The easiest way to lower the bar tab is to hold your reception during the day. Guests simply will not drink as much at a lunch or brunch reception as they will at an evening affair.
Find a reception venue that allows you to bring in your own wine, beer, and spirits. This allows you to take advantage of sales and volume discounts that will control the final per drink cost. Click here for advice on what to consider when buying wine for your wedding.
Limit the cocktail hour to 45 minutes instead of the customary hour. Most drink consumption happens in the first two hours of an event. Often guests will transition to wine with dinner, leaving behind cocktails which can be more expensive.
If guests will be driving home, consider closing the bar 30 minutes before the party’s end and offering only soft drinks. It will encourage responsible drinking and save on the tab.
In our “super-size” culture, glassware has become inflated. Some red wine goblets can hold an astounding 12 ounces (two times the normal serving size for a glass of wine). Martini glasses have nearly doubled in size since the Mad Men-era heyday of the three martini lunch.
People monitor their drinking based on the number of drinks they have ordered, not the number of ounces of alcohol consumed. Use this to your advantage and use modestly-sized glasses — 5-ounce coupes or 6- to 7-ounce flutes for bubbly, 8- to 10-ounce glasses for wine, 12-ounce pilsners for beer, and 6-ounce martini glasses. Your guests won’t feel deprived and the bartenders will pour significantly less quantity over the course of the event.
French champagne is a luxury best kept for serving at dinner parties where guests will savor it. Less expensive sparkling wines from the U.S., Spanish cava, German sekt, or Italian prosecco are the way to go for a wedding reception.
Use “good enough” liquors for the bars instead of premium brands. If you are providing the alcohol, you don’t need to stock a full bar. Consider offering a limited cocktail menu based on the season. Gin and tonics and Pimm’s Cups in the spring, gimlets and shandies in summer, and then Manhattans and martinis in the colder months.
If you have a beer-drinking crowd, tap a keg instead of serving bottles. Beer aficionados will appreciate beer on draft. Avoid the frat party vibe by hiding the kegs behind the high bars.
Instead of serving up a full bar of beer, bubbly, and wine, limit the bar menu to what you think guests will like most. Instead of an assortment of liquors and mixers, serve up one or two signature cocktails that can be made in bulk in advance, then perhaps some beer, and then inexpensive sparkling wine for toasting.
Zealous bussing results in many half-full drinks being cleared. Instruct the servers to only clear empty glasses from tables.