Free bar costs

Has anyone had/budgeting for a free bar - we are toying with the idea but with neither of us really being big drinkers are struggling to get an idea of quantities that people would drink/potential cost.

We are having 60 guests, about 10 of them dont drink/will only have one or two so are working on numbers of 50. We would like to have open bar during drinks reception (1.5hrs) and wedding brekfast (2.5hrs). This isnt including toast as have accounted champers separate for that. How many drinks could people get through during this time? There wont be anyone there we think will take the biscuit so just reasonable drinking - someone suggested one drink per half hour? image


  • Me and my sister are both planning on an open bar, I have about 30 guests and she has 150 so we have been thinking about this a lot!

    I would always base costs on the total number of guests, not paying attention to a small number of light drinkers. It's the law of averages, for every guest that will only have a couple, the will be lushes like me who would get through 2 bottles of wine if you let me! image

    1 drink per 30 mins is a good start. I worked at a wedding venue that did packages of 2 drinks per person for a reception of 1.5 hours (give or take) and it was very unusual to see guests buying supplementary drinks, so most people must of been satisfied with that.

    In terms of costing, it will of course depend of how expensive your venue is! Are you having a full bar or just offering a selection of products? Our company had a staff party with a totally open cocktail bar and it came to £4K for 70 people! They thought most people would want pints but they were sadly mistaken.

    For the wedding breakfast, anywhere from half to a full bottle of wine per person will be more than sufficient, again costs depend on whether you are doing full service like G&Ts etc or just wine, softs and beers.

    Is it BYO or are you at the mercy of the hotel bar prices???

    Do you want to offer a lot of choice? = more expensive.

    Remember keeping the bar open during the wedding breakfast will be logically difficult. Better to place buckets of wine and beer on the tables and have staff offer soft drinks. You control costs this way and folk won't be propping up the bar when you're trying to do the speeches. Also your buckets of bottles could be tailored to each group?
  • barbie_86barbie_86 Posts: 626
    We're providing set drinks for the drinks reception and wedding breakfast, of 2 glasses of buck's fizz, 1/2 bottle wine, water, and a glass of champagne for the toast, pp (non-drinkers will have non-alcoholic options)

    We are then putting money behind the bar for the evening reception; the tab will start when the evening reception starts, and will include single spirits and mixers; soft drinks; house wine by the glass; and beer. Cocktails, doubles, bottles of wine, champagne, and premium spirits are being excluded (champagne starts at £50 a bottle; double spirit measures cost £8; cocktails cost up to £14). We've decided to put a set amount of £2k behind the bar, which with 100 guests, should get people about 4-5 drinks each on average; so it won't last the night. We hope people will be happy with this.

    If you want to do a free bar, consider doing it only for the evening, and providing set drinks during the day; this will probably help keep costs down.

    Otherwise, I agree with the above, of allowing for 1-2 drinks an hour, per person, and I would budget based on average prices eg if soft drinks are £2, beer is £3.50, and wine and spirits are £5, I would budget around £4 per drink as an average price. So if you have 60 guests, and want to provide a free bar for 4 hours, and your average drink price is £4, you're going to be budgeting around £1.5k (based on each person having 6 drinks)

    I would also definitely do as we're doing and only include certain drinks (depending of course on your venue; if most drinks are a similar price, it obv isn't worth worrying about)
  • emsyjemsyj Posts: 3,807
    We had a free bar and supplied our own wine at the reception. There were reception drinks after the ceremony at the ceremony venue (we paid for 2 per head but I reckon they provided more than that, bizarrely - there was no shortage and everyone I spoke to had more than 2).

    On arrival at the reception, we had prosecco and orange juice for the non-drinkers. That used up 12 bottles of prosecco for 84 people.

    Then we had wine and they opened a total of about 60 bottles but there were lots of half-full bottles lying around at the end (which we weren't bothered about, it was just Marks & Spencer wine and corkage was £3 a bottle). Plus we had 12 bottles of Cava that were put out for the toasts. (That sounds like a lot when I type it and see it written down!!!! image image image image )

    The bar bill for all night from about 6pm through to midnight was £550 ish. That was for pub priced type drinks. We put £1500 behind the bar so we were quite shocked it was so low - but I think that was down to people drinking wine all day.

    If you ask the bar people they should be able to give you a rough estimate. Our bar guy estimated £500 to £1000 but said £1000 would be 'really going for it, y'know, big drinkers'.

    Hope that helps a bit.
  • EMKETEMKET Posts: 133
    Hi All, thats perfect and really helped me loads! We dont have the option of bringing our own drinks in and I think I need to estimate around £5 a drink as glass of wine is not far off that and a bottle of beer £3.60. Good point about accounting for everyone - at least thats worset case scenario!

