What is The Full Cost of an Open Bar at a Wedding?

It’s a wedding guest’s dream come true. Turning up to find an open bar so they can let their hair down for no extra cost. While this can be a wonderful surprise for most, it does cost the bride and groom money. And sometimes, quite a lot of money.

Recently, a report found that a whopping 72% of couples are now opting for an open bar at their weddings with many more planning to do the same. If you’re planning your wedding and looking into having an open bar, you will definitely be wondering what the cost of such a luxury for your guests will be.

Bar is open sign and vintage wooden crate full of wine bottles decorated with olive branches on a table

Well, the average price for an open bar at a wedding in the last two years is approximately $20 per guest.

Now, let’s take the average number of guests at a wedding. This adds up to 126. 126 people x $20 = $2,520. This doesn’t include taxes or fees either (service and gratuity). When you add 15% for the taxes and fees, the total bill for an open bar at a wedding could be approximately $3,276.

Over $3,000 seems like a pretty expensive bar, even for an important event such as a wedding. However, where there’s a will, there’s a way, and there is always a way of driving this price down. All you need is some additional planning and research.

Whether you go down the DIY route of using cheaper ice buckets from Amazon as well as other accessories or use a local retailer, you can have an open bar on your wedding day for a reasonable price.

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In today’s article, we are going to discover what the full costs are behind an open bar at weddings and the ways in which you can save money on booze if you go down this route.

We will cover everything from additional costs (yep, there are usually hidden fees lurking below the ice buckets) and some of the best DIY tips to make your open bar as affordable as possible. 

Pricing plan types for venue dependant open bars 

Open bars tend to be priced differently from venue to venue. Therefore, you must check on how a particular venue you are interested in works out their price plan before you put down a payment. If you do not do this, you may end up paying far more than your budget allows. 

Firstly, most venues typically charge a flat rate or by consumption. A flat rate simply means you are told a rate to pay at the beginning. For instance, the venue may ask for a payment of $2,500.

You then pay, no matter how much your guests drink on the night. Paying by consumption means you are charged for exactly how many drinks were consumed by the end of the night. 

Most people prefer the idea of a flat rate. However, this has positives and negatives. If you feel many of your guests will not drink that much, a consumption rate may be the better and cheaper option. You could end up sending a lot more than what was consumed with a flat or a lot less.

When calculating a consumption rate, you must check with your venue. Ask them to provide you with a calculation.

For example, they can work out the cost of 2.5 drinks per person when they cost $6 each. If your wedding has the average number of guests (126), then your fees should come to around $1,890. 

A benefit of using a consumption rate is that you can ask who will not be drinking and take out the costs of people, as well as pregnant women, from your guest list. This will give you a ballpark area of what the bar will cost you. 

Maximum caps are also offered by some venues. This is if your guests drink $1,800 of your booze but you chose that as your cap. After that, your guests must start paying for their drinks. Make sure your wedding guests know about this in advance so they can bring cash with them.

When calculating an open bar flat rate, yet again, it varies from venue to venue. You should check with your wedding venue to find out how much they charge for each tier of booze. This included limited booze and an open bar. Some venues charge one flat rate per person for an entire night.

For instance, they will charge $22 per person. This price includes all guests whether they’re heavy drinkers, pregnant, or non-drinkers. 

Various venues also charge a flat rate per person per hour. Therefore, you could pay $5 an hour per person per hour of your wedding party. Another venue may charge $20 per person until a certain hour. After an agreed time, you will have to pay an additional $5 for every additional hour after that. 

Some venues have been known to charge astronomical fees such as $35 per person for the first hour and then a whopping $15 per person for every additional hour afterward.

By the end of the wedding night, this adds up to a colossal $95 per person and a grand total of $11,970 for the average 126 guests. If you are happy to afford this huge sum, then that is fine but it can be done for A LOT cheaper!

Limited bar vs full bar 

Did you know that you have the option of a limited bar as well as a full bar? That’s right! You don’t have to pay for a full bar on your wedding night!

By choosing a bar that only serves beer and wine with no hard liquor, you could save a tonne of money. Many brides and grooms opt for a limited bar as it seems like a better option when compared to having your guests pay for some or all of their drinks at your wedding. But, it’s a personal choice for you to make.

