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The Vine: September 7, 2011

Submitted by on September 7, 2011 – 1:58 PM120 Comments

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?

C

Dear C,

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.

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120 Comments »

  • J+1 says:

    Water, juice, and soda should NEVER be anything but free at a wedding. That's crazy.

    I've been to weddings with a cash bar, and I just don't think they feel right. If you can't afford a full bar, don't have a full bar. I've been to weddings where there was no alcohol served at all– that's fine and far less awkward than asking guests to pay for their G&T. I've also been to weddings where only beer and wine were served, which is a nice way to save money and still have some booze.

    Weddings, man. If I ever get married I'm going to elope.

  • Erin says:

    If, as the letter-writer said, it's unnecessary for the bride to go around justifying the choice, then it's also probably not necessary to have polls of friends and family about the choice. Everyone, not just the bride and groom, should just move on. There doesn't seem to be any such thing as an actual SOP for weddings; if there were, the bridal magazines and wedding planners would go broke, because everyone would know how weddings are done and would spend less time & energy making millions of these sorts of choices to have the perfect wedding nobody finds "weird"or "tacky".

    Different strokes, and if you don't want to pay for a drink, have tap water. When you plan your own wedding, do it your way.

    Ok, I'll make one concession, which is that I do think it'd be wise to let people know about the cash bar in advance so that they have cash on them. That's it.

  • Katie says:

    I understand why people do cash bars- weddings are fucking expensive- but if I ever get married, I'm going to have to splurge on the open bar just to prevent the kind of bitching that this bride experienced. Which, although it's rude, I do understand- half the fun of a wedding is the free booze.

    With that said, everyone needs to get over it. It was a minor inconvenience, and no one- bride, groom, or guests- should let that ruin a wedding.

  • Lucy says:

    I'm pretty sure there is some cultural (regional) aspect to the cash bar. However, it sounds like this is not a case of that being the reason for it, if EVERYONE there was complaining about it. Normally, if it were a regional or cultural thing, there would be a significant contingent there who belonged to that region or culture and thus wouldn't be complaining. Generally, I'm a fan of the restricted, rather than cash, bar if you must go that way.

  • Andrea says:

    No, no, no, no, no. Sorry, I understand that different places/people have their own customs, but you do not invite people to an event and then expect them to reach into their wallets to pay for beverages of any sort. In my mind, it IS tacky. When my husband and I were dating, one of our first fights was about just this practice at the wedding of a friend of his (only tap water was free; they charged for booze, soda, juice and coffee). He argued that some people can't afford to cover drinks for everyone and that I was being elitest. I responded that I never said that they had to cover drinks for everyone. If you want 200 people, but cannot afford a full meal, plus beverage service and all of the other extras, then have a mid afternoon ceremony with cake, champagne, and coffee afterwards. Lovely, classy, not so expensive. If you need to have all of the trappings, then invite fewer people (no one should go into debt over a wedding — it is just a party). Figure out a way that the people you have invited to share your day and who have bought presents and taken the time to be with you don't have to pull out their wallets.
    On a related note, I've also noticed that when there is a cash bar, it's always really cheap, crappy stuff I don't want to drink anyway (at the wedding I mentioned above, when I asked what kind of wine they had, I was told "chilled and unchilled" and shown the box). Maybe the solution is to make the party BYOB (no, I'm not endorsing this). If people know in advance that the hosts aren't providing beverages, guests could at least have the opporunity to bring what they like at a reasonable price.

  • Annie says:

    I'm with the "don't serve booze if you can't afford to" camp. Your wedding is a party that you are throwing. If a couple tried to charge guests for any food that was served, people would be outraged and would post nasty notes about them on bridezilla-themed websites. In any case, charging for non-alcoholic drinks is INSANE.

  • Jenn says:

    I don't drink, so I can't speak to the alcohol part of this, but if you're serving a meal and not charging for the food, you shouldn't charge for beverages like soda, tea, etc. You're going to charge me for a soda and then serve me free lobster? That makes no sense.

  • Lesley says:

    I agree with the groom: everyone should just move on. But people won't move on. For years and years their wedding will be the one people reference when they discuss tacky weddings. No matter what happens in their lives – birth of first baby, new jobs, even if one of them cures cancer – it will never, ever end.

