Cash bars and the wrath of sober wedding guests
August 3rd, 2010
01:30 AM ET
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When we posted a recent lunchtime poll on open vs cash bars vs booze-free weddings, little did we know how shaken, stirred and generally muddled-up our readers would be on the subject.

Over 37,000 votes and 330 comments later, a tippling majority toppled the teetotalers, demanding a reasonable level of libation. Most maintain that if guests are going to the time and expense of attending nuptials, the least the happy couple can do is make sure they don't have to peck their way through the Chicken Dance stone cold sober.

Are you irked if there isn't an open bar at a wedding reception?

Beer and wine are fine, so long as they keep flowing freely. 38%
A full, open bar is a must, but I understand if that's too pricey. Cash bar is fine. 23%
I get annoyed if there isn't a full, open bar. No excuse for that. 15%
Dry weddings are just fine with me. 8%
I don't mind paying for beer and wine. 8%
No booze, no me. 5%
A dry wedding is a pain, but I'll deal. 3%

Quoth our commenters:

Suck it up for their special day

At weddings the idea is to honor the bride & groom, not bankrupt them. Other the Champagne, a wedding is not a free ride, pay for your own drinks.

Maybe it's just me, but a wedding isn't about what the guest wants... it's the bride and groom's day. It's to celebrate two people making a lifelong (we hope) commitment to each other, not about an all-you-can-drink booze buffet. If the lack of an open bar is enough to put a person off from going to a wedding, then how selfish are they? The last thing a bride and groom need on their special day is someone who doesn't honestly give a damn about them sloshed out of his or her mind at THEIR party on THEIR dime.

Seriously? People who get annoyed when they have to drop five bucks for a drink at a wedding need to sort out their priorities in life.

It's gauche to neglect the guests; scale back accordingly

This is pretty indicative of the Bridezilla attitude that prevails. "How dare you want to have fun at MY wedding! You're supposed to just focus on ME ME ME!"

I don't necessarily think that a wedding has to have a full open bar, but I think the happy couple should be concerned that their guests have a good time.

They're going to think you're cheap – because you are. Why not charge people by the piece for hors d' oeuvres while you're at it. That way, you can make sure that you're not going to be charged for big eaters either.

I have no problem going to a dry wedding, I have a problem with you inviting me to your party, and then asking me to help pay for the way you want it to be. Would you ever ask your guests to help pay for the bride's gown so she can have the one she wants? Same thing.

You cheap b*****s. Pay for your guests' f'n drinks. What the h*ll is the point of going to a wedding? No one gives a crap besides you and/or your parents.

I'd even rather it be dry than make people pay. Even if you can just afford beer/wine or a single champagne toast or something that's fine, but please don't make people pay for something when you've invited them to a party.

There's a great wedding for every budget. If you can't afford open bar for 200 people, invite less people or alter your beverage plan.

TACKY! Do not invite me to your wedding if you cannot afford to have me there. Be realistic about your budget. If you cannot afford to provide food AND beverages for your wish list number of guests, take a realistic gander at the list of guests and go from there.

Glad you cheapos aren't my friends. Husband and I paid for our own wedding, including an open bar. Figured it was the LEAST we could offer our closest friends and family as a thanks for joining us in celebrating a day that was all about us.

What you Don't do is ask your guests to pay for drinks at your party. Your wedding isn't a fund raiser.

Defense against the over-imbibers

It's just so low brow to not treat your guests like guests. If you are so concerned about people getting tanked, then maybe you should question what caliber of people you are inviting.

Just because there is an open bar, it is *not* an open invitation to get "s***faced". Most adults know how to drink in moderation and most wedding guests are not college frat boys.

We decided on a "dry" wedding because we both have several family members who are recovering alcoholics and we wanted to respect their sobriety. My husband doesn't drink, and I drink very rarely so there was no need for us to have alcohol, either.

I have been to three weddings this year and at every single one the bride and groom drank the night away. At one of them, the bride got into a fight at the bar. At another one, the groom and groomsmen fought some guys at a bar, sending the bride away in tears.

Quid pro quo

Jeff S.
I generally follow the "cover your plate" rule when it comes to gifting. If you have hot dogs, chips, pop, and Aunt Edna taking snapshots at your reception, at a cost of $6/person, I'll be there, and we'll give you $25. If you have a reception with a DJ, open bar, 5 course dinner, dessert table, and an aesthetically pleasing atmosphere and you're paying $100 per person, you're going to get $200+ from us.

