"Open Bar" Cost

posted 5 months ago in Reception
Post # 2
445 posts
Helper bee
  • Wedding: December 2018

This is a great idea, we did open bar, but it definilty would have been cheaper to just buy everyones drinks, as some people didn’t drink, and those that did, weren’t huge drinkers! But we only had 30 people, so the cost savings probably wasn’t as great as it would be if you were having a large wedding like yourself!

What is the price per drink the venue charges? Will you have wine on the table? Are you having a cocktail hour between the ceremony and reception? Are most of the 240 big drinkers? Those would all would factor in to what the price would be. How much is the cost of just having an open bar? 

Post # 3
7920 posts
Bumble Beekeeper

newbee959 :  what you’re describing is typically called a “consumption bar” and it will depend on your guests. Mine were big drinkers so a flat rate made the most sense for us, but if your guests don’t drink a lot it can save money for sure. Did the venue give you a price list? 

Post # 4
118 posts
Blushing bee

So I did the same thing because my venue lets you return any unopened bottles, so I have a 130 person wedding, and it’s a sunday (so i expect less drinks per person).. so we put down $5000 towards to the open bar. Should we get close to that, the coordinator will come and ask us if we want to move to a cash bar, or just continue to pay..

Post # 5
180 posts
Blushing bee

newbee959 :  as PP stated this is called a consumption bar and unless half your guest list are mild drinkers I would not suggest this for such a large guest list

Your guests will treat as an open bar becuse thats what it will look like which mean your going to have tons of people who half finish their drinks/leave them in bathroom or other places and get new ones, get new ones when drinks get warm etc.. so you will have alot of people getting exra drinks because of that.

With such a large guest list i thnk you will have alot of cost attributed to that alone

We had 180 guests, majority big drinkers.. and we got married at an expensive venue and our open bar cost was 58 cad per person (wine with dinner included) 

The price list was i believe around 6 dollars for mixed drink (gin and tonic, vodka soda etc) and 30 per wine bottle approx.. so flat open bar rate actually was cheaper than per consumption

But like i said depends on your guets list and wedding, if you have big drinkers and you except many guests to be there dancing till 1 am then 100% just do open… if you have mild drinkers and think most people will go home after dinner then do consumptions 

Post # 6
118 posts
Blushing bee

supertrooper0101 :  That totally makes sense. In the state I live in, you actually have to buy all the alcohol before the event (super conservative state), so they didnt even have the option to do a flat open bar! I would definitely have done that.

Post # 7
39 posts
  • Wedding: March 2019

We did this, but restricted the bar to house beer/wine and our signature cocktail (and of course non-alcholic drinks). With 110 guests – a pretty solid mix of heavy drinkers and non-drinkers – we ended up spending just about $3,000. Price per drink ranged from $4 for domestic beer to the $7 cocktail.

We told the venue up front that $3,000 was our limit (out the door, including tax and gratuity) and they let my husband know when we were getting close to that. It was the end of the night, so we let it ride. It worked perfectly for us!

Post # 8
2687 posts
Sugar bee

I would be nervous to do this with such a large group, but you know your guests best.  

We did the consumption bar for the welcome dinner and for the party back at home after.  It worked out fine as for every heavy drinker, there was someone who didn’t drink at all or maybe had one drink.

I would recommend making sure the bartenders are clear that there are no shots and no double pours as that can add up fast.  


Post # 9
1622 posts
Bumble bee
  • Wedding: October 2017

You know your guests best and if they are big drinkers it’s worth paying the flat fee in the long run because it’s tacky AF to have a consumption bar with a limit run out before the end of the night and make your guests pay for their drinks. Do you plan on doing a limited bar at least?

IMO anything over 200 you run the risk of one person drinking nothing and another drinking their share and that of another person. Case in point I definitely had some guests drink far more than what would’ve been $60 consumption bar if we hadn’t paid the flat fee which was less than $30/pp. 100% we would’ve paid more consumption but we knew that going in, obvs. 

Post # 10
4502 posts
Honey bee

I frequently do consumption bar when I host events (surprise birthdays, retirements, graduations, etc.).  However, I usually only have about 75 people max and my family are not drinkers.  They will maybe have one drink max with dinner and on a very rare occasion may have a second drink (I’m the drinker of the family).  My friends and I are moderate drinkers who primarily drink at happy hour or special/family occasions like weddings or family BBQs.  My last consumption bar for a group of 55 came to about $200 before tip to give any indication of just how light of drinkers they are (soda was already included in my catering package).  If my SO’s family is in the mix, the tab is higher, but still worth doing consumption.

However, I used to bartend at a venue.  I’ve seen bar tabs for a crowd of 150 reach over $5000 on a 3 – 3.5 hour cruise when the flat rate would have only cost them about $3300.  I’ve seen people pay way more with consumption bar than it would have been at the bar’s flat fee open bar rate.

So I would ask yourself a lot of questions before committing to consumption bar:

1.  What kind of drinkers are my crowd?  If half of your crowd abstains from alcohol for personal/religious reasons, maybe it’s worth it.  Likewise, will you have kids at your wedding?  Kids obviously aren’t hitting the schnapps and parents who bring their kids are likely to have one or both parents drinking very lightly compared to parents leaving their kids at home.

Also, remember that just because you’ve never witnessed your family or friends drink heavily doesn’t mean they’ll act the same at a wedding.  Except for a happy hour gathering about once every month or two, I rarely drink at home and will maybe have one drink out to dinner (and usually only when I’m on vacation).  But at a celebration?  I will knock them back.  And even my family of non-drinkers will have one or two at a celebration.

2.  What are the bar prices per drink at your venue?  If you’re at a VFW charging rock bottom prices, consumption might be smart.  If you’re at a hotel ballroom and they are charging higher prices, it might not be.

3.  What kind of drinks does your crowd prefer?  Are they primarily beer drinkers (usually cheaper) or are they cocktail drinkers (usually more expensive)?  My crowd loves their bourbon, whiskey, and rum with only a few prefering beer or wine.  

Do the math.  The average drinker will have two drinks the first hour (cocktail hour usually) and one additional drink for every hour of the reception thereafter.  So at a five hour reception the average person will knock back six drinks.  Some may drink less, some may drink more – this is what it averages out to.  If you know the whole crowd leans toward light or toward heavy drinking, you can adjust upward or downward.  So is the flat rate divided by the projected number of drinks per person cheaper or more expensive than you multiplying the number of drinks by the  price per drink at the consumption rate?  Make sure when doing the math you’re multiplying by the more expensive of the options, particularly if you know your crowd likes hard liquor rather than beer.


Finally, I would ask your venue if you have the option of switching from one to the other.  In other words, if it looks like people are drinking a lot and you’ll exceed the flat rate cost, would they be willing to switch you to flat rate half way through the night when it’s time to settle the tab?


Post # 11
1582 posts
Bumble bee
  • Wedding: August 2018 - Location

Yeah we just opened the tab for everyone and paid the bill at the end of the night. They didn’t know the difference. It was much cheaper than expected (but we only had 50 guests).

Leave a comment

Find Amazing Vendors