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Average Cost of Open Bar at Wedding

Learn about the average cost of open bar at wedding.

The cost of champagne can add up quickly in an open bar. [©Shutterstock, 2010]
©Shutterstock, 2010
The cost of champagne can add up quickly in an open bar.

When planning a wedding, many families try to estimate costs by calculating the average cost of open bar at wedding receptions. Budgeting ahead of time helps the bride and groom keep the alcohol cost under control, as the bar is one area of the reception that can quickly empty a pocketbook. The number of guests attending the reception, the amount of time the bar will be open, and the grade and amount of wine, beer and liquor to be served and consumed are all factors that go into the average cost of an open bar at a wedding. If costs are estimated in advance, there shouldn't be any surprises at the end of the night when it is time to pay the tab.

Wedding Guest Count

To determine the average cost of an open bar at a wedding, the final guest list must be tallied ahead of time, since the head count is likely the biggest fluctuating variable in the equation. According to etiquette maven Emily Post, invitations to the wedding should be mailed at least six to eight weeks before the event. The RSVP date on the invitations should allow plenty of time to give all vendors the proper notice on the final headcount. Unfortunately, some invited guests will not respond to invitations but will attend the wedding anyway, so the actual bar price may exceed the estimate if these guests attend.

How an Open Bar Works

Guests attending the reception's open bar usually may order as many drinks as they wish. One important factor to consider is the type of bar that will be offered. An open bar that offers all top-shelf liquor will certainly be more expensive than one offering lower-priced spirits. In addition, some couples choose to offer only beer, wine and soft drinks throughout the evening. Others offer a signature drink during the cocktail hour along with the open bar. The multitude of options that can be created is almost endless and can be tailored to each wedding celebration.

Open Bar Hours

The length of time during which the bar will be open also factors into the cost of an open bar at a wedding. These factors should be considered when planning a reception bar:

  • What time of day is the wedding? Guests tend to imbibe more in the evening, so less liquor should be needed for a daytime or morning reception.
  • What is the overall length of the reception? The longer the bar is open during the reception, the more it is likely to cost.
  • Will a cocktail hour be offered? Some receptions offer a cocktail hour prior to dinner during which guests may also enjoy an open bar.
  • Will the bar stay open during dinner service? Often, couples will close the bar during dinner and serve wine instead. One 750 mL bottle of wine will fill five glasses.
  • Will the bar close before the reception ends? It is wise to consider closing the bar at least one hour prior to the end of the reception. This can help control the amount that the guests drink before they drive, as well as save some money on the bar tab.
  • Will the bride and groom supply the drinks or will the vendor? Some reception halls allow couples to provide their own liquor. This is a good way to cut down on costs, as beer, liquor and wine can be purchased at a wholesale club. Unused bottles sometimes may be returned to the place of purchase after the wedding.

While the cost of an open bar is specific to each wedding, each of these factors affects the final tab. They can also provide some bargaining power with the vendor.

The Champagne Toast

The champagne toast is generally an additional cost to the open bar at a wedding reception. According to Costhelper.com, a champagne toast can cost between $1.50 and $7 or more per person, depending on the brand that is served. The reception venue may charge a corkage fee, and the caterer may charge extra for glassware used for the toast.

Average Beverage Consumption at a Wedding

According to TheKnot.com the following is an average consumption of alcohol based on 100 guests:

  • Beer: 5 to 6 cases
  • Whiskey: 1 liter
  • Bourbon: 1 liter
  • Gin: 2 to 3 liters
  • Scotch: 2 liters
  • Light rum: 1 liter
  • Vodka: 5 liters
  • Tequila: 1 liter
  • Champagne: 1 to 1 1/2 cases
  • Red wine: 2 cases
  • White wine: 3 1/2 cases
  • Dry vermouth: 1 bottle
  • Sweet vermouth: 1 bottle

Soft drinks and mixers are not included in this tally.

The Final Calculation

The average cost of open bar at a wedding can vary widely depending upon many factors. However, a good rule of thumb is that for a four-hour reception, the open bar will cost between $12.50 and $20.00 per person. If only beer and wine are served, the cost may drop to between $6 and $10 per person. Figures not included in the amount are applicable taxes, stemware fees, corkage fees and gratuity, which usually is figured at 15 percent or higher.

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