How Much Does an Open Bar Cost?


An open bar is a great option for a wedding ceremony since no guest pays for anything. However, it is the most expensive. Guests will enjoy whatever drink they like, but you end up with a hefty bill after the party. Normally, people will drink a lot since the drinks are limitless. But just how much does an open bar in wedding cost?

How Much Does an Open Bar Cost?

A number of factors come into play if you want to determine costs of an open bar at wedding:

  • You have to consider the number of guests you expect, the kind of open bar you want, the kind of drinks you will serve, the number of bartenders you require and where you live among others.

  • Budgeting for 1-2 drinks per person per hour can help keep your expenses in check. After estimating the number of drinks, you can then multiply by the average cost of drink which varies depending on the location of your event and the kind of drink you want to offer.

  • Some venues will offer a flat rate for an open bar over a specific period while others will prefer to bill the total number of drinks consumed at the end of the event. A flat rate works better for weddings.

Typical Costs

Statistics from Bridal Association of America show that on average, bartender service at a wedding reception costs $2800, which comes to $16.50 per guest for 170 guests. An open bar as advertised by most caterers includes unlimited wine beer, non-alcoholic beverages and mixed drinks. The cost of a typical open bar in the US ranges from $15 to $90 per person for a reception lasting four hours. Upgrading to premium liquors will cost $3 to $4 more per person. Note that open bar costs tend to double or triple in resort areas and big cities.

Cut Down Costs

Some bars will allow you to bring in alcohol and a bartender while others prefer to manage the bar and catering in-house. If you opt for an open bar at your wedding, bringing your alcohol and bartender would be a better option since you can source your drinks from wholesalers. You could also get a wholesaler that allows you to return any drinks that are not consumed at the end of the wedding. Local liquor laws should also be considered if you for this option. Seek guidance from your caterer to avoid problems.

Wine and Beer Only: Serving strictly beer and wine helps you keep off mixed drinks which include expensive beer.

BYOB: Find out if your venue allows you to bring your own beer. You can save 10 to 15 percent if you buy in wholesale and even return any unopened bottles at the end of the reception.

How to Estimate the Average Cost of Alcohol per Person

Cocktail Hour

Estimate 2 drinks per person for a one hour cocktail reception. 3 drinks per person will work for a two hour cocktail reception. Usually, people will have two drinks during the first hour after which their pace reduces as time passes. It is advisable to have a one hour cocktail since most people are hungry and tired by the time dinner is served.

Dinner, Dancing and Reception

Whether there is wine at the table or not, one drink for each guest per hour is enough.

Example - 2 drinks per person for one hour of cocktail plus 5 drinks per person for a reception lasting for five hours adds up to 7 drinks per person. Multiply 7 by the cost of the median expensive drink in the bar package to estimate the average cost per person. For example, if a margarita that costs $5 is the median number, cost per person will be $35.

This may sound too expensive, but it balances out older guests who drink less and younger ones who drink a lot more. It also caters for those that leave half full drinks on the table and ask for more since they are free. Always request your catering manager to alert you when you approach your budget limit so that you decide whether to close the bar or leave it open.

Additional Fees:

  • Between $30 and $200, which is sometimes included in the per-guest fee, is charged for every bartender working at the event.

  • Most caterers will also require to be paid an hourly fee of $25 per bartender. This charge may be included in the setup fee in some cases.

  • If gratuity is not included in the total fees, make arrangements to tip 10% to 20% of the total alcohol bill usually to the head bar tender so that it can be split between all the bar people working at the bar. Some bar tenders will have a tip jar where the guests can tip at $1 per drink.

  • Most caterers will charge a $1 to $15 corking fee per bottle if you chose to supply your own wine.

  • Substituting glassware for plastic cups will attract an extra $2 per person.

How Much Does an Open Bar Cost? What Others Say

Again costs of an open bar depend on many things as explained above, here are a few examples:

Are There Any Alternatives to Open Bars?


Limited Bar

You offer selected wine, beer and vodka within specific timelines like a cocktail hour, the toasts and one hour after dinner. Hire waiters to pass the drinks instead of guests walking up to the bar. Hiring the waiters will cost you, but you will save money on alcohol.


Try Going Ethnic

A themed reception is also a good option in place of an open bar. How about margaritas and coronas for a Mexican fiesta or red wine for an Italian celebration!


Dry House

You can choose to skip the alcohol if your family and most of your guests do not drink. Instead, serve soda, sparkling water and other non-alcoholic drinks. Sparkling cider or token champagne will work for toasting.


Signature Drinks

Serving a signature drink or two will cut down your costs. This way, you are at liberty to choose an inexpensive brand of alcohol and mixers.

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