A lot depends truly on WHERE you live and what is customary in your area.
Cash Bars entirely (or Loonie / Twoonie Bars) … or combined with Complimentary Cocktail Hours, Champagne Toasts, Wine with Dinner are really common here in Canada… a lot more than in the USA
(Lol, has to do with the cost of Alcohol here… Gosh I’d LOVE it if I was only looking at Beer at $ 3 a bottle… it is more like $ 5 or $ 6 here… PLUS 13% Tax and 15% Tip… GULP !!). Hence WHY Cash Bars are so common in Canada (not to mention our very serious Laws in regards to DUIs and the chargeable offense for being the one hosting / serving someone who over consumes)
For the most part, here, traditionally people try to make the most of the Budget they have… and what their Guests prefer.
For my first Wedding (circa 1980) we had a Complimentary Cocktail Hour, Wine with Dinner and Champagne Toast for the Speaches / Cake Cutting. After that when the party started, it was a Cash Bar
For my upcoming Back Home Reception Party (following our recent Elopement) we’ll be having a Complimentary Cocktail Hour and a Champagne Toast with Cake
This is strictly an Adults Only Night-time Party (Cocktails & Hors d’Ouevres / Nibbles – Cake & Champagne – DJ and Dancing) … so no sit-down meal this time round.
Again, after the Cake Cutting, the Guests will be on their own, for the Dance portion.
I think the primary thing that makes it work is that you are clear on what you are doing. To avoid any confusion for our Guests, we are handing out “The First One’s On Us” Drink Tickets when folks arrive… and they’ll be a sign at the Bar inviting folks to try the “Signature Cocktail” etc.
IF you do choose to not have a Cash Bar throughout the evening, then it is important that you somehow make that clear with signage… if you don’t do Drink Tickets. Say a sign on the Bar that says… “Complimentary Cocktail Hour”… OR “The Following Drinks are On the House” (or reduced in price if you are doing a Loonie Bar) and listing them. Similary a White Bar (all white alcohols… Vodka – Gin – Rum – White Wine) would need a sign incidating the parameters.
Then if you do have do a Cash Bar later on, you could make another sign, that lists prices for the most standard items folks might order, and have it put up on the Bar in place of whatever was there before
Juice or Pop (16 oz glass) … $
White or Red Wine (5 oz pour) … $
Domestic Beer (Bottle / Can) … $
Imported Beer (Bottle / Can) … $
Mixed Drinks (Bar Rail Alcohol) … $
Mixed Drinks (Premium Alcohol) … $
Liqueurs … $
Anyhow you get the idea.
Hope this helps,