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How to Save Money on the Bar at Your Wedding [8 Ways]

Bartender hand-making cocktails at an outdoor wedding

Heather Featherston

August 8, 2023

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It’s no secret that a wedding can be a major financial investment. Whether it’s a small celebration or a big blowout, pulling off a festivity this significant demands a substantial amount of money. Food and drink are often one of the biggest parts of a couple’s wedding budget. In general, wine, beer, and liquor account for eight to 20 percent of the budget. Of course, the grand total depends on the size of your wedding, how long you serve the drinks, and what types of liquor you pick.
 
The bar tab for your wedding can easily get out of hand if you don’t plan ahead. While you want all your guests to have fun and be able to order their favorite drink, there may be better ideas than going into debt so your uncle can have his favorite bourbon. The average cost of a full open bar is more than $7,000, but it doesn’t need to be. When you have your wedding at the Rough & Ready Vineyards, your wedding package allows you to control your budget for your bar, including how much and what types of alcohol you’re going to serve. You can purchase your own alcohol, and our certified bartenders will serve it! Most couples will only spend around $1,500 on beer, wine, seltzers, and champagne for their wedding at our venue.
 
With a few pre-planning decisions, your guests will feel pampered, and you won’t have to break the budget. Luckily, your alcohol bill doesn’t have to create a hole in your wallet. Keep reading to get eight unique wedding bar ideas that will satisfy your budget!
 
Preferred Caterer provided beautiful wedding cake for bride and groom. Photo by Engstrom Photo

1. Have a Brunch or Lunch Wedding

Guests at daytime weddings typically consume less alcohol than at evening weddings. In addition, you can easily limit alcoholic drinks to mimosas and perhaps a fun Bloody Mary bar in addition to coffee, tea, and juice, which are budget-friendly.
 
A brunch wedding not only allows you to save money on your bar tab but can also save you money on your food options and even venue costs if you choose a Sunday brunch option.
 
A bride and groom with their wedding party participating in a toast. Photo by Camden Ashley Photography

2. Choose a Champagne Toast Alternative

While a champagne toast is traditional, it is not mandatory and can be expensive. As your Best Man and Maid of Honor make their speeches, simply have your guests raise the glass of what they are drinking for the toast.
 
If you prefer something more formal, consider a sparking cider for this toast. Everyone can participate in the toast, including those under the legal drinking age and those who prefer non-alcoholic beverages.
 

3. Order Kegs – They’re Not Just for Beer

Offering beer on tap is a great money saver instead of serving cans or bottles. Pick one or two beer types, and your guests will enjoy their fresh beer straight from the keg.
 
There are other kegs available as well that you should keep in mind. You can also order kegs of cider, mead, hard seltzer, champagne, and even seltzer water.
 
Since kegs come in several sizes, you won’t have to invest in a full-size keg if you feel you only need a pony keg or smaller. In addition, consider serving these beverages in smaller cups, such as nine-ounce cups. Larger cups involve more liquor, mixer, and ice, adding to a larger bar bill.
 
keg sizing chart
 
Woman pouring sangria into two oversized wine glasses

4. Serve Sangria

Sangria is a great budget-friendly drink! You can mix it in two-gallon glass dispensers and create flavors that reflect the theme of your wedding.
 
Consider incorporating cinnamon, apple, and cranberry sangria flavors for an autumn wedding. If you are having a spring wedding, picture strawberry, white peach, or mint.
 
Not only will your guests enjoy the sangrias, but they can also add a design element to your reception. The best part? Compared to many other types of alcoholic beverages, sangrias are inexpensive. A two-gallon batch of sangria can be made with a 1.5 liter bottle of club soda, wine, Sprite, a small bottle of brandy and a small bottle of triple sec. Serve it over ice, and you have 50+ servings!
 
Bartender serving signature cocktails at a Rough & Ready Vineyards wedding. Photo by Athena Kalindi Photography.

5. Create a Signature Cocktail

When you hire your bartending service, ask them about creating a signature drink. This is becoming a trendy choice at receptions, not only because it’s budget-friendly but also because it’s just plain cute!
 
You can request that your bar service create a cocktail based on where you met (for example, if you met at a beach, something tropical and fruity) or a drink based on your wedding colors (so maybe a pineapple or lemon-based drink if your colors include yellow tones).
 
You want your signature cocktail to represent you two as a couple but keep a few things in mind when designing your cocktail. Try to choose an inexpensive mixer such as seltzer water. You can even order this mixer in a keg to save money. Jazz that up with your favorite alcohol and use flavorings such as Torani syrup or fruit-infused syrups to flavor, then garnish with a cherry, mint leaf, and umbrella or edible flower for some color.
 