    Before we thought about a free bar we had a sparking drink per person for the reception as part of our package (this is really where we wanted to offer a free bar as people hanging around and thought would be easier just to have open bar than decide what to have on offer as if weather isnt nice they will be in the lounge area where the bar is based)

    We had already decided for the wedding breakfast per table of 10 to have 3 bottles of white, 2 bottles of red, 10 bottles of beer and 5 bottles of J20 and this is where we were thinking if providing that will much more actually be drunk and so is free bar an option but absolutely agree now I have thought about it having drinks on the table will mean people more likely to drink that than get up and go to bar but at least the option is there for those who maybe want a spirit.

    we will def limit drinks, ie no champers (other than what we provide), cocktails etc.

    At least I have a better idea for our meeting with venue in a few weeks now, just didnt want to raise the subject with no expectancies and then come down with a complete shock!

    Thanks all image
  • barbie_86barbie_86 Posts: 626
    Personally, I think that 5 bottles of wine, 10 bottles of beer, and 5 bottles of J2O per table is quite a lot, and my concern would be that people would drink it all just because it's there. You probably know which drinks certain guests have (eg my OH's friends NEVER drink wine; whereas my friends wouldn't touch beer with a barge-pole), so maybe try to cater based on that? Ie provide 1/2 bottle of wine pp for the wine drinkers, and 2 bottles of beer pp for the beer drinkers. Or, would you consider a tick box on the invites, asking guests to express their preference for the wedding breakfast?

    I would also have reservations about opening the bar during the drinks reception, though this depends on your guests. My concern would be some people might drink a little too much, esp as it'll be on a largely empty stomach. This is why we've gone for 2 glasses of buck's fizz pp, as it isn't too strong or too heavy, but should be enough to 'get the party started'. Our bar will actually be closed until the end of the wedding breakfast, so people won't have the option to get drinks from it until after the wedding breakfast. Again, if you're concerned about choice etc, then perhaps you could come up with 2 or 3 different options, allow people to tick a box with their preference, and cater accordingly?

    It probably sounds like I don't trust my guests, and that isn't the case; I can't imagine any of them would get plastered while we're having our photos taken. But I don't want to take the risk lol
  • EMKETEMKET Posts: 133
    I think I would rather have more than run out though but maybe I have gone OTT, I have no idea as I dont really drink and have only been to one wedding in my life and we had to buy every drink other than toast drink at that so cant gague so advise is appreciated.

    Invites have already gone out as were getting married in 9 weeks - eeeek image

    I am working on table plan this weekend so makes sense what you suggest about working it out per table - didnt think of that, just kind of thought same on each table so thats give me some food for thought

    I see what your saying about not trusting guests, I dont think the ones we are having will take the biscuit but guess you never know - I know the evening guests will which is why I will draw the line after the wedding breakfast image

    thanks for your advise image
  • barbie_86barbie_86 Posts: 626
    I think I would rather have more than run out though but maybe I have gone OTT, I have no idea as I dont really drink and have only been to one wedding in my life and we had to buy every drink other than toast drink at that so cant gague so advise is appreciated.

    Putting a smaller amount out doesn't mean people will run out, as you can always ask the staff to replenish as and when necessary; so if one table has a lot of beer drinkers and they get through their beer straight away, the staff can replenish the beers. Or, you could get staff to take orders and not have any drinks on the table at all bar water. That way, everyone gets what they want.

    On average, I would say most people would drink 2-3 drinks during a 3 course meal, plus water. A lot of people don't drink huge amounts while eating.
  • RapunzbelRapunzbel Posts: 402
    On the rare occassion my h2b goes to the pub with work he normally gets through 2pints & a jack & coke over the course of the evening (2-3hours) so I would think the 2 drinks an hour guesstimate is a good one.

    Best of luck deciding on it.

    I for one do not trust my h2b friends from university with an open bar, they'd drink us dry!
  • EMKETEMKET Posts: 133
    Iazhoody - haha I think if my uni friends were there during the day it would deffo be a different story but it is mostly older aunties & uncles, immediate family and around 20 friends - half of our siblings are pregnant so it will probably actually only be our friends drinking and 5 of them are pregnant/teetotal so thinking about it maybe I have gone a tad over board...I will have a good think this weekend and try and come to some decision, also have meeting with venue on 9th so they may be able to make some suggestions of best way of doing it (ie as suggested, someone replenishing when running out, no idea if this is the norm/an option due to lack of wedding experience!). Thanks again all image
  • SarahMor84SarahMor84 Posts: 1,493
    We had a semi open bar, for our wedding we had 64 people not everyone drinking.

    We provisioned enough alcohol for 100 people based on 1/2 bottle of wine at the breakfast, 2 glasses of sparkling and 1 glass of champagne with a little to spare.

    This was pretty much fully drunk!

    I think we had 19 bottles of Champagne, 60 bottles of wine (half white / half red), 40 bottles of sparkling or there approx.