    Unless people like C let it end. Yes it is tacky but it's over. The letter writer should help her friends get over it by dropping the subject. When it comes up in conversation don't spend an hour discussing it, change the topic of conversation. The time to discuss this was before the wedding during the planning stages. People should have offered the bridge and groom advice not to do this. Absent a time machine it's over and done with. Let. It. Go.

  • mcm says:

    I have to throw my vote in with the "Tacky, full stop" camp. There are enough ways around the cash bar to render it unacceptable. And I've been to weddings that compromise – two drink tickets per person, open bar for X amount of time, then cash bar – and they just have a whiff of desperation about them that dry weddings or wine-and-beer only weddings don't have.

  • Lily says:

    I've been to weddings with fully open bars, limited bars, and cash for booze bars at the receptions, but never a cash for everything but water bar. The bars seemed, for the most part, to reflect the respective budgets and lifestyles of the bride and groom, and other than a brief annoyance about having to buy a rum and coke and a glass of wine (at a minimal price of under $5 each), the one cash bar didn't bother me.

    The fully open bar was at a wedding with 300+ guests, country club reception, huge wedding party. The limited bars have all been a smaller weddings, but still included wine, beer, and well-booze cocktails. My own wedding was a limited bar, but since the reception was at a restaurant that had a full bar, the guests were able to buy fancy or top-shelf drinks if they wanted, although as far as I know no one did.

    The one wedding that had a cash bar was completely justified in my mind. The bride and groom specifically went that route because they knew their guests, and wanted to curb any potential over-indulgence. It was a motley crew of bikers, teamsters, lawyers, and law firm staff, all of which groups known for hard drinking. Everyone had a good time, and no one died on the way home.

    All of these weddings have been in Northern California, if it matters.

    All that being said, however, who charges for soda?

  • StillAnotherKate says:

    In my family, cash bar at a wedding would result in tar followed quickly by feathering and not a few very inventive insults about the bride and groom's mothers, probably proffered by those same venerable ladies. But, then again, I come from a very large Irish family. No booze at a wedding? Insane.

    But I understand, as Sars says, this is my culture, and not everyone else may have grown up with the Bride and Groom showing up at the After-Party at the Howard Johnsons later on that evening.

    But I will say something else – I have gone to many, many, MANY weddings in the course of my 43 years in my family and have helped myself to many a cash bar. If I ever make the plunge (which I think is unlikely at this point but whatever) and I don't have a cash bar I would have more than few cousins who would be justfied in presenting me a bill for what past consumption. In other words, I enjoyed the bar at their wedding and now I'm denying them the same? Not cool, they would say. And they would be right.

    If you have never been to an Irish wedding, get yourself an Irish friend. It is an event worth experiencing. My sister's wedding was over ten years ago and my friends who attended are STILL talking about it!

  • Matt says:

    Been to a lot when I was younger where there was a compromise; open bar until dinner, free beer, wine and soda all night long. Since most younger people drank beer, it suited us fine.

    Since most people my age now (forty something) don't go to weddings to get pie eyed anymore, paying for a couple of drinks isn't a biggie either. I tip a buck a drink anyhow, so I have cash handy whatever's going on.

  • Danielle says:

    Huh. I am obviously in the minority, but when I go to a wedding, I… expect to pay for my drinks. I don't know if I have a lot of cheap friends or if it is just my area, but I very rarely go to a wedding where the alcohol is free.
    I think that in this day and age, it's really hard to put on a nice wedding, and booze is super expensive to add on top of a good meal for people. I don't mind paying.

  • Joel says:

    I got married over the summer and my wife and I had a very clear budget in mind. We knew we'd have about 50 guests, and we wanted to spend about $3,000. People thought us insane — we live in Chicago, where weddings generally run $10K-$15K — but we did it. We had the ceremony at a conservatory that cost $200, we didn't have a wedding party, we had the rehearsal dinner at a friend's house, we had the reception at a restaurant that offered free use of a gorgeous second-floor private party space. No one who came thought it seemed cheap, and everyone said they had tons of fun.

    And we couldn't have done it without paying for booze. That was one thing we knew we were going to have to suck it up and pay for. We got lucky in some ways — many guests didn't drink, we wound up with five pregnant ladies in the crowd — but it was still about a third of the overall tab. It was totally worth it!

    I would humbly suggest to those on a budget, do what we did: scale back the rest of your plans so you can throw the kind of event you want to and still make sure your guests enjoy themselves. We did it. It can be done.

