I receive a lot of questions from brides, as well as wedding guests, about the appropriateness of having a cash bar at a wedding. In fact, the entire subject can often be the source of a great deal of consternation as the debate rages regarding “should you, or shouldn’t you?”. Well, here it is – the real scoop, once and for all.
In the world of wedding etiquette, the cash bar is the ultimate no-no. Therefore, if observing complete social correctness is of importance to you, you’d best forget about planning on a cash bar at your wedding.
However, as I’ve said before, now that we are well into the 21st century, some of the rules of wedding etiquette are gently, and with great care, being broken. As long as you don’t move within a social circle in which the ultimate in social correctness is always observed, you may be able to sneak by with your cash bar. Emily Post most definitely would not approve, but, the times they are a-changing….
That said, please take careful note of the following disclaimer: Anytime you are contemplating breaking or even bending a rule of wedding etiquette, you should give the matter a great deal of consideration before making that decision. The fact remains, that it is best to stick to the laws of social correctness unless circumstances absolutely dictate otherwise in order to avoid offending, or turning anyone off.
The prime reason people contemplate the cash bar for their wedding receptions is obviously the issue of cost. You should realize that this will probably be apparent to your wedding guests if you choose a cash bar. Realize too that people may mumble under their breath that it looks “cheap” and there likely will be some discussion among some guests who will conclude that you couldn’t afford an open bar. Before your adrenaline begins to ooze over that, remember, after all, you ARE breaking a rule of etiquette. Proceed only if you are still comfortable and if you are certain you will not erupt over such commentary!
It is my professional opinion, having counseled a great many couples who are grappling with this issue, that if you have come to the conclusion that you absolutely can not have an open bar, the best, most gentle and non-offensive way to handle the matter is to take a combination approach. What has worked for many couples quite successfully is to provide perhaps 2 drink tickets for each adult guest. These can be included in each invitation along with the other enclosures. After your guests have used their 2 tickets, they will be required to pay for any additional drinks. A lot of couples are quite comfortable with this approach, believing that 2 drinks in an evening is a reasonable and responsible level of drinking for any guest to partake in and that anything above that may become excessive.
This approach can be seen as a socially responsible effort to discourage excessive drinking. In fact, I know of several couples who have utilized this approach for precisely this reason when cost was absolutely not a factor.
Today there is a much elevated level of awareness and concern for the hazards of excessive social drinking and, therefore, from a social standpoint this approach toward minimizing that hazard can have a sensible social justification. It is in this way that our rules of etiquette can be adjusted over the course of time, and in some cases may actually be required to change ever so slightly to keep pace with other influences in society.
If you have, after careful consideration, made the decision to have a cash bar, it is crucial that your guests be advised of this in advance. Failing to provide advance notification to guests would be in extremely poor form, not to mention very inconsiderate. Have the words “cash bar” printed beneath the reception information on your reception card or invitation. This at least allows guests to arrive prepared for these circumstances so that no one is taken by surprise.
Linda Kevich is an internationally recognized wedding expert, a syndicated columnist, and the creator and editor of SuperWeddings.com. She has been a professional wedding planner and stylist for two decades. She is the developer of an international certification program for wedding planners which has been one of the leaders in the field of wedding planner training since 1999. She offers expert advice about all aspects of weddings through her Wedding Expert column. Have a wedding etiquette question? Ask the Wedding Expert!