After all of this is over, when we’re back to (relative) normality, I think it’s agreed: we’ll all deserve a stiff drink. Or four. So today, we thought we’d tackle one of the questions we see couples asking time and time again: should you have a free bar or a paid bar at your wedding?
We asked our brilliant directory of modern UK wedding caterers and planners for their biggest advice about your wedding bar, and boy did they deliver. Here’s what they had to say…
What is a free bar vs a paid bar at your wedding?
A free bar at your wedding is a bar that is free to your guests – aka, entirely paid for by you. Your guests don’t have to pay on the night, because you’ve already paid (or have committed to paying afterwards). Sometimes this is done by an approximate spend per head, and sometimes this is done by totting up exactly what your guests spend at the end of the night, and billing you the extra.
In comparison, a paid bar – or a cash bar – is a bar that just operates like a normal pub, whereby your guests pay for their own drinks.
Either way, as the team at The Pantry Events explains, “A well stocked bar at a wedding is a must, you don’t want guests being without a drink during the evening when the party has started!”
Things to consider for a free bar vs a paid bar at your wedding
“We think it’s a personal choice,” says Ali, Creative Director at Union wedding planners, “but there’s a whole host of deciding factors to consider…
Know your options
Before you promise your Uncle his rare vintage whiskey, find out what’s allowed at the venues you’re considering – if having complete flexibility and control is a priority of yours, a dry hire place might be the most cost-effective option for you, whereas guests will be right at home ordering and paying for drinks themselves at a pub set up.
Short and sweet
Been at a few too many boozy do’s which get messy before dinner is even served? If your main worry about an open bar is guests getting carried away, a good way to get off on the right foot is limiting reception drinks to an hour and scrapping endless top ups. Your budget can then be utilised later in the day.
Less is more
It’s worth knowing that fewer choices means FAR less wastage, so if you’re providing the booze for a dry hire venue but trying to keep costs to a minimum, don’t try to cater for every weather eventuality and guests’ personal preference. Pick a few of your favourites, write them up on a simple menu and go with that. And, be sure to purchase from somewhere which accepts returns – Majestic and some supermarkets will happily refund any unopened bottles.
Add a personal touch
There’s other ways to “treat” your guests without feeling like you need to provide endless alcohol. Serving your favourite tipples (g&t or a pale ale anyone?) or a simple twist on a glass of champagne (think rosemary gin fizz or a negroni spritz) during the reception injects a personal touch without necessarily adding much extra expense. Treating guests to a mini espresso martini after dessert, rather than coffees that no one drinks is something we’ve suggested in the past, and certainly helps get the party started without a huge queue at the bar
Ditch ‘Keeping up with the Joneses’
One of our brides revealed that her biggest concern with a paid-for bar was that although they are the norm at Scottish weddings, most of her guests were from London. She explained, “I thought they would judge me! Then I realised if they did they’d be wankers and as such, they wouldn’t be my actual friends.” Cheers to that!
Make a decision and stick to it
When the night is in full swing, with alllll the love and drinks flowing, don’t underestimate how hard it’ll be to say no when the venue asks if you want to extend the tab. If your budget really is final, we’d recommend making a final decision ahead of time so you’re not left with a rather hefty bill (and headache!) in the morning.”
right photo by Elizabeth Alice Holt
The team at The Pantry suggest combining a free bar and a paid bar. “If you’re wanting to add a bit of flexibility into your bar, speak to your catering team about doing a combination of a paid and a free bar. You could do an hour of his n’ hers cocktails for your guests and then have people cover their own drinks after this, or run a tab up to a certain amount if your budget allows!”