You can even do two signature drinks if you so wish, just be sure the ingredients are budget-friendly. While Tito’s might be your favorite vodka, your guests will not notice the liquor brand in your signature cocktail.
 
Whatever you go with, you might consider offering your guests your signature drink as their only liquor-based alcoholic beverage. This prevents all your college friends from ordering top-shelf tequila for a round of shots.
 
Chalkboard sign that reads 'Bar Closed' at a wedding reception

6. Time it Right

Some clever time management at the bar can also save you money. Consider serving your signature cocktail for a limited time, just an hour at the beginning of the reception.
 
While some might think it’s “lame” to close the bar down once the clock strikes ten, closing the bar for short periods throughout the reception really cuts down on your costs. Consider closing the bar during your mealtime, especially if you are offering wine served tableside from your caterers during dinner service. Doing so will cut down on alcohol consumption and ensure your guests are actually paying attention to each other, the food, and the toasts. You may also encourage your bartender to close periodically for cleaning and replenishing.
 
Another option to control your bar tab is to offer your guests a certain number of drink tickets. Once they have used their tickets, they can purchase any additional drinks they desire.
 

7. Serve Smaller Drinks

You can make your alcohol last longer (and save money!) if you ask your bartenders to reduce the drink size. Choose smaller glasses of wine and smaller glasses of beer. Ask about making the cocktails light.
 
Another benefit of this option? If you have a particularly thirsty guest, you’ll ensure they won’t be completely inebriated by the time the dance floor opens up!
 
Non-alcoholic beverages available at an August Rough & Ready Vineyards wedding

8. Offer Plenty of Non-Alcoholic Beverages

Some wedding guests may just be drinking the options on tap because that’s what’s there. However, if you offer a few other options, you may just draw them away from the pricey alcohol.
 
In addition to serving your signature cocktail, have your bartender offer a virgin option. Some guests who aren’t big on alcohol anyway may be more inclined to try this option. By simply leaving out the alcohol, you have a signature mocktail available for those who prefer a non-alcoholic option!
 
After dinner, offer coffee. You could even set up a specialty coffee bar if you and your fiancé are big coffee drinkers. Even if coffee doesn’t tempt your guests away from boozy drinks completely, they may be more likely to stop at a few glasses of wine and then drink a cup of coffee before heading home.
 

What About a Cash Bar?

One way that couples might try to reduce their bar costs is by having a cash bar. While it might sound tempting, a cash bar comes with some potential headaches. Yes, a cash bar will technically save you money. But if you’re thinking about going this route so you can spend elsewhere, you’ll likely do more harm than good. Guests aren’t going to remember over-the-top floral arrangements if they’re pulling out their wallets. What they’re going to remember is having to take out their credit card.
 
In addition, having a cash bar goes against the main principles of hospitality. If you’re inviting someone to something, you should be prepared to host them. If you don’t have the means to host properly, don’t try to piecemeal it together.
 
Cash bars can interrupt the flow of an evening. If your bartenders are mixing drinks and running credit cards, there will be lines just like there are at a club or bar. It holds up service. Luckily, there are plenty of other ways to save!
 
Bartender Serving a Brazilian caipirinha at a wedding reception

Let the Celebration Begin

From your signature drink at cocktail hour to wine with dinner, the alcohol you serve at your wedding plays a key role in creating the atmosphere. No matter if it’s a flute of champagne or a bottle of IPA, drinks bring friends and family together and give them permission to let loose while enjoying the celebration.
 
The refreshments you choose to serve provide the perfect opportunity to personalize your wedding. Drinks at the nuptials are an important reflection of the couple’s personality and tastes. In addition, they create memorable moments to toast and celebrate.
 
Your wedding should be a beautiful, memorable event in your lives that does not add any financial stress to your future.
 
Determine a budget you are comfortable with, and then determine what is most important to you. Consult with a bartending vendor, such as a mobile bar, to determine the best option for a budget-friendly bar. You might also consult your venue manager and your caterer for tips. You can achieve your dream wedding within your budget!

Heather Featherston

Written by Heather Featherston

Heather, an Event Manager for the Rough & Ready Vineyards, oversees the day-to-day operations. She takes satisfaction in seeing everyone happy and is always grateful for the opportunity to make this happen. Heather enjoys meeting with brides-to-be in order to gather the details needed to ensure their wedding day is perfect! “Every wedding and reception at the Rough & Ready Vineyards is so beautiful,” she says. “I love being able to see people enjoy the amazing venue we have created here!”

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