Let’s take a look at some of the approximate cost options for different types of open bars at weddings:

  • Limited Bar – This offers a limited selection of alcohol and soft drinks (beer, house wine, soda, and juice) – Cost: $15 – $20 per person.
  • Full Bar with limited drink choices – These offer a limited selection of beer choices, house wine, soda, and juices – Cost: $20 – $35
  • Full Bar – These offer premium brand liquor with domestic as well as imported beer choices, house wines, and soft drinks – Cost: $35 – $40 per person

As you can guess, your venue can determine the prices as well as options. The city or region your wedding party is in can also have a significant impact on your open bar prices. Alcohol in New York City costs a lot more than in a small, rural town. But, a wedding in New York City? Wow!

What is included in an open bar?

There are a number of items that should be included in the price of an open bar at a wedding. This is particularly true if you opt for an open bar flat rate or a per head fee. When consulting with your wedding venue, make sure the following items are included in your contract for an open bar:

  • Glasses or cups
  • Bottle openers
  • Corkscrews 
  • Ice
  • Coolers
  • Shakers
  • Ice tongs (or scoops)
  • Ice buckets
  • Rags
  • Cocktail napkins
  • Rags 

Additional costs of an open bar 

Even when you think you have covered all the costs of an open bar, some hidden fees can rear their ugly heads. Some of these hidden fees include taxes, and the gratuity fees and service charges for the bartenders.

If you do not consider these additional fees, you may be surprised by a few hundred dollars on top of your bar bill. And no one wants to experience that!

Taxes can often be 15-20% but this depends on where you live. The same rate goes for gratuity. Therefore, if you have calculated $20 per person for the average of 126 guests, you will need to add an extra $756 on top making the grand total $3,276 (15% taxes and fees).

If the taxes and fees are at 20%, you would need to add an additional $1,008 resulting in a grand total of $4,536. That’s a lot of money!

Other fees can also be included. These include setup costs that can range from as little as $20 to a more substantial $300. Some require a corking fee for wine from $1-$15 or an hourly fee for the bartenders at approximately $20-$35.

The number of bartenders needed will depend on your number of guests but, in general, you should have one bartender per 50 guests. 

Ask your venue about these additional fees, as well as any others. Make sure you get everything in writing beforehand and ensure you read your contract thoroughly before agreeing to pay for anything. 

How to save money on your open bar: Tips 

For many of us, the prices outlined above are a bit too steep. If this is the case, there are still ways to have your open bar! Here are some tips on how to save money on an open bar at your wedding:

  • Ask the venue if you can bring your own alcohol. Some venues allow this and even let you provide your own bartenders. However, you may need to acquire an alcohol permit so ask the venue just in case. This means you can choose cheaper alcohol. You could opt for a keg or have a wholesaler supply it for you. In some cases, you can even return unopened bottles to get your money back.
  • Opt for a limited bar but with drink tickets. Offer your guests 2 to 3 tickets each and then they can pay for any more drinks after they have used the tickets. For those who don’t drink, they can simply give their tickets to somebody who does.
  • If you bring your own alcohol, you can replace the labels with customized wedding labels. Your guests would be sure to love this and may think you have gone to extra expense! (Our little secret, don’t worry)
  • Ask if it is possible to exclude the guests that do not drink from the flat rate per guest costs. These include pregnant guests, underage guests, and anyone who can’t or won’t be drinking on the night. You don’t ask, you don’t get! 

DIY stock your open bar 

If you’re allowed to bring your own alcohol to the venue, you should plan it carefully so you have enough for every guest throughout the night. We highly recommend buying your alcohol from a store or wholesaler who takes returns on whatever wasn’t drunk on the night.

Here are some guidelines on what you could buy for our open bar when you have 100 to 150 guests. 

Open bar for 100 guests

  • 175 bottles of beer
  • 70 bottles of wine
  • 15 bottles of liquor (750ml)
  • 20 bottles of champagne for toasts

Open bar for 150 guests 

  • 266 bottles of beer
  • 105 bottles of wine
  • 22 bottles of liquor (750ml)
  • 30 bottles of champagne for toasts 

In Summary 

There are ways of cutting the costs of having an open bar at your wedding. With careful planning and frequent communication with the venue, you could end up saving hundreds or even thousands of dollars by choosing the right price plan for you and your guests.