In these uncertain times, it is more important than ever to spend your wedding dollars wisely. When trying to decide between a flat rate per guest for 4 hours of open bar or being billed by the drink, consider 3 things: your guest list, your comfort level with not knowing the final bill up front and the fact that people consume an average of 3-4 drinks during a 4 hour reception.
If you have a group of heavy drinkers who will consume more than 4 drinks at the reception, and you don’t want any surprises – the flat rate open bar is probably best for you. However, if you are like many of my clients, you have a diverse mix of people coming to your wedding. Some wedding guests may have 6-8 drinks that night, but others may have none. When I first started planning weddings, the catering manager at a very high end venue told me when clients choose a flat rate open bar, “Nine times out of ten, the house wins.” Over the years, most catering managers I have surveyed have agreed with that statement.
With that in mind, you will probably save money on the bar with consumption billing. If your venue does not offer a consumption bar option, there are still ways to reduce the bar bill. One easy way is to skip the champagne for the toasts. In my experience, many people take a sip of champagne from their glass for the toast and then go back to drinking their beverage of choice. By offering champagne as an option at the bar, those who want champagne can still have it and those who don’t raise the glass they already have in hand. Be sure to tell your venue how many guests under age 21 will be attending the reception.
Another way to control bar costs is to offer a limited selection. Some brides choose to serve beer, wine and a signature cocktail vs. a full assortment of top shelf liquor. Many of my clients choose to close the bar during dinner – especially if wine is offered with the meal. You may also want to consider closing the bar thirty minutes before the end of the reception. If you choose to do this, it is not wise to make an announcement that the bar is closing because the “last call” drink orders will defeat the purpose.
Finally, consider the music. When French researcher Nicolas Guéguen, Ph.D. secretly monitored 40 customers at two bars, he found that cranking up the volume on Top 40 songs led to more and faster guzzling of drinks. One reason may have been that the bar patrons could not engage in conversation because of the noise and instead focused on their drinks. Some previous studies have also found that faster music results in faster drinking. Dr. Guéguen’s advice: consider lower volumes and slower music during cocktail hour if you want guests to sip and not gulp!