One of my good friends got married recently and it cost me roughly $500 to be in her wedding. A few glasses of wine at the reception is hardly freeloading.

Just let me know if its a cash bar before I buy your gift, what comes around goes around. Open Bar = Fancy Kitchen Appliance, Cash Bar = Picture Frame

Lame. Weddings are supposed to be fun for everyone. I pay for a tux, plane ticket, hotel reserv., and misc. expenses to support my friends, then I should get a beer. Otherwise don't invite me. I've done plenty in their lives to prove my character and friendship. My absence at the wedding does no harm.

Booze and music banish boredom

Weddings are dumb. The only way to get through one is to drink...for free.

Weddings are boring as hell for the people not in them. Drinking is a must. What else are you supposed to do? Stand around.

The only wedding I went to that was no alcohol at all was the most boring thing I've ever attended, people stood around in small groups mumbling quietly and looking around. No one danced and it was the reception lasted about 1 hour because people were so bored they left. Let's face it, alcohol helps people unwind and loosens their reserve.

As far as I am concerned, music and dancing are more important to a wedding than alcohol. All the free booze in the world will not make up for a music/dance free wedding (and yes, I've been to one of those). Seriously, if you need alcohol that bad, you may have more serious problems. And I say this as someone who does enjoy alcohol.

For the Bible tells us so

Edward, last I checked the "Lord" turned water into wine-for a WEDDING. Think that one over. The way the story goes it was a "miracle" in part because the family was SO EMBARRASSED TO NOT HAVE ENOUGH WINE FOR THEIR WEDDING GUESTS....ringing any bells? Just my thoughts on what the LORD's input might be here.

Jesus wouldn't even a tend a wedding without alcohol, he turned the water to wine, so if it is a religious event, and your religion is Christian, than it seems you MUST have some adult beverages! It would be offensive if you didn't!

Perspective from a wedding pro

As I've filmed so many times before being a wedding videographer, "a wedding is an outward expression and celebration of this couple's inner love." Why not have the option of drinking a glass of wine or beer for free? I've been at open bars with Grey Goose and I've been at some with mason jars, if the family/married couple doesnt have religious reservations or are not on the 10-step road to recovery.

Your guests will certainly remember the fact that there wasn't an open bar.

A measured response

I can understand both perspectives here. I think it's important to strike the right balance. Open bars can cost upwards of $5,000 or more, depending on how many people attend the wedding, and sometimes people simply do not have the budget for that.

I think doing something like an open bar for the first hour and then cash bar, but providing bottles of wine at the tables and champagne for the toast, is a good balance that won't break the bank, but also will show that you've made an effort not to be cheap, even if you can't afford a whole lot.

Read more about wedding trends, offbeat budgeting tips and the woman who has her whole nuptials plotted out - minus the mate.

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Filed under: Bars • Buzz • From the Comments • Sip • Weddings

soundoff (739 Responses)
  1. Mia

    Most weddings with receptions are 4-6 hours tops, is it really that serious that one cannot be without an alcoholic beverage for that long? That is crazy, if that is the case then that person should stay home, the celebration will happen either way. My parents are paying for the wedding alone... the open bar is $7k-10k, I would not put that extra cost on them so a few non-factor attendees can get sloshed; it doesnt matter if they can afford it or not. Come see a wedding, eat a meal, cut a rug and go to the spirits store on your way home. Some people spend waaay to much money for a couple of hours only to impress people that dont really matter. The people that really matter dont care about what beverages are being served.

    September 23, 2014 at 2:48 pm |
  2. Kim

    PS – I paid for basically everything for my attendants and gave them gifts. I don't care if someone had to pay for alcohol – that was their choice. It was offered – they want it, they pay it. After having my own wedding, I can honestly say it's a big waste of money and time for everyone involved, honestly. And, people do potluck and BYOB parties all the time!

    July 22, 2014 at 4:47 pm |
  3. Kim

    I had a cash bar at my wedding and I don't regret it. People could drink (for free) water, coffee, tea, pink lemonade and champagne at the champagne toast. How is proper ettiquette to come to a wedding and take advantage of an open bar and make people pay thousands in alcohol bills? It's a wedding – one day of your life, usually for just a couple hours – alcohol shouldn't be the focus. Weddings have gotten totally out of hand. People should just go to the justice of the peace and leave everyone else out of it.

