What Is An Open Bar?

Today, we’re going to be answering the question: what’s an open bar? A wedding open bar is becoming increasingly popular – but what is it? And what is the etiquette you should be following when having an open bar? And what options can you have? We’ll be covering it all in this post.

Weddings can be extremely costly, especially once you’ve taken food and drink into consideration. Drink can actually be one of the most expensive parts of your wedding day, depending how many guests you have and how many drinks you’re serving per guest. Most couples choose to have some variant of an open bar – we’ll be looking at the different options later.

What Is An Open Bar?

An open bar is when the couple whose wedding you’re attending have agreed to pay the drinks bill. Guests can order freely from the bar without worrying about the cost – as you and you partner are footing the bill. If you’re buying a drinks package from your venue, the quoting may be per head, or you can set aside a chunk of money to put behind the bar; and once that runs out, guests pay for their own drinks.

Open Bar Wedding Etiquette

Although there is no strict etiquette, guests will usually expect a few of their drinks to be paid for throughout the day. In more recent years, couples decide on a mix of an open bar and a cash bar. There are no guidelines you need to follow, but there are a few tips and tricks you can try to make the most of the budget you have.

The most important thing to remember is that although your guests may expect drinks, you are under no obligation to provide them at no cost. If it’s simply not in your wedding budget, that is valid – and I’m sure your guests will be understanding of your situation.

It’s seen as standard to provide at least one glass of alcohol upon arrival at the reception, and a glass of something to toast with. The choice of which drinks you provide is entirely up to you.

If you are choosing to have an open bar, it’s seen as traditional to serve at the very least, beer and wine. A typical open bar should serve several varieties of both. If you’re opting for something more luxurious, adding liquors and cocktails is a good idea.

Wedding Open Bar Options

There’s a few options available for you and your partner to choose from – whatever budget you have. WeddingWire have a brilliant article about 20 Things You Must Know If You’re Having an Open Bar.


If money is no option, paying for all of your guest’s drinks is a great thank you gesture. This is when guests can order whatever they wish from the bar, and the day after the wedding, you foot the bill. While this will take a large chunk out of your wedding budget, and you won’t know how much the final cost will be until after the wedding – your guests will definitely be happy!

Drinks Cap

Putting a cap behind the bar is a great way treat your guests with whatever budget you have. You place a pre-determined amount behind the bar for drinks. Once that money has ran out, guests are left to pay for their own drinks for the remainder of the night. Whether you want to put $500 or $5000 behind the bar – the choice is up to you.

Buy Your Own

If your venue does not have an alcohol license, buying your own alcohol is a cost-effective way to provide your guests with lots of alcohol at a fraction of the price of a traditional open bar. It’s quite unusual for a venue not to have an alcohol license, so this may not be an option that’s available to you.

Specialty Drinks

Something that’s proving more popular in recent years, is specialty bars. Whether you have a “Cocktail Station” or a “Gin Bar”, only providing free drinks for certain alcoholic choices is super fun for your guests, and can also be cost-effective. Cocktails are always extremely popular at weddings – they could even be alcohol-free!


Speaking of alcohol-free, it may be a good way to go! If you and your partner aren’t huge fans of alcohol, there’s no obligation to provide any alcohol at all. If you’d rather provide soft drinks and mixers, and leave the alcohol cost down to the guests – that’s a completely valid option! And likely the cheapest option available.

How Much Will it Cost?

It’s impossible to predict how much your open bar will cost without knowing which option you’re opting for, and how many guests are attending your wedding. However, there are some estimates out there to give you a rough idea of what the price may be.

Weddings Cost Helper predicts that the average wedding reception lasts around 4 hours and that an open bar can be anything from $15-$90 ahead, depending on which drinks you’re serving. However, if you’re serving just beer and wine only, this can be anything between $11-$33 per head.

Depending on where your wedding venue is, this may affect the price massively – so it’s important to bear this in mind when choosing your venue and how many drinks you’d like to provide.

Read more about Tiffany Blue and Yellow Weddings


To conclude, there should be no expectation from your guests for you to provide anything. If it’s simply not in your budget to supply drinks, that is valid and should be understood by your guests.

The most important thing to remember is to do what you feel comfortable with. If you’re comfortable spending thousands on a bar, that’s great. If you’re not, that’s also great! Your wedding day should be full of you and your partner’s choices – even down to the drinks.

Did you have an open bar at your wedding? Please feel free to let me know in the comments below.

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