  • Cora says:

    An interesting parallel: read Carolyn Hax's column today. {I'd link, but I think my link would ask for a login, and it's not like Hax is an obscure ref.} Her last paragraph is the best, I think, for the over-worried bride.

  • Becca says:

    This one doesn't bother me. I've been to one wedding with a totally cash bar, and one where wine and beer were free but you had to pay for liquor. I thought the latter was a smart compromise.

    The thing about not serving alcohol period, is that a lot of people go to weddings planning to drink, and would rather pay than not drink at all. Depends on your crowd, I suppose.

    For my upcoming wedding, we're doing wine, beer, and a signature cocktail, so instead of stocking a bar, we just have to buy a bunch of vodka. If you're already going to the expense of throwing this big party, and you would normally offer booze at a party, it's worth doing.

    There was clearly not enough interesting family drama going on at this wedding if everyone was preoccupied with the cash bar.

  • Hellcat13 says:

    I don't know if it's a location thing (I grew up rural, just outside Ottawa, Canada), but I'd say easily 50% of the more formal weddings I've gone to have been cash bar. Generally, it's noted on the invitation (Dinner and reception to follow; cash bar) so that you're not caught unaware. No one has any real problem with it. That said, it's always an exciting day when everyone finds out it's an open bar.

    As a non-drinker and therefore the de facto DD, I admit I'm slightly pissed if I have to pay two bucks for a Diet Coke, though. Drivers should always drink free.

  • Roo says:

    Just to offer another side to this – my husband and I went the cash bar route for booze (water, soda, and juice free, of course…charging for THAT, I think, is tacky) not because we were being cheap but because frankly, we still have quite a few college friends who think "open bar" means "WOO HOO, LET'S GET AS SHITFACED AS POSSIBLE ON SOMEONE ELSE'S DIME." I would have been perfectly willing to buy a couple of glasses of wine for everybody, but I didn't feel it was fair for me to pay for eight jack and cokes per groomsman just so they could flail around, scare my grandmother, and then puke on my dress, you know? Had we had an open bar, the final bill would have bankrupted us and our reception probably would have been busted up by the cops. It's amazing how much more restraint people will show when they have to pay for their own drinks.

  • Kerry says:

    *I* would never have a cash bar at a wedding, but I can envision situations where that's the best possible compromise. I do agree with Sars that only the alcoholic drinks should come at a price, however. Charging for soft drinks is sort of ridiculous.

    I disagree with those who say "if you can't afford to pay for the alcohol, don't offer it at all." Many wedding are wonderful and interesting events; many are NOT. Unless you AND your family AND his family AND your friends are, like, 80% teetotalers, people have a reasonable expectation for alcohol at celebratory events.

    I also think that if this wedding is on this side of the pond (apparently cash bars are common in the UK, IIRC,) advance warning should be given. I would never bring enough money with which to drink otherwise. I'm not expecting to *buy* things at a wedding.

  • Jo says:

    I recently went to a wedding with a cash bar for beer and wine (they didn't have hard alcohol). I don't know if they charged for juice or soda because It was a 97-degree day and an outdoor wedding, and I don't drink (no tolerance at all), so I just downed glass after glass of ice water. But I didn't think anything of it. They did provide champagne for the toasts. Even if I did drink, I wouldn't mind paying for my own. Knowing my friends spent thousands of dollars just for the basics (venue, flowers, food, shitty DJ, etc) makes me feel OK about having to pay for my booze, even if I did travel and buy a new outfit.

    I figure if people have a problem with it, bitching about it at the wedding where the bride can hear is unbelievably tacky. At this recent wedding, the DJ was awful and as a vegetarian, I didn't find the food to be particularly substantial, but would I have told the bride that? No way.

    My boyfriend, who was a groomsman at this recent wedding, and I have talked about it and we've decided that if we get married, we'll provide two drink tickets but have a cash bar after that (non-alcoholic stuff for free). We want our guests to have fun but we can't afford an open bar, and I certainly wouldn't feel guilty about that as a bride.

  • Amie A says:

    I really think it depends on the whole picture. My sister had a wedding where soft drinks were free, but alcohol was limited to two drink coupons per person (and those of us non-drinkers of course could donate ours to the drinkers). Anything beyond that was at the expense of the drinker. My BIL's family was against having alcohol at all, so this was the compromise, and it worked out fine.

