Spirits of Celebration

By Jane Hixson

For many brides and grooms, determining what to serve at the reception can be very stressful. Will everyone like what we serve for dinner? Will everyone get enough to eat? Will there be enough variety? And yes, what should we do about the bar? Cost is often a very important factor in deciding how to stock your bar for the reception. I have gathered up some tips I have learned in my years as a caterer, party planner, and a wine buyer over the years.

Can we have a cash bar?
Guests shouldn’t have to shell out for anything at a wedding reception. But there are ways to serve liquor without getting soaked. For instance, you can save money by limiting the time the bar is open — you could close it during dinner or an hour before the reception ends, offering just house wines, beer, and soft drinks. Other cost-savers: Pass up expensive premium liquors (you’ll save about 15 percent), and have a sparkling-cider toast instead of passing champagne. If your caterer will allow it, buy your own liquor. Buying your own keeps you from paying the markup from the caterer.

We don’t drink, but some of our friends and family do. Is it rude not to serve alcohol at our wedding reception?
Although it’s not rude to have a liquor-free party, if you know your friends and family drink, and you don’t have any vehement objections to alcohol, go ahead and splurge on a little booze. However, if you do feel strongly about passing on liquor, then do so. Offer an exotic fruit punch and flavored sparkling waters. You could also hire a bartender to mix “virgin” piña coladas and other fancy drinks. Or maybe even have a flavored iced-tea and coffee bar. Make the drinks you do serve interesting, and your guests will hardly notice what’s missing.

How do you make your bar different from all the rest?
It is also becoming increasingly popular to make your own alcohol, using different flavors and even giving out little bottles as favors. This will make for a fun evening of preparation and lots of excitement from guests. (Just make sure you follow the recipes carefully… and obviously do a taste test, or ten!)

We know how important (and costly!) champagne is to the speech-making part of the wedding. Why not go for a sparkling wine like Cava or Prosecco? Your guests won’t even notice and some people even prefer it. You could also add some peach juice or a splash of your favorite liqueur to give it a unique twist.

Why not whip up two cocktails named after each of you? It’s a good way to save lots of money but still ply your guests with spirits. This is always fun and you can serve your signature cocktails instead of liquor to keep your bar costs down.