    July 22, 2014 at 4:44 pm |
  4. LA

    Every wedding is unique. Sometimes dry weddings are more than appropriate, as illustrated by some of the comments (eg. Many guests don't drink, religious or cultural reasons, the bride and groom themselves are too young, daytime weddings and receptions). And there are many more exceptions of course!

    However, this article was generalizing about the majority of traditional weddings which involve some sort of evening reception and are thrown as a party to celebrate after the wedding.

    In this case, I take the stance that it is rude not to have good food and some amount of alcohol at your wedding. I be
    I'd've that if you are hosting people– whether it's at your home or in a banquet hall– it is your duty as a host or hostess to make them comfortable and to treat them very well. If you do not have the means to do that, you either forgo having people over or you do your best with your humble means. Many cultures throughout the world feel this way and will treat with immense hospitality, to the best of their abilities, if you are a guest.

    This should be true about weddings. Guests should first of all be people you care enough about to share this special moment. They should be people who cherish your friendships and want to support you. But at the same time, as the host of the celebration, you should show them your love and the way your cherish their friendship. Part of that is by throwing the best party you can throw! If you can't afford an open bar, why not have some beer and wine available or at least something to toast with. Good food and alcohol have been tied to celebration for thousands of years!

    If you cannot afford a massive celebration with all the bells and whistles then simply don't throw one. I think it is beyond tacky to throw a party you cannot afford and expect guests to pay their way either through the expect ion of large gifts or through exchange of services on the day of. Imagine if invited a friend to dinner in my home and then made her pay for it? Just awful.

    It is much nicer to have a celebration you can afford, and be as hospitable to your guests as possible. If you do this, you will also probably find that you've scaled back to a size where only the people that matter are coming anyway, and these people will not be quick to judge.

    As a personal anecdote, I went to one wedding where the food was inedible (the beef was boiled and actually physically impossible to chew) and all the guests were very tired and hungry. Yet, the bride had 5 dress changes and was wearing the most extravagant jewellry one can imagine and bragging about it. To me, skimping on the food budget just to make yourself shimmer like a peacock, is both a sign of poor manners and gracelessness in terms of hospitality but it also shows that you care less about the celebration of love and marriage and that you are simply wishing to have a moment in the spotlight.

    May 30, 2014 at 10:29 am |
  5. Raysa

    Hi, well, I am Christian and I want a dry wedding because of my and my loves religious views. We are very God fearing and the wine that Jesus made as we've researched in the bible was not cut wine, it was perfect whole wine= grape juice. There are some words that when translated into Greek were lost and then when translated into other languages changed meanings, and we do study the Bible everyday. None of my family is sober, but they look like absolute idiots when drinking, they become violent, bad mouthed, sexual and raunchy which I really don't want at my wedding. I am having a small wedding so we are planning something fun for the reception like white water rafting, or some activity that the guests can enjoy. Rather than have drinking at my wedding, I would rather pay for all of them to be/ have a fun activity that excludes drinking. My sweethearts side of the family are all non-drinking Christians. The only reason my family may want to drink is cause they're selfish- and this coming from a person who would do insane favors for them and has!!!! And also someone who does not ask for anything back. If I were to say that our wedding should have alcohol just because I'm afraid of what my family thought, it would create a rift in my sweethearts and my relationship not only to each other but to God!!!!- Then how long would or could our union last due to this betrayal to our selves, our belief and first to God?!

    July 23, 2013 at 11:34 am |
    • ppinkevents

      You think your family wanting to drink is selfish? Ummm NO. Selfish is not having alcohol cause only YOU don't want it. My cousin on my stupid Christian side of the family (which is only 5 people) got married (at 21 on top of it all) and didn't have alcohol at her wedding. So stupid. There are other people at your wedding other than YOU. By you not seeing what your guests might want, YOU are the selfish ones.