    I could imagine a situation where the couple decides to not provide alcohol, and then have those who are willing to pay for their own be upset they didn't even have the option to get their drink on themselves, so having a cash bar portion/option doesn't seem unreasonable to me.

    I do, however, wholeheartedly agree a variety of softdrinks should be free to guests.

  • Beth C. says:

    I agree that non-alcoholic drinks should be free. I also for the most part feel that if I get married it will be open bar becuse, well, there isn't much point otherwise in my opinion. I've been to beer and wine only weddings and agree that is a perfectly acceptable option. I will say if you must do a cash bar be sure that is indicated loud and clear on the invite. A lot of people don't carry much cash anymore and most halls, etc. Don't have ATMS (or they have sky high fees) so be sure your guests know to stop at the bank on the way.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    If I'm getting free LOBSTER, I will make an exception on paying for a soda. I will think it's bizarre, but if it's lobster ROLL, I'll pay for TWO sodas. Heh.

    Everyone's traditions and priorities are different, there are always exceptions, etc., but in my experience, trying to save money on the booze line item is a totally understandable instinct that is also totally not worth it in terms of aggro. (Viz. this letter.) There are a dozen other places to economize at a wedding or party that almost nobody will notice or care about, but the booze isn't one of them, and if you go that way anyway, you can't say you weren't warned. It's a matter of knowing your guests/reading the room, I think, and no room with Buntings in it is going to get over with that, but your mileage etc.

  • Stephanie says:

    I've been to enough weddings to know that going in I'd better be prepared to pay for beverages. If I don't end up having to, that's great.

    I think SOME sort of free beverage (other than tap water) ought to be provided. You're having people together for a few hours, maybe dancing, they might get thirsty? The letter writer doesn't say whether or not a meal was served, but if there was, yeah, something to wash that down would be nice.

    I think people will complain no matter what you do. Cash bar? Someone doesn't want to pay. No alcohol because you can't afford it and don't want a cash bar? Someone will complain that it's a boring event. I swear, you can't win with weddings.

    But you know what? The event is over. Everyone should probably just move on. Is this really what everyone wants to remember from that day? That they had to pay to get their drink on?

  • Janie says:

    While I think it's true that charging for sodas at a wedding reception is a bit odd-running-to-tacky, I really agree with this:

    If, as the letter-writer said, it's unnecessary for the bride to go around justifying the choice, then it's also probably not necessary to have polls of friends and family about the choice.

    It hardly seems sporting to expect the bride to shut up, when people are buzzing about it behind her back.

  • Erin in SLC says:

    Yeah, the way I heard it, you serve what you can afford; you don't give your guests the option to make up the difference. I'm sure it is a regional thing. In Utah, of course, you're lucky if there's liquor at all. (Don't get me STARTED on the "fire-code-what-fire-code?" receptions with fewer seats than guests, or doughnuts and hot cocoa as the full menu at a dinner-hour reception. We…don't do it well out here.)

    J+1 is absolutely right about water, juice, and pop. Even coach class doesn't charge for that stuff!

  • amanda says:

    I agree that it must be a regional thing~I grew up in NY, and all the weddings I went to (and have gone back for) have been open bar.

    It wasn't until I moved to Ohio that I encountered "dry" receptions and cash bar receptions. I also had never seen the "dollar dance" (which struck me as "holy god that is TACKY!") or a potluck dinner for a reception until I moved here.

    My wedding was here in Ohio, we had a full open bar, and it was hilarious watching my drunken auntie dance with the groomsmen. If you're looking to save money on you wedding, try a Friday night, because venues are usually cheaper, stick to a beer/wine only bar, or look into your cake options, because charging $1.50 for 2 cents of soda syrup is LAME.

  • Emily says:

    "If, as the letter-writer said, it's unnecessary for the bride to go around justifying the choice, then it's also probably not necessary to have polls of friends and family about the choice. Everyone, not just the bride and groom, should just move on." Amen, Erin.

    We can all go back and forth all day about the etiquette involved with a cash bar. But what struck me from the letter was the following: "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."

