Host bar versus cash bar

Should you spring for drinks at your wedding or ask guests to pay their own way?
Jan. 14, 2011 | By:

Probably one of the biggest etiquette questions about the wedding reception happens to be whether couples should have an open bar, often known as a host bar, or if they should have a cash bar. Many couples consider the idea of the cash bar, especially when the budget is tight. Here is a closer look at this debate and the best choice for your wedding reception.

First, it's important that you know the difference between a host bar and a cash bar. The host bar is when all the drinks are paid for by the host of the wedding. A cash bar is when guests actually have to pay for their own drinks.

When it comes to wedding etiquette, having a cash bar can definitely end up looking very tacky and it is considered to be a big "no-no." Of course, this doesn't mean that you absolutely have to rule it out, but if you are planning to break the social rules concerning the bar at a wedding, then you need to consider this carefully. Often many guests have a lot to say about this, including that you are cheap or that you weren't able to afford this. This can be frustrating.

Of course, since you are the ones hosting the event, it doesn't make sense to have guests pay for their own beverages. That would be bad etiquette in almost any situation. So, in most cases, going with the host bar is definitely the best option if you are worried about proper etiquette for your wedding.

However, if you find that you absolutely cannot afford to have an open bar at your wedding, there are a couple of other options. One option is to avoid having either. Perhaps just have champagne poured for guests when the toasting occurs at the wedding reception. Otherwise don't have any alcohol available.

Another good option is to use a combination of a host bar and a cash bar. Give out tickets to every guest that is an adult. Usually two tickets is a great number. Then they can get two drinks for free. After those two tickets are used, then guests can pay for other drinks. This can be a great idea because it not only keeps costs down for you, but it helps to make sure that guests are not drinking irresponsibly at your wedding. This way you are seen not as cheap, but you are seen as being socially responsible.

In the event that you decide to have a cash bar at your wedding, make sure that guests are notified before the wedding reception. They should be able to be prepared for this circumstance, so make sure they are notified in the reception card or the wedding invitation.

Looking for interesting reception ideas? Find wedding entertainment ideas on, Canada’s Local Marriage Services Directory.