      December 20, 2013 at 4:50 am |
  6. Tasha

    I don't understand for the life of me how people are actually saying "How dare you make your guests buy alcohol" No we're not making our guests buy alcohol by having a cashbar.. we're giving them THE CHOICE to buy alcohol. I'm not for sure having a cash bar but I am considering it. Reason being, 1. 90% of my guests will not be drinking.. but I will be paying for them to drink anyway because they will still be counted for the open bar. 2. We have a very very small budget. 3. Me nor the groom will be drinking because we want to be sober on our wedding night. So when I'm paying 30+ dollars for you to eat good food and 30+ dollars for your 4 year old to pick at his plate and 30+ dollars for your date to eat and I can hardly afford a freakin hotel for my honeymoon afterwards and I'm not even drinking you can pay for your own drink if you want to drink. Thats my options, cashbar or dry wedding. Thats where the problem comes in.. some of the grooms family are big on drinking during celebrations. I prefer actually no drinking at MY wedding (and no thats not me being bridezilla.. it's my freaking night gimme a break!) but I think cashbar is a good option. If you want to drink at MY wedding that I don't want drinking at go ahead, but buy it yourself. I think its better to say that then say "No you cannot have any drinking at my wedding"
    Oh and the open bar at my reception site is 14 dollars per person. So I'll be paying a few grand for 10 people to drink if I do open bar. The cash bar prices are as follows... Mixed drink: 3.00, beer, 1.00, pitcher 5.00. Seriously if you want me to pay a few grand so you dont have to pay 20 dollars for your drinks you're the cheap one.
    And one more thing! First of all I'm not having a wedding party that will be having to pay a whole bunch of money to be in my wedding, I feel its less stressful for everyone not to have that.. and no one will have to be stressed about money for my wedding but me as it should be. And IF I were to do a bridal party I'd have nice gifts for each person involved. And as for the gifts from the wedding guests... if you're so bent up about paying 20 dollars for drinks you dont gotta buy me a single thing as a gift and you dont have to give me a dime.. but remember that elegant dinner in the elegant ballroom youre eating it in wasnt free either!

    November 20, 2012 at 2:10 pm |
  7. Sarah

    I'd love to know where this entitlement came from. When did weddings go from being an honor to be invited to, to being something guests should be thanked for? I have NEVER felt like the bride and groom owed me something for attending their wedding; I was just happy they thought I was important enough to be invited.

    If it is such a chore and financial burden, then here's a wise idea: politely decline attendance instead of whining like a selfish brat that the couple owes you something.

    My own wedding was dry. I was not old enough to drink, my husband was only barely old enough to drink, NONE of our wedding party was old enough to drink, and only six of the invited guests were old enough/actually drank. If they had a problem with it, tough s&^t, I don't care.

    December 27, 2010 at 5:54 pm |
  8. Kim

    Ok, Here it is. I don't drink, my friends know I don't drink but they know that I give great parties with awesome food and music. I won't be serving alcohol at mywedding because I don't want to. That's it. Since I don't serve alcohol at any of my parties, they know what to expect.

    I don't really need any wedding gifts because I have been living on my own long enought to buy all the stuff that I need for my house, which is the original point of wedding gifts. It was to help a young couple establish the things they need for a home. So don't give me a gift, I don't care. Don't come to the wedding I don't care.

    My wedding will be the joyous coming together of me and the man that I love. Stop being tacky by saying what you think is tacky.

    September 23, 2010 at 10:37 pm |
  9. Mimi

    I have around 62 people in my immediate family, just talking aunts uncles, their children, grandparents great-grandparents. My fiance has about 23 to add, plus we combined have 7 friends we are very close with and wish to invite, him four, me three. When all is said and done we're looking at close to 100 people in immediate family and friends coming to our wedding. We don't want to budge on ditching our friends which leaves cutting out our families, but is it really polite to invite five of my aunts and cut the other seven?! I feel that is ruder then simply saying in the invites, "Hey! We're all a big family and me and my fiance are a poor couple, we would love for anyone who wants to to come to our wedding but you're going to have to help out with the ‘eat drink and be merry’ part."

    As for what me and my fiance are going to do is probably set it up like how my family does for our christmas's, one hour mass in the morning to appease my grandparents then off to party at one of the farms. Everyone bringing their own speciality dish and my uncles bringing out the wine from the cellars. As someone mentioned earlier, in biblical times there was wine and partying, but in biblical times I feel that everyone contributed to the party, it wasn't solely up to the couple and it certainly didn't put them into debt.

    Also to the complainers these people are inviting you to a party, it's not mandatory and if you don't want to go or feel it's too much trouble then don't go, you're just wasting their money.