    She's got her husband who doesn't seem to see how hurtful it was to hear this (and believe me, to hear criticism about your wedding at your wedding? THAT is what's tacky here), and she has her family who may or may no be supporting the decision to do the cash bar. So I'm guessing that the reason she is trying to justify it to everyone and anyone is because no one has been gracious enough to tell her that it was a beautiful wedding and not to give two hoots about what people are saying.

    Maybe C could go this? Then she wouldn't have to hear about it anymore and she could feel good about helping her friend's wife.

  • jennie says:

    I've been to weddings with a Toonie bar – $2 per alcoholic drink just to cover costs – but not all venues will let you run your own bar.

    I agree that cutting costs elsewhere is the way to go. Transportation is often something that rivals a bar bill if you're booking limos. Believe me, guests care more about what they eat and drink than your spectacular arrival. The venue itself is probably the easiest thing to compromise on by putting your guests' needs before your dream locale.

    After a disasterous, remote, rain-soaked, one-porta-potty-having tent wedding with an open bar recently, my only wish now as a guest is to remain clean, warm and dry all night. Even if I have to be DRY-dry.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    Or punt the band/DJ. At best, they're completely unmemorable; your iPod is free.

    Also, anecdotal evidence collected at a wedding on Sunday suggests that the videographer is a widely regretted expense. In case anyone out there is like, "But what if we –" You won't. Four couples agreed. Heh.

  • Hellcat13 says:

    Adding to my response – I am fairly certain that every single cash-bar wedding I've been to had (free) wine on the tables during the meal, and there was always leftover wine to be had. You could drink wine for free all evening on the leftovers.

    I also agree with Roo – unfortunately, some of the guys my husband knows still have that "free booze MUST GET HAMMERED" mentality that disappears once they have to pony up for their own drinks.

  • pomme de terre says:

    I am the "tacky, full stop" camp. Don't invite people to a party and then expect them to pay their way. Dry wedding or open bar fo' life.

    "There are a dozen other places to economize at a wedding or party that almost nobody will notice or care about, but the booze isn't one of them."

    Agree times 1000. It's the one thing that people remember about the event, because it affects them directly. They will not remember the invitations. They will not remember the flowers. They will not remember if the DJ played until 10 or 11pm. But they absolutely will remember the point in the evening when they have to open their own wallets.

  • jennie says:

    The cash bar part doesn't bother me as much as the "including soda and everything but water" part, which I think is pretty tacky no matter what, but I've never had to plan or pay for a wedding, so I hesitate to judge too hard.

    There are reasons to do an open bar, but a lot of reasons not to, too – the cost, but maybe also someone comes from a family where those kinds of things end in tears, or the family isn't one that drinks much, or whatever. My family tends to go for the open bar regardless, but I've been to weddings where there was wine on the tables, but beer/liquor you were on your own for, weddings with just beer and wine period, weddings with no alcohol at all. In the end, whatever tackiness a couple may have planned, it's far tackier to criticize the event AT the event than it ever could be to have a cash bar, and afterwards… well, if the thing you're still talking about is how the couple cheaped out on the reception, I think folks might've missed the point, which is not how rad the party was but in fact that two people met each other and decided they wanted to spend the rest of their lives together and asked a bunch of people to be there when they made it official. The other stuff's just noise, really.

  • Ang. says:

    At our wedding, soda/iced tea/coffee/water were free, and so was beer and wine (a few kinds of each, incl. sparkling wine). If guests wanted hard liquor, they had to buy it. They got a lovely meal and an adults-only night out complete with full-on casino night (roulette, craps, blackjack, slots, you name it, with actual Vegas tables and stuff), which was all free (and fake money for gambling, of course). We weren't particularly interested in paying for people to get shitfaced, but as a non-drinker, I understood that people wanted to have fun and I was fine with paying for some alcohol, because my goal with my wedding was just to throw a party where everyone would have fun.

    I never heard any complaints about it. Years later, people tell me that it was the best time that they've ever had at a wedding. I did hear complaints, though–our refusal to follow outdated and sexist wedding customs that meant nothing to us and which struck us as offensive or unnecessary led some of my bitchier aunts and cousins to wonder out loud, repeatedly, whether it was even legal to get married wearing blue; to write your own ceremony; to skip traditional vows, candles, veils, bouquets, any mention of "god," etc., etc.; or to keep your "maiden" name. So yeah, we heard some bitchiness there, but everyone else had fun. And the people who were bitching about those things looked like asses–not us.

