I have mixed feelings about cash bars. Personally, in my experience down south, it’s usually not done. At least not in my family/friends circle. I wouldn’t do one, and even though I’m not paying, my mom and dad DEFINITELY wouldn’t do one. I do feel somewhat strongly that this is an event in which you’re hosting your guests and they shouldn’t have to pay for alcohol. In our case, our venue is really upscale and expensive, so a full open bar was a bit more costly than we would have liked, so we opted to offer two individual cocktails: a margarita (FI is famous for his made-from-scratch margaritas in my family, so it’s an homage to his mixologist skills!) and a bourbon cocktail. Our reception package also include two bottled and two on-tap beers, and a selection of wines from our venues 1,000+ bottle wine cellar. I think we made out pretty well. This was a great way for us to get liquor to our guests, and not have them worry about paying for drinks. Under no circumstances would we have not had ANY alcohol whatsoever. If we ended up having to do just beer and wine only, we would have done that.
However, we went to a friend’s wedding at another very nice venue in the area that had an open bar. But their definition of an ‘open bar’ was NOT what I was going for. Yes, they had a great selection of liquor, but their mixes were really lacking: club soda, tonic water, cranberry juice, and grenadine. Grenadine?? Who’s going to ask for a drink with ONLY grenadine?? For someone like me who doesn’t drink carbonated beverages (or cranberry juice for that matter), I wasn’t able to drink because ther was nothing for me to ask as a mixer. It wasn’t a ‘true’ open barn IMO, because you couldn’t get real cocktails outside of a gin and tonic type deal. In my opinion, it’s probably a better use of funds to offer beer, wine, and a widely-enjoyed actual COCKTAIL instead of lots of liquor, but nothing to mix it with.
And lastly, I think that I disagree with the “if you can’t afford open bar, no alcohol at all” camp, especially if your guests are making a bigger effort than usual to get to your wedding. For example: in october we traveled nearly six hours away to a remote mountain town with no cell service or wireless internet (first world problems, i know), in a DRY COUNTY (meaning we couldn’t even get a drink with lunch), for a wedding in a 75 year old barn…as in, true barn, not barn converted into an event space, port a potties, and no alcohol. This was because the bride’s desceased grandfather had been an alcoholic. That was really rude in my opinion. They asked a lot of their guests to travel, pay for hotels, rent tuxes (in FI’s case, who was in the wedding), etc, and they did not even offer a small beer selection. In that instance, it came off as cheap and tacky. I do think each scenario varies.