All Events

Bar Service Basics – Open Bar Vs. Cash Bar Vs. the Alternatives

Bar lined with glasses of champagne

Unless an event is only for kids, you need to decide whether to serve alcohol and how to go about it. Some people feel that certain types of events, including corporate employee appreciation events and weddings, should be open bar. However, not everyone agrees. Many find it acceptable to have a cash bar or a combination of open and cash bars at any event.

Open Bar vs. Host Bar vs. Cash Bar

With an open bar, guests can order as many drinks as they want. The host pays for their drinks and tips the bartenders. This may involve an hourly fee per guest. A host bar is another name for an open bar where the bartender tracks the alcohol served and charges the host at the end of the event. With a cash bar, guests pay for everything they drink and tip the bartenders themselves.

Combination Bar Options

Sometimes people limit the expense by choosing a combination bar. This may even limit the alcohol consumed. Sometimes people have an open bar for an hour, until they serve dinner, or until the bar bill hits a certain dollar amount. Then they have a cash bar. Another choice is for the host to give a number of drink tickets to each guest. The guests pay for any drinks they want after using up these tickets.

Limited Bars

Some people enjoy having an open bar but don’t want the expense of a full open bar. Limit the options to decrease the cost. This could mean only offering beer or wine, perhaps along with a signature drink or two, or not offering top shelf liquors. Skipping mixed drinks that add to the cost of the bar won’t impact the guests’ enjoyment.

The Champagne Toast

Weddings with cash bars or combination bars often still include the champagne toast. Those with open bars sometimes save money by skipping the champagne, as many people have a drink already.

Source of Alcohol

Some venues allow the host to buy the alcohol themselves and hire a bartender to serve it. This is sometimes cheaper, and you can often return any unopened bottles. You provide glasses, napkins, mixers, garnishes, and swizzle sticks if you don’t hire a full bar service.

Consider the Guests

If your guests don’t drink much, a host bar may be better than a cash bar if the per drink charge isn’t high. When many guests are big drinkers, paying a per hour fee and having an open bar may be more cost-effective. Go through the guest list and mark whether people are heavy or light drinkers to make the best decision clearer. If the bar will be at least partly a cash bar, include that information in the invite so people come prepared.

Consider the Time of Year

People often drink more when it’s warm out and less when it’s cold out. However, they may be more likely to drink more expensive types of alcohol, such as bourbon, in the colder months.

Consider the Time of Day

Guests are likely to drink more at an evening or night event than at a morning or early afternoon event. Food can also be less expensive at these times. Breakfast, brunch, and lunch options are typically cheaper than dinner options. This makes having events earlier in the day a way to cut costs.

Consider Cultural Norms

In some cultures or in certain areas of the country, it’s considered rude, tacky, or cheap to expect guests to pay for their own drinks. In other cultures, drinking is taboo, so you may not even have a bar. If the bride and/or groom don’t drink, the couple may decide not to have a bar at their wedding. They may also offer only a limited choice of beverages in the form of a cash bar.

Consider the Potential for Overindulgence

A little alcohol can sometimes loosen people up and get them onto the dance floor, but too much alcohol can lead to unpleasant situations. Having a cash bar limits how much people drink and makes these situations less likely. Good bartenders also keep an eye on guests and stop serving them when they have had too much. However, sometimes the signs aren’t obvious soon enough to prevent an incident. Nobody wants people to remember their wedding because of a drunken guest or a fight.

Consider the Event Type

A company shows more appreciation for its employees if they cover the bar tab for a fun employee event, such as a holiday party or an employee appreciation dinner. In other situations, guests may not expect the company to foot the bill. Likewise, a lavish wedding will often include an open bar. A simple wedding where the couple asks for no gifts may not have the same expectation.

Consider the Food Service

If people will spend a good portion of the event at a sit-down meal, they aren’t as likely to drink as much as if they’re standing around talking and eating passed appetizers.

Consider the Venue

Some venues don’t allow a cash bar as they don’t have the proper license. Locations that already have a restaurant and bar can offer cash bars. Check with other venues before planning on a cash bar to make sure it’s possible.

Understanding Liability Laws

Many venues insist that a TIPS certified professional serve all alcohol. These venues don’t allow people to bring their own alcohol or leave alcohol on the tables for people to serve themselves. This is because of liquor liability laws. Someone could hold the venue responsible if someone who’s intoxicated causes damage or injures someone else. A TIPS certified professional will stop serving people who show signs of having too much to drink. They also limit the chances underage individuals get access to alcohol, making unpleasant situations less likely.