    Some people are going to bitch. Always. About anything. Is your friend a nice person? Did he find a great partner? Did you enjoy attending their wedding and being a part of their celebration? Fine, then–isn't that enough? How would you feel if you were the bride and people were talking about this shit like it was important? Sure, it's tacky. No, they shouldn't have done it. But they probably didn't know better or they didn't think or they'd attended weddings where it was done, so that's just how they thought it worked. I guess you can hope that they'll get it right next time, but if they were my friends, I'd just hope that they have a long life together, full of the things that matter.

  • Jeanne says:

    I've only been to two weddings in my life where the booze was all completely free. The first was put on by a wealthy family at a posh cuntry club, and the second was a small wedding in a park where the alcohol was purchased by the bride's family and brought in. Other than those two occasions, the weddings I've been to have been completely cash except for soft drinks or cash for everything but soft drinks, beer, and wine.

    I'm going to agree with Erin and say it's not necessary to poll people about the supposed tackiness of cash bars. I come from a large family, none of whom are rich, so cash bars are the norm for us. One person's tacky is another person's normal. For instance, I didn't know until fairly recently that it's also considered tacky by many people to have a DJ at a wedding. Meanwhile, I've only been to one wedding that didn't have one (the aforementioned wedding at the posh country club.) So having a band at a wedding is weird to me.

  • Flora says:

    I think it's unanimous that paying for soda and juice is ridiculous! Wine and beer only seems like a solid option for the cost-conscious. And even alcohol-free should be okay by most folks. Beware though! One of the nicest weddings I've ever attended had its afternoon reception in the bride's parents' backyard. In addition to some light apps, they served only punch–a champagne version and champagne-free version. (The couple didn't drink much and judt generally didn't want a drunken wedding reception.) Just about everyone thought this was lovely, except for some of the mother-of-the-bride's coworkers. The coworkers converted the reception to BYOB with entirely tacky, electric blue "Hynotique" booze they'd smuggled in, while complaining audibly about the lack of free alcohol. Everyone else was horrified at the coworkers…and their increasingly intoxicated antics.

  • ferretrick says:

    Cash bar is tacky full stop. It's the host's job to provide drinks. They don't have to be alcoholic drinks, so if you can't afford alcohol, don't have it at all. But inviting people to a party and then telling them they have to pay for drinks is not on, especially water, soda, tea, coffee, etc.

    But, agreed it's done now. And honestly, if it wasn't the cash bar, the kind of people that will sit there gossiping about the cash bar will find something else to gripe about, so let it go. The number one rule of weddings-somebody, somewhere is going to find something to criticize no matter what you do, so shrug it off and enjoy your special day.

  • Lindsay says:

    I think this is very, very regional and what you find normal / tacky / ostentatious is completely dependant on your background and lcoation – whether it is alcohol, food, music, dance, etc.

    If either the bride or groom was from an area/background where cash bars were common, they probably didn't realize the fuss it would create.

    I grew up in an area when it was customary to have a "social" for the bride and groom prior to the wedding. Friends and family would buy tickets (usually $10-20 per person), donate items for raffles (all raffle profits to bride and groom) and a cash bar. It turns into a big party for the entire area – my cousin made about $10 000 at hers and 450 people attended. People comment if you don't have one – it's seen as a chance for all of the people in the community to get together and wish you well.

    Cash (twoonie) bars are normal at weddings here. There is wine (usually both white and red)on the tables for supper, all other alcoholic drinks are $2.00 at the bar and non-alcoholic drinks are free. A sparking wine is usually served for toasts. "Twoonie bar" or "cash bar" is on the invitation.

    Because this is the norm in my experience, I find that people are much more likely to comment on the food than on the booze arrangements – my brother had an evening wedding, with a cash bar (no one even blinked) and no supper (huge, huge, huge drama prior, during and after the wedding). They served appetizers instead of a sit down meal, so it's not like anyone went hungry, but it was different, so it got comments.

  • Rachel says:

    In suburban NJ, the cost of a videographer will more than cover an open bar. You will not watch the video. You will barely find time to flip through your photos once you decide on which ones Grandma is getting a copy of and which ones go in the frames. Trust.

