If you’re watching your wallet but want to throw a fun and memorable rehearsal dinner and reception, you and your fiancé might find yourselves in a conundrum. Although, in some parts of the country, it’s acceptable to offer a cash bar rather than an open bar, that idea doesn’t always fly in New Jersey. Remember to consider how much your guests will spend to attend your big event. If they incur costs for a bridal gift, wedding attire, hotel and travel, they won’t expect to shell out cash for cocktails.
We asked wedding-planning gurus to share tips for getting the most bang for your buck. “To help rein-in the bar budget, I always recommend finding a flexible venue that allows you to bring in your own liquor,” says wedding planner Joan Glenn of 6 Degrees of Celebration in Westfield. “It’s tough to gauge liquor consumption in advance, so play it safe and order extra. Try to work with a New Jersey wine store to buy on consignment so you can return unopened bottles.” She adds, “I would never recommend cutting out an open bar. In fact, many of my clients are budgeting extra money for specialty bourbon and tequila stations during their cocktail hour—and lovely wine pairings with dinner.”
“Once you have the final head count, it’s time to think about what your guests are apt to order. A little planning can go a long way,” says Amrish Vakil, owner of Main Street Wine Cellar in Madison and president of New Jersey Wine Merchants. “An experienced liquor resource can help you estimate a per-person, per-hour consumption rate, and also offer money-saving tips.” For example, he says, a nice sparkling wine can cost one-third the price of true Champagne from France.
Rather than resort to a cash bar or drink tickets, follow these 10 tips to help keep your bar bill at bay:
1. Check your calendar. Time of day will affect your food and beverage tab. Guests tend to eat and drink more on a Saturday night, for example, than on a Sunday afternoon.
2. Read those labels. Ask your liquor expert to recommend superb libations that are reasonably priced. For example, a simple domestic beer will cost less than an imported or craft beer.
3. Bring your own. Some reception venues require that you order and purchase liquor exclusively through them. Others allow you to bring in your own liquor, which saves on your overall food and beverage tab (liquor, tax and gratuity).
4. Return for refund. Many hotels, reception halls and liquor distributors will allow you to return unopened bottles of liquor and beer (with seal intact) for a full refund. Be sure to agree to terms in writing.
5. Ask questions. Find out if there is an extra fee for bartenders and portable bars.
6. Estimate consumption. If your venue offers a flat bar rate vs. a per-drink rate, it might be better to go with a per-drink rate. Do a little math to get the best deal.
7. Determine discounts. Some hotels and vendors offer lower prices on well liquor than fancy labels.
8. Offer a limited bar. Instead of beer, wine and a full bar, serve beer, wine and two signature drinks made with well liquor.
9. Get the most out of each bottle of liquor by forgoing pricey shots. Instead, serve signature drinks made with modest mixers and juices.
10. Choose a quick, easy signature cocktail recipe for your mixologist. Ditch fussy drinks that need to be muddled, strained or frothed.