    September 10, 2010 at 12:10 am |
    • CO Bound

      I will be attending my first cash bar wedding and not looking forward to it at all! I am in the wedding and understand this is not about me. HOWEVER.... Let me share a few details. I am flying out for a Friday 6p rehearsal dinner with a Sunday evening wedding reception. Staying in a hotel for three nights, parking at the airport, airfare, TWO days off work, dress, shoes and a wedding gift. AND they have the audacity to thank me with a cash bar? I used to cherish my friendship with the bride, after the wedding, I will reevaluate. She is truly not thinking of my time and effort in this.

      September 13, 2010 at 11:34 am |
  10. Laurie

    I've been to two weddings. One where there was free beer and soda. No one complained and everyone seemed to have a good time. The second was an open bar and it was so boring that we left early. No one talked to each other, no one was dancing, and all they did was sit and drink. It was like they came because it was cheaper to get drunk on the bride and groom's dime than it was to get drunk at home.

    September 7, 2010 at 6:07 pm |
  11. Margaritas!

    We provided beer, wine, water, sodas, juices, and margaritas at our wedding. That covered just about everyone's preferences. At the end of the event, we did tequila shots to finish off the alcohol.

    September 2, 2010 at 7:29 pm |
  12. amber v

    John why did you open the debate of your financial privates when you had to know people were going to fight with you about it?
    Are you really that lonely?

    The most precarious self esteem is that wrapped up in material worth.

    I won't comment on the open bar or gift amount debate I feel it is a private decision.
    Even a gift of 10k become tacky when discussed.

    September 1, 2010 at 7:54 pm |
  13. Proxl

    Here's what I think - A wedding is a celebration of two people pledging their lives to each other. As such, the operatives are "two people" and "celebration." Therefore, the rule of thumb is, "If these particular two people had a party that was NOT a wedding, would they serve alcohol in some form or the other?" So if Joe and Mary (or Jack and Marty, or Deb and Jane) are financially comfortable and they would serve wine at a dinner party, they should offer that at their wedding. If their fiscal situation is one where they'd have a BYOB barbecue, then they could go the cash route. And if they're Mormon or in recovery or otherwise teetotallers, and their parties would reflect THAT, then that's what would make sense for their wedding.

    Or inversely, if the happy couple do drink from time to time, and are well off, if they go dry or cash bar, they'll look (and be) like cheapskates. If they're broke, and they try to overextend themselves, then they're risking their own fiscal wellbeing for the sake of a party. If they're in a tee-total class, and they serve alcohol, then they'll be betraying their own beliefs, and who wants that?

    AND - if you're important enough to someone to be invited to their wedding, and they're important enough to you that you'll go - you should go for the sake of celebrating their marriage and commitment (and no, I don't mean Bride Worship) and not for an excuse to get trashed.

    September 1, 2010 at 6:15 pm |
  14. Big Jon

    Let's see ... what have we learned here! People don't get married for themselves, but for others approval and amusement. All weddings should be geared towards the personal gains of everyone present. Everyone who enjoys any alcohol has a drinking problem. It's more important not to be tacky than to actually care about the reason for being there. And that most people who get married let family and friends run over them and are helpless to stop them.

    As a lifelong single person who observes those who apparently "have" to be married; this is a laughable subject for an institution that fails more often than it succeeds. In all these posts there is incredibly little mention of "love" or any other reason to go through with this tradition.

    Too many people get married to make others happy and get their parents off their backs. They also make wedding plans based on the same reasoning..

    I'm sure that people will tell me that I don't know the wonders of being married because I haven't done that. It is EQUALLY true that people who have not been free and single during their adult lives also have no idea how wonderful that life can be.

    That said ... open bar is the way to go at weddings and ....

    "Stay single my friends!"

    August 31, 2010 at 2:50 pm |
  15. dena

    When I got married, I tried so hard to please everyone.....except myself.
    My ex's side had alcoholics, and as a favor to my mother in law we compromised with open bar for an hour, free beer, wine, and soda. We had a champagne toast in which every table had two bottles. I still heard some people complaining. (They weren't my friends or family) BTW my family rarely drinks. If I could do it over again.....I would have a small wedding..intimate....close friends and family....on a beach at sunset.......Who knows? I may have still been married today........If I had things the way I wanted.....

    August 21, 2010 at 12:01 pm |
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