  • MizShrew says:

    We did free beer/wine/soda and cash for bar drinks — but our venue was also a full bar, so there wouldn't have been any way to do a beer/wine only event. And a full cash bar for my friends and family? I'd still be paying that bill off ten years later. Seems like everyone was fine with this, but then my husband arranged for a very nice local craft beer, so that made all the beer-drinkers really happy. And that seems to have been the trend at most of the weddings I've been to recently (beer/wine/sode free, not necessarily the fancy beer part.) I'm from Wisconsin, if that makes a difference. Ours was also a pretty low-key event, overall.

    I think Sars makes a great point about "reading the room." You have to know your own crowd when you make these decisions.

    In any case, whether or not you like the wedding, the food, the band, the booze — complaining about it at the wedding is far, far, FAR tackier than anything the couple could possibly do. Have a nice grouse and/or laugh about it on the way home, but while you are at the event? Smile and wish the couple well.

  • Letter Writer C says:

    Hi all. I'm the letter-writer. Everyone I know has moved on at this point – Sars printed my letter three months after I sent it, and I wrote it about a month after the wedding, which was in late April. (I'm not complaining, just pointing out that time has elapsed.) They took a honeymoon, so Wife was really only talking about it for a couple of weeks after they got back. (Husband is a business school classmate of mine; we're friends but not tight-tight and we don't live in the same city. From what I can tell, he wasn't that actively involved in the planning. He's a "just tell me where to stand" sort of dude.)

    I think most of the grousing came from the fact that a lot of people just didn't have cash on them. I asked people about it because it's not something I've seen before, charging for everything but tap water, and I wondered if I'd missed something. When my best friend, who is Asian, went to the wedding of two friends from law school that are black and they jumped the broom, she asked me about it (I'm black) because she'd never seen it before (there was a note in the program about its cultural significance). Same sort of deal here – it wasn't a "You will not BELIEVE the fuckery I saw at this wedding" thing; it was more "How was the wedding?" "Oh, fine – but have you ever had to pay for Diet Coke at a wedding?"

    Also, I agree that context is important – but the wedding was in the evening, cocktail attire, at a suburban catering hall sort of thing, and had all the standard trappings: 150ish guests, wedding party, flowers, dinner, DJ, big white dress. It was the sort of wedding that I've seen have an open bar, so when it didn't, it struck me as strange.

    Feh. They're nice people and they got married, which is the important thing – although I still think having to pay for Diet Coke is bullshit. It's been interesting to read the responses, though!

  • Lindsay says:

    Also, if you are looking at cost control for a wedding, an open bar can be a complete budget buster.

    You have no control over how much people will drink at an open bar (and how many people will order, take a few sips, set the drink down, forget about it and then just go get another drink, because hey – it's free!).

    A good friend got married about five years ago. Her dad offered to pick up the bar tab because he felt it was important to have an open bar. The estimated food cost was $4800, actual $5100. Estimated bar tab was $3000, actual bar tab $8500.

  • Jen S 2.0 says:

    In my world, you serve what you can afford and do not make your guests pay for any part of their meal. If all you can afford is lemonade, well, that's what you serve.

    I'd be a skosh — just a skosh — more understanding of a cash bar for alcohol only, although in my world that is still Not Done (I'd be more accepting of a dry wedding than a cash bar), and I probably wouldn't think too terribly of an open bar with a tip jar for the bartenders (although, again, to others that also is Not Done) … but if you insist on having a full-scale reception but you can't afford to serve your guests an acceptable amount of food including some standard beverages, you most likely need far fewer guests.

    The flip side of this for me, however, is that most guests need to let go of the idea that they should be able to get smashed at every wedding and be served filet mignon. You can go for one party without a drink. I've also read in a few places where guests get all up in arms about weddings where a vegetarian meal will be served, screeching about how rude and tacky that is. Seriously? It's one meal of your life. Do you really eat steak at every meal? As long as there is enough food and everyone will leave satisfied, and as long is it's perfectly "normal" food (pasta bar, garlic bread, salads, potatoes, and the like? Yes, please! Seitan, UFOs (unidentified fried objects), and soy jerky? Okay, I see their point …), they can eat veggie for this one meal and deal with it. Or they can stop at Wendy's on the way to the reception and chow on a cow. (And yes, I eat and love meat.)

    But I digress. Sorry, carry on.

  • Jen S 2.0 says:

    Edited to add: by "You can go for one party without a drink," I meant cocktails, not dehydration.

