The Bar Tab
Prepare yourself: The bar bill for the reception can end up being astronomical. The very thought of paying top-dollar for liquor sends some wedding sponsors into a mode of stinginess unparalleled by even the most stringent bean counters. Should you opt for a cash bar instead, or make it a “dry” reception? Rest assured, there are some ways to provide your guests with alcohol without going broke.Cash Bar or Open Bar?
First things first; if you're inviting adult guests to a wedding, you need to provide them with food and drink. This means you have to shell out for some kind of liquor. It's rude to ask your friends and relatives to attend the ceremony, to bring a gift to the reception … oh, and to pay for their own beer or wine or martinis, too. Unless the consumption of alcohol is against your religious or moral beliefs, accept the fact that you're going to have to face the bar bill. That being said, you don't have to make an open bar an extravagant, bank-breaking free-for-all. There are plenty of ways to open the bar on a fairly limited basis, while still maintaining the appearance of being extremely generous to your guests.Early Birds
If you're still in the earliest planning phases and the bride hasn't yet reserved the church or the reception hall, one of the best ways to cut back on the consumption of alcohol during the reception is to time it correctly. Think about it: When do most people start drinking? With dinner, or in the early evening. Move the ceremony to the morning; follow it with a reception brunch or an early-afternoon lunch. During a brunch, you'll still want to include a champagne or sparkling wine toast (or perhaps substitute mimosas, a.k.a., champagne diluted with orange juice); for an early-afternoon affair, you may want to include wine and beer in the open bar, or you might be able to substitute a champagne punch, which will lower your liquor cost substantially.Cut It Back
If the bride has her little heart set on an evening reception, all hope is not lost. You can still control the amount (and type) of alcohol flowing from the bar into your guests' bloodstreams, but you'll need to know what's permitted in the reception hall and what isn't. Some ideas for your consideration (and to present to the banquet manager):
Tray service. Have the servers carry trays of champagne and wine for a limited time. You're providing the guests with booze, but not for the entire evening. Expect to see fewer drunken guests than you would with a completely open bar.
Limit the drinks. Offer beer, wine, and a cocktail matching the wedding's colors. (The bridesmaids are wearing blue? Blue Hawaiians should hit the spot.)
Nix the champagne toast. Very few people actually choose to drink champagne. Have the guests toast the bride and groom with whatever they happen to be drinking at the time, or substitute a less expensive sparkling wine for an “official” toast.
Keep in mind that many upscale reception facilities charge an enormous markup on liquor — so don't be shy about asking if you can supply your own alcohol. You'll probably be charged a corkage fee, but you can bet that it will be less than paying for an open bar on the premises. (In some cases, the corkage fee can be whittled down, anyway.)Case by Case (by Case)
In the event that you are permitted to bring your own liquor to the reception, you'll need to know how much booze to buy. This may seem like a difficult task, but you can come pretty darn close to the right amount. Figure that each adult guest (here's where you go through the guest list and subtract any children from your head count — for now) will average four to five drinks over the course of an evening reception (some will drink more, of course, but some won't drink at all).
Ask your liquor store about their return policy. You may already have plans for any leftover liquor, but if it's going to go to waste (or sit in your basement storage room forever), you might be able to return unopened bottles of wine and liquor.
From a fifth of alcohol (which, for you MOBs who don't spend a lot of time in the liquor store, is a fifth of a gallon, or about twenty-five ounces), you can serve up roughly twenty-five drinks using a one-ounce jigger to measure the liquor. Twelve bottles of liquor come in a case — using the one-ounce jigger to carefully dole out your alcohol, you can expect to serve up about 300 drinks from one case. (If you know your family likes their doubles, you'll obviously need to figure this into your equation.) One bottle of champagne or wine, meanwhile, will give you about seven drinks.
A half-keg of beer will provide the crowd with 260 eight-ounce glasses. Buying beer in a case? You'll need seven of them to equal the half-keg. And don't forget, you'll also need to stock the bar with nonalcoholic options and mixers for the liquor, not to mention lemons, limes, or anything else those drinks need for their finishing touches.