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The Schultzes

Setting up the bar

Posted: Monday, Mar. 30, 2009

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Whether your wedding reception will be held in a public venue or at home, it’s good to know the basics of setting up the bar.  You’ll need to have an idea of what bar types are available, the number of bartenders you should hire, which beverages to have on hand, and how many drinks to offer each guest. 

You will probably choose a bar type based on what most appeals to you, as well as what your budget will allow. There are three basic bar types to consider:

The host bar: You should plan on two to three drinks per person, and keep in mind that you will be paying for all drinks that are poured, whether or not they are consumed. 

The open bar: The host pays a flat, hourly fee per guest, no matter how many drinks are poured.

The cash bar: Guests are asked to pay for their own drinks. Cash bars are generally not acceptable at wedding receptions. Your guests should not have to pay for anything.

The number of bartenders you hire for your event depends on the services offered by the location or caterer, how many guests are expected, and what you can afford. As a rule of thumb, you should plan on at least two bartenders for every hundred guests. Since guest counts vary per wedding reception, ask your  event manager or caterer for advice.

If you are having your reception at home and serving beverages yourself, you’ll want to talk to a knowledgeable caterer or wine merchant who can recommend a variety of wines and liquors in different price ranges. These professionals can advise you on the current trends in drinks, offer ideas for types of beverages to serve, and help to determine how much you will need to purchase.

If you have a small budget, consider restricting the times you open the bar to your guests. Set specific consumption targets, such as a cocktail hour, the toast and/or after dinner. Be sure other beverages – tea, water, coffee and soda – are available at all times.

Offering only what is liked by your friends and family is also a good way to save money. There is no reason to open up an expensive bottle of champagne if no one likes it. Yet another cost-cutting strategy is to employ waiters to pass drinks or cocktails on a silver tray instead of having your guests go to the bar for their beverages. Ask your event manager for advice in helping you to customize a bar setting that best suits your style and budget.   

Some people prefer not to offer alcoholic beverages, but you can still set up a bar. It is perfectly acceptable to serve sparkling cider, sparkling water, bottled water, soda, tea and non-alcoholic mixed drinks. If you are sharing the reception expense with family, or if they are footing the entire bill, it’s polite to acknowledge their wishes when you can. But the most important thing to remember is that you should do what makes you happy. After all, this is your most special day.

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