  • Letter Writer C says:

    Oh – I also want to point out that the 70somethings who said, at the wedding, that cash bars were the height of tacky were the only ones to do that level of bitching that I heard – they weren't, like, leading a revolt or anything. I agree 100% that that was inappropriate. Most of what I heard and said was of the "Oh shit, I don't have any cash, grumble grumble" variety. I think my words were "Can I get a glass of red, please?" "That's $6." "Oh, OK, I'll have a Diet Coke." "That'll be $3." [startled side-eye] "Oh, I need cash for that?" And there was a ripple of "Did you bring cash? I don't have cash, can I use my card? I didn't expect to need cash" that went around.

  • Liz says:

    Sars had a good point to take into account the traditions of the wedding couple. I am a wedding and event planner for a small museum and our packages always include alcohol (and there are different options to accommodate different price points). Around here, which is 500 miles away from where I grew up, I have never even had anyone inquire about a cash bar – it just isn't done. But in my family – very blue-color, New England, weddings have always been held at the VFW or church hall and always have a cash bar. When my (male) cousin got married last year at a place that was a little bit nicer that what my family is used to, I overheard his mother grousing about how the bride was overdoing it – and her family paid for it and they still had a cash bar! It is all relative. Maybe the couple was paying for the wedding themselves and that was what they decided to cut. Not the way I would go personally, but then, I have the advantage of a different point of view.

    And non-alcoholic drinks aren't necessarily that much cheaper, depending on the venue and type of service. There is a world of difference between a self-service soda bar and a bartender-served custom non-alcoholic drinks so there is potential for some cost there as well.

  • Susie says:

    No one asked me (snork), but when I got married, someone far wiser than I advised me to pick three things we really cared about, concentrate our money and attention on those, and then feel free to basically half-ass the rest. The three things we chose were music (my friends' bluegrass band, who were divine), the food (local, organic, seasonal, *muah*), and the booze (free-flowing to put it mildly). This is not a judgment about the other wedding at all, just a tip I found helpful at the time and love passing on to others: Focus on what matters to you.

    The other thought I had when reading the letter? Whether you think cash bars are tacky or not (and I kinda do, but I am sort of a boozehound after all), what I think is really tacky is calling someone else's wedding tacky, especially when you are still at said wedding.

    Now I need a refill…

  • Cate says:

    I've never been to a wedding that DIDN'T have a cash bar. Food is free, dinner drinks are free, any champagne with snacks and mingling is free, but in the evening guests pay for their own drinks and everybody thought this was fine. (Although it depends on the venue- have a theme wedding down a disused mine and the rules are different!)
    Sometimes the couple will put up a certain amount of money and the venue will start charging people when it runs out, and this was viewed as extremely generous. The idea of paid bars gets a wincing reaction and viewed as pretty naive, especially if it's in a large hotel with other parties going on elsewhere in the building and lax control on where the other guests can reach.

    (In the UK)

  • KTB says:

    I have also been to a variety of weddings, from the all top-shelf unlimited bar (always on the East Coast, interestingly) to my old roommate's wedding, which had free beer/wine for the first hour and then $2 for the same beer/wine after that. I found that odd, but in light of the rest of the wedding, I shouldn't have been surprised. It was definitely a wedding that economized in weird ways, suffice it to say.

    For my own wedding, we did free beer/wine and cash bar for liquor. The people who needed to know this were told beforehand (like my friend who drinks wine, but prefers booze), and we didn't get any bad feedback. We also have friends who really, really like to drink, and having a fully open bar just seemed like a recipe for disaster. I didn't need my friends doing shots at the reception–oof.

    Additionally, I live in the Pacific NW, and people out here tend to drink more wine/beer and less liquor, in my experience. It's fairly common for weddings here to have free beer/wine and cash bar for liquor. I don't know–maybe that's a PNW/NorCal thing?

  • attica says:

    I think one should be philosophical about these things: part of the fun of going to weddings is finding stuff to bitch about! I mean that in an affectionate way, of course. There have been weddings I've attended whose sole amusement was privately fugging on folks' outfits. ("OMG, is that a bustled peplum? Awesommmmme!"

    And if my anecdote is worth anything, I make it a point to avoid the videographer. Get that halogen lamp out of my face, thanks very much. In subsequent years, talking about how drunk Uncle Steve got will be way more entertaining than viewing the video record of said behavior.

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