    We had 1 champers, 5 red, 1 white and no sparkling left over.

    Prices depend on whether you can have corkage or have to buy from the venue. We had corkage and saved a hell of a lot compared if we bought from the venue.

    As a basic per person I would say 1 toast drink, 1 glass of bubbly etc per 30 mins, 1/2 bottle of wine
  • We had 60 people at our daughters wedding in 2010 we did not put any wines or champagnes on the tables we explained to guests there was a free bar and that people should order a drink to take in for the toast.

    the free bar started after the ceremony about 2.30 we put £1K behind the bar on advice from the venue who said it should last till late evening.

    we had agreed with the venue no doubles or really extravagant cocktails.

    what we did not expect was that people would empty the table decorations out of the large glasses we had on the tables and fill it up with blue wkd's and port. the £1k lasted until 7pm

    then we were going to put another £500 behind the bar but the venue advised us not too, so we put £300. as the evening guests were arriving.

    which only lasted till about 9 pm. then poeple had to start paying for themselves.

    we were disgusted that people had actually brought cans and spirits up to the venue in their cars but they did not have the decency to take their rubbish back with them they dumped them on the car park, when i was informed the next day by the venue what had transpired It really upset me especially as the tablet decorations had been hired and three had been stolen and we only ever got one glass back. I had taken out insurance but was too emarrased to claim and just paid for the missings ones.
  • That's terrible, some people really don't know how to behave themselves!!
  • emsyjemsyj Posts: 3,807

    what we did not expect was that people would empty the table decorations out of the large glasses we had on the tables and fill it up with blue wkd's and port. the £1k lasted until 7pm

    image image image

  • FloFlo Posts: 432
    I've never been to a wedding with a free bar, and would not expect to have a free bar, and would not provide one. I do think there should be some drinks on the table if you can afford it, and a drink for the toast, but don't think it needs to be champagne.

    We are having about 70 adults in the day and 120 at night. A lot of our friends can easily drink double figures each on a night out - not that they are roaring drunks, but just can handle their alcohol and can drink. So at about £30-£40 per head it does get extortionate. Besides, when people are out from 2pm until 12midnight a drink an hour isn't unreasonable.

    Just provide a few bottles for the table, a toast , and an arrival drink and leave it at that or you could he bankrupt.

    The other option is not to say it's a free bar, and then after the meal, before the evening guests arrive, say to your guests that the bar is open for an hour, or until they drink the tab, and they can choose what they want on you. People will appreciate the gesture more than a free-for-all!
  • Stephb1986Stephb1986 Posts: 2,536
    I've never been to a wedding with a free bar either, a friend of mine had a free ar at her wedding her parents were footing the bill it came to 6k at the end of the night so be warned

    Steph xx
  • Oh wow... How many guests did they have?! image

    Talk about taking the P!!
  • emsyjemsyj Posts: 3,807
    If you have a pricy venue then it will add up - we went to a wedding back in 2003 where a single gin & tonic was £14 - and this was in the north west, in a not very fancy area, and wasn't even a particularly posh hotel, just a chain. So if you have 100 guests having 2 drinks an hour (which isn't OTT) that's a huge amount of money at the end of the evening...

    That's why we chose a venue with dirt-cheap corkage and very reasonable bar prices!
  • JaneK2011JaneK2011 Posts: 516
    Don't start the open bar until the evening as it's much easier to control for a shorter amount of time. Also my venue said it's better to put drinks on the table for the meal as you don't want guests up and down to the bar during the speeches.

    My dad put £1400 behind the bar and it lasted from approx 7pm to 10/10.30pm for about 85 guests. There were some people not drinking and some more mature guests, but then a had a few cousins in their 20's who got wrecked. Therefore it's better to put a set amount behind the bar so you don't get a nasty shock at the end of the night.

    I think it's a nice gesture to the evening guests to have some free drinks as they've missed the other drinks and meal. However it isn't expected nowadays
  • We decided against a free bar because some of h2bs friends can easily down 15 pints or more and we know they will do it given the chance. Our hotel isnt cheap when it comes to drinks so they would be able to rack up a substantial bill.

    We are paying for welcome drinks, water, soft drinks and 1/2 bottle of wine during the meal and toast drink for the speeches and from talking to other friends and also our wedding coordinator that should be plenty.

    We will buy the evening guests a drink too once they arrive, we want to make sure we welcome them properly so one of us will go to the bar with them and put it on our tab.

    The last two weddings we went to only provided a toast drink and everything else you had to buy yourself.

    A friend of mine went to a wedding recently where the bar staff was a bit on the dim side and just added a lot drinks of guests to the tab of the father of the groom, who only wanted to pay for the couples drinks and the parents of the bride. I don't know how they sorted it out, but it was a nasty shock for him!
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