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How much will an open bar cost?

By: The GrandWay
September 17, 2020
Corporate, Weddings

It’s a standard question, but one that can be challenging to answer. There are all sorts of suggested equations, but here are two suggestions that we like to combine and use as a point of reference.

  • An average of one drink per hour per guest. It’s an average, and it’s not always accurate, but it’s not a bad rule of thumb for most social events. To do your budget math on this, you’ll need to find out from the venue what the average cost of a drink is from their bar. Consider limiting the options to control the average if needed.
  • Ask yourself, how many drinks would you drink, and are you an accurate reflection of the majority of your crowd? If you would drink more than one drink per hour, perhaps the chances are that many of your guests would as well.

An open bar estimate is just that, an estimate, and the final total is dependent on many things. Some venues do charge a flat fee per person for an open bar, and this does give you an accurate amount to budget, but this doesn’t always land in your favour (depending on your crowd). Other venues charge you per drink. In this case, there are a few strategies that you can use to keep your costs within an acceptable limit.

  • Actually set a limit. Discuss with the venue a limit that you’re comfortable with. Put a communication plan in place in the event you start to approach the limit, and decide how it will be communicated with your guests if the limit is reached.
  • Restrict the choices. It’s your event. You don’t have to serve the top shelf spirits. Simplify the offerings to what you are comfortable with – perhaps that’s a couple of beer choices, wine on the tables, and a signature cocktail. Ensure that the venue has a plan in place to communicate the options clearly to your guests, and make sure they understand that this may mean moving some of their regular offerings out of sight.
  • Control the serving size. Tall boys don’t have to be served. You can ask the venue to not serve doubles. Wine on the table doesn’t have to be unlimited.
  • Provide a non-alcoholic punch and have water on the tables or a water station. Do your guests really want another drink, or are they simply thirsty?!

Of course, in many cases, you don’t need to feel that you have to offer an open bar. Alternatives include:

  • An open bar cocktail hour, wine on the table, and cash bar after dinner. 
  • A toonie bar, in that, guests pay a toonie per drink and you cover the rest (just make sure the toonie jar doesn’t get confused with a tip jar, you’ll need the toonies to pay down the bar tab at the end of the night!)
  • A ticket bar where you provide each guest with a number of tickets, and after that it’s a cash bar. Determine with the venue what a ticket can be redeemed for, again with the option to limit it to certain drinks and sizes.
  • Simply a cash bar.

While it is your event and it is your decision, remember that communication with your guests is key. Setting their expectations ahead of time (provide the bar details as well as information such as acceptable methods of payments and locations of ATMs if needed) reduces the amount of confusion and enhances the quality of their experience!

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