Who Pays for the Drinks at a Wedding (You or Your Guests)?

It’s pretty much a given that at your wedding, you’ll have to pay for your guests’ food. This will comprise a three- or four-course ‘wedding breakfast’, wedding cake, and some kind of refreshment during the evening reception (a buffet or food van, for example). But what do you do about drinks?
Open bars, at which wedding guests can have as many drinks as they like for free, are not the norm in the U.K. They may be standard in some parts of the world, but not here. It’s far too easy for guests to take advantage, and – let’s face it – most brides and grooms simply don’t have a big enough budget.
But there are some drinks which you’ll be expected to provide for your wedding guests. Today, we’ll discuss which drinks you have to pay for, and when (and if) you should expect your guests to pay their own way.

What Drinks Do the Bride and Groom Pay For?

Let’s clarify one thing right away: your wedding guests won’t turn up expecting free drinks all day long. Though open bars might be standard in the U.S., they are rare at U.K. weddings. That being said, you should provide the welcome drinks, wine and water with the wedding meal, and a toasting drink to enjoy with the speeches.
Your venue will be able to advise you on how much this should all cost, based on what drinks you choose and how many guests you’ll have. They’ll add the drinks to your overall venue bill, so you can pay it all at once, either before or after your wedding.

Welcome Drinks

When your guests arrive at the venue before the ceremony, it’s polite to offer them a welcome drink. One drink per guest is plenty. The most popular welcome drinks include Buck’s fizz, champagne, prosecco, and Pimm’s (with cordial for the little ones).
However, a fun alternative is to design a signature wedding cocktail. It could even be inspired by your wedding colours – for example, a cherry cocktail would be perfect if your bridesmaids’ dresses are red!

Wine with the Wedding Breakfast

During the wedding breakfast (the sit-down meal after the ceremony), it’s customary to provide wine for your guests to enjoy with their meals.
You’ll need to provide roughly half a bottle of wine per person. This equates to around two medium glasses. Some of your guests will prefer red, and others white wine – so you should order equal numbers of each.
You can either have wait staff top up everyone’s wine glasses as and when needed; or, you can put the bottles on the tables for your guests to help themselves to.
If you choose to keep the bottles on the tables, why not order some custom wine labels? Custom wine bottle labels will help add that extra personal touch to the celebration.

Non-Alcoholic Drinks

If you’re providing your guests with free wine during their meal, you should also offer an alcohol-free alternative. Remember that some of your guests will be under the drinking age, and many more may be pregnant, teetotal, or just not big fans of wine!
You should always provide jugs of still and sparkling water on the tables. But you can also offer orange juice, apple juice, or cordial (squash). These go down best with children, as many young kids aren’t fond of plain water.

Toasting Drink

When your guests have finished their meals, it’s time for the speeches (starting with the father of the bride). Each wedding speech will end with a toast, at which point your guests must raise their glass.
Just before the speeches begin, a ‘toasting drink’ is given out by the wait staff. This is usually champagne, prosecco, or another bubbly alcoholic beverage. (Sparkling apple juice makes a great alternative for children, and adults who don’t drink.) Your venue will be able to advise how many bottles you’ll need, and the total amount it’ll cost you.

Who Pays for Drinks at the Wedding Reception?

The wedding reception happens after the wedding breakfasts and toasts have finished. Most wedding receptions feature a live band or a DJ, and a finger buffet is open to guests. There is usually a bar on-site, and throughout the evening, guests can go and order drinks of their own accord.
At the vast majority of U.K. wedding receptions, guests pay for all of their own drinks. The toasting drink (after the sit-down meal) is the last free drink on offer for guests. It’s your guests’ responsibility to bring cash or a credit card, so that they can continue drinking after this point.
However, if you’d like, you can choose to provide some (or all) of your guests’ reception drinks. This is purely optional. There are three main ways to do this: by having an open bar, a limited bar, or giving out free drink tokens.

Open Bar

Having an open bar at your reception means that none of your guests have to buy their own drinks. Every drink ordered by your wedding guests will go onto a tab. At the end of the night, you have to pay the balance.
Open bars are extremely popular in the United States, but not so much in the U.K. If you really want your guests to have an amazing time, feel free to offer an open bar. However, it goes without saying that you’ll need a huge budget. If the drinks are free, many guests will take advantage, and drink more than they usually would.

Limited Bar

A limited bar means that some drinks are free, but not others. For example, you might allow your guests as much beer, wine and soft drinks as they like, but no spirits. If they want shots, or a gin and tonic, they’ll have to pay their own way. This means that you won’t have as big of a bill to pay afterwards.
Another popular method is to limit the amount of money that you spend on your guests’ drinks. For example, you could tell the bar staff that you’ll pay for the first £500 of drinks. But once that amount has been reached, your guests must pay for any future beverages.

Drink Tokens

Drink tokens are little tickets which your guests can redeem at the bar during the reception, for one alcoholic or soft drink of their choice. You’ll have to organise this with your venue beforehand. They’ll put each ‘free’ drink onto a tab that you’ll have to pay at the end of the night.
Using drink tokens is a handy way to cut costs, in the same way as a limited bar tab would. However, drink tokens are much fairer, as each guest is guaranteed the same amount of free drinks – rather than a select few guests racking up the tab on their own.
After your guests have used their drink tokens, they can buy their own drinks for the rest of the night. Why not use drink tokens as your wedding favours?

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