6 o’clock… and our Receptions run to at least midnight or into the wee hours (I’d never heard of the 5 Hour Reception which seems common in many parts of the USA until I came to WBee). Here Receptions are 7+ Hours generally.
To keep costs down… and still be hospitable, Canadians tend to offer their Guests some sort of combo-bar situation where at least some of the Drinks are Complimentary… or off-set in cost.
In reality, in Canada one has to make a judgement call… a Wedding without Booze (Dry Wedding)… OR Cut back on the number of Guests… OR find a way to manage their money by having a Cash Bar or some sort of situation where at least some of the Alcohol is provided complimentary… or the cost is off-set
My first Marriage (circa 1980), and my Parents who are pretty much non-drinkers wanted a Dry Wedding. I was totally opposed to this idea… because I knew their lifestyle didn’t match that of many of my other relatives, nor did it fit with my Hubby-2B’s family. Basically everyone we knew drank… except for my immediate family.
To compromise, my Hubby-2B and I footed a combo bar type situation. We offered up a FREE Cocktail Hour for our Guests – Wine with Dinner (1 Red & 1 White per Table of 8) – and a Sparkling / Champagne Toast for the Cake Cutting. So for the Dance portion of our Evening after Dinner, Guests were on their own (aprox 8 PM to 1 AM). I cannot recall exactly how much our Bar Bill was at the end of the night… but I know it was SIGNIFICANT Money for a couple of Newlyweds to take on… probably around $ 1500 in a time when we made aprox $ 3 an hour, interest rates were over 20% (closer to 30% on Credit Cards), and when Wedding expenses were typically paid by the Bride’s Family.
Another common practice here is to Host a Loonie (or Twoonie) Bar. This is when the Hosts pay part of the cost of the Drink, and the Guest pays part. Loonie referring to the nickname for our $ 1 Coin, and Twoonie referring to the nickname for our $ 2 Coin. At least in this way, folks can drink whatever they choose and not be looking at paying full price for it.
Partial Bars are also common. So a White Bar… where anything White is paid for by the Hosts… White Wine – all White Spirits (Vodka – Gin – Rum). The advantage to this is that traditionally the non-white items at a Bar are the more expensive ones… (Red Wine – Canadian Whiskey – Premium Spirits – Shooters – and Liqueurs / After Dinner Drinks)… so by not paying for those, the Hosts save a fair bit of change.
Like other Bees as this is the WAY IT IS IN CANADA… and very unlikely things are gonna change anytime soon in regards to the price of alcohol… I have no qualms about the practice, and how Canadians manage their money when hosting a Wedding.
I agree with the Other Bees… if it comes down to a choice of Not Inviting Friends or Family Members vs off-setting some of the Bar Costs / Cash Bar… then I am all in favour of getting an Invite, and having to pay my own Alcohol consumption for the evening… anything I don’t have to pay for… is a luxury… and I am very grateful for the gift / thoughtfulness by the Hosts.
At our own Reception, our Guests were quite surprised that we greeted them each with a Complimentary First Drink Card… and that we had Bubbly available all evening (the Sparkling was very popular with the Ladies).
This time round… Mr TTR and I had a Back Home Reception Party for Friends & Family… that ran from 8 PM to 1 AM and featured light eats (Hors d’ouevres & Wedding Cake) and a DJ & Dancing. We handed out pretty theme related “First Drink on Us” cards… and had Complimentary Champagne for the Toasts (and then available the rest of the evening). As well as FREE Bottled Water, Pop, Juice, Tea & Coffee. Our Party was 5 Hours long… and for 50 people, our Bar Bill was close to $ 2000 ($ 40 a head for “some” alcohol that they drank).
Now ours was a small intimate affair (just 50 people) and nothing fancy… just a chance to get together with folks who are close to us, and our Reception still cost us close to $ 4000 (a good chunk of change IMO)… or about $ 80 per person when you take all expenses into account for the evening (Invitations – Postage – Food – Booze – DJ – Décor etc)
By my estimate, a Buffet Meal for the same 50 with Open Bar would have easily cost us $ 15,000 (and again that would have been in a low-key venue… not a fancy downtown Hotel). And the greatest amount of that money would be for alcohol (a fact that doesn’t change… because as I said there is no discounted options here).
A Sit-Down meal here in Canada for 100 (a common number of Guests) with an Open Bar can easily come in at $ 30,000+ And as there aren’t a lot of families with that kind of money (an overall Wedding Budget of $ 40 or $ 50 K) folks make other choices… on how they’ll structure their budgets. And one of the most common is to find alternatives for the alcohol portion.
Hope this helps in giving some info about my country… and WHY Open Bars aren’t the norm here either,