The Vine: September 7, 2011
What's your opinion of cash bars at weddings?
I attended a wedding recently where there was a charge attached to every beverage except tap water. This was met with a ton of grousing (I heard one seventy-something relative say to another that cash bars were "the height of tacky"). This is the first time I've ever been to a wedding with a cash bar — I've been to weddings with no hard liquor, but I've never had to pay for a drink at a wedding. I think cash bars are tacky, because to me, they violate the rules of hospitality. A couple wouldn't have guests in their home and say, "Listen, if you want a glass of red, it's $6"; they'd just serve them what they had on hand. If a couple can't afford to have booze at their wedding, just don't serve it — while I will always take advantage of an open bar, I'd be totally happy drinking Diet Coke at a wedding.
Since the wedding, the bride has heard that people have been talking about the cash bar (she probably heard it AT the wedding — if I overheard it, I'm sure she did too) and has been running around justifying their decision to have it, which to my mind is unnecessary — the wedding is over, go on and be married. (Her husband, who is my connection to the couple, is very eye-rolling about the whole thing, like "Yes, OK, that didn't go over that well, can we move on?")
In a straw poll of people in my circles (a rainbow coalition of late-20s/early-30s, white-collar urban Northeastern folks — and my 80-year-old grandmother, who was completely horrified), the response has more or less been "Cash bar? You had to pay for soda? Yikes." But I did have one friend who didn't think it was so bad. "It's like a night out. You'd pay for a drink in a bar or a club." A wedding, to my mind, isn't like a bar — it's a private party, and as such, it IS like a night out — but one that the hosts take on the costs for. Again, to use the dinner party example, I'm on the hook for my transportation to the party, but once I'm there, I wouldn't expect to pay for anything.
So what do you think?
A cash bar at a wedding is not something I came across much, growing up; nor is it something I would do/have at my own wedding. A wedding isn't identical to a private party, but I agree with you that it's analogous; serving food and drink isn't required — but if it is done, it's done at the expense of the host, because the host is, you know, the host. And in the case of a wedding, the guests have usually gone to some expense already to attend — bought a dress/cleaned a suit, traveled, purchased a gift — and not offering at least wine and beer free of charge is chintzy, to my mind.
With that said, I come from northeast WASP country, and the cash bar is not part of the wedding culture. Also, I am a lazy skinflint who doesn't want to have to dig into her clutch for cash at the reception. But for other people, it's SOP and no big deal, and we could say that about any number of features or traditions of weddings — dollar dances, the hora, jumping over a broom, old ladies making off with the centerpieces at the end of the night, you name it. I mean, I can't remember the last time I saw a bouquet toss at a wedding, but for some folks it's still a meaningful custom.
So, a cash bar is not something I would do, but I also don't think it's as easy as "that's tacky, period full stop." You have to put it in context with the rest of the wedding, and the couple, and blah blah blah. If it's a fairly informal or low-key outdoor thing, not very dressy, and it's of a piece with the rest of the event feeling maybe more like a barbecue or pass-the-hat type of affair and nobody else is flinching at buying a beer? Then who cares. It's one event. It's maybe mildly annoying if you hadn't expected it, but "tacky" is a little strong. If the reception is at a schmancy country club, though, and the invitation had a strongly-worded dress code, but then an inch of bourbon is nine bucks, I feel like maybe someone doesn't get it somewhere.
And it's not okay to charge for soft drinks, period, I'm sorry. "But that's just how the venue runs the –" I don't care. It's soda and juice, and this is your family and friends. Work that shit out.
Short answer: cash bar for alcohol = not my choice, but it depends on the circumstances. Cash bar for everything = bullshit.