Last Updated on December 27, 2023
Written by CPA Alec Pow | Content Reviewed by Certified CFA CFA Alexander Popinker

Like it or not, the bar area is one of the main attractions at a party, regardless of its nature, corporate or private party. In order for your guests to feel good, the bar must be diverse and contain the right amount of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages.

How Much Does an Open Bar Cost?

According to the Bridal Association of America, you will have to pay on average around $2,850 for a bartender service at a wedding reception where 160 people are invited, resulting in a cost of around $17 per person.

The majority of the catering companies promote open bars as having unlimited non-alcoholic beverages, mixed drinks, wine, and beer. After researching through different wedding sites from the United States we found that the cost of an open bar will be anywhere between $16 and $95 per guest for a four hours reception. Usually, clients are offered the possibility to upgrade to premium liquors for a cost of $4 to $5 more per guest.

If you choose to serve only wine and beer it will help you to save some money as the cost will be anywhere between $12 and $35 per guest for a four hours reception.

In resort areas and big cities, the cost of an open bar may be double, or even triple.

There are customers that choose to come with their own beverages and ask a family member or a friend to run the bar. As there are bottles of wine that cost less than $6 you may be able to have an open bar cost that starts at $3 and goes up to $20 per guest, depending on the type of beverages you are going to choose.

Also, if you are going to provide your own imported and domestic beer, expect a cost of $3 to $6 per guest for each hour of the reception. Depending on the quality and type of the liquors, costs for creating mixed drinks will vary greatly.

Open bar details

The beverages offered at an open bar that serves beer, wine, and mixed drinks will include water, soft drinks, juice, vodka, Seagram’s 7, imported and domestic beers, red and white wines, gin, light rum, scotch, bourbon, and champagne.

There must be at least one bartender available for every one hundred people.

The napkins and cups must be provided, along with the setup plus the cleanup services needed at the end of the reception.

What are the extra costs?

In most cases, catering companies will charge a setup fee that is anywhere between $35 and $210 per bartender attending the event. There are situations when this cost is included in the per-person price.

There are many caterers that will ask you to pay a fee of $28 per hour for each bartender that will be around. Sometimes this may be included in the setup cost.

If the gratuity is not included in the total costs, you should budget 10% to 20% of the total alcohol bill in order to tip the bartenders. Also, there are bartenders who will set out a tip jar, where people invited to the event can choose to tip around $1 for each drink.

You might also like our articles about the cost of a bottle of Cristal Champagne, quality wine, or dry ice.

Many catering companies are charging a per-bottle corking fee which is anywhere between $1.50 and $16 if you want to provide your own wine. For example, bartenders may charge anywhere between $1.50 and $6 in service fees for every six-pack of beer provided by you.

If you want to replace the plastic cups with glassware you will have to pay another $3 per guest.

In order to give the drinks and the bar area a special note, you can also choose decorative elements, such as personalized umbrellas, straws, or slices of your favorite fruits. It is recommended to be a well-lit area, to have small scented candles or colored LED lights and small floral arrangements.

Important things to consider

Open Bar With CocktailsMake sure you ask if an open bar is included in the services offered by a caterer when you are searching for price offers. Also, ask if you are allowed to provide your own beverages.

It is important to know that bartenders are covered with liability insurance. Ask for proof before you sign any contracts, as there could be fines or other consequences if they’re not in place.

To calculate the amount of alcohol needed for a limited bar, you should know that, in general, a bottle of champagne is enough for a maximum of 8 glasses, a bottle of wine for 6 glasses and a bottle of 750 ml of gin, liqueur, rum, vodka or whiskey should be enough for a maximum of 16 glasses. At a party lasting about 4-5 hours, a woman tends to consume 0.75-1 l of still/bubbly water, 0.5l of carbonated soft drinks, 1 glass of white/red wine, or 1-2 non-alcoholic or alcoholic cocktails. For the same interval, a man tends to consume 0.5 l of still/bubbly water, 0.5 l of carbonated soft drinks, 2 glasses of white/red wine, 1 glass of whiskey, 2 beers, and/or 2 alcoholic cocktails.

Thus, for 100 guests, for a period of 4-5 hours, a bar should have somewhere close to 12 bottles of red wine and 12 bottles of white wine, 12 bottles of champagne (plus another 18 if you want to hold a toast), 144 bottles of beer, 2 liters of bourbon, 2 liters of scotch, 5 liters of vodka, 1 liter of tequila, 2 liters of rum, and 1 liter of gin. In order to prepare various cocktails, your open bar should also have 12 liters of Coca-Cola, 4 liters of Sprite, 6 liters of tonic drink, and 8 liters of diet drink. And don’t forget the cranberry juice, oranges, lemons, limes, oranges, green olives, or ice. This list may vary depending on the preferences of the organizers and guests.

How can I save money?

You certainly don’t want to run out of drinks in the middle of a party, but you also don’t want guests to consume too much. It would be advisable to combine the drinks in various cocktail recipes or to make a small menu from which they can choose what they want to consume.

At the open bar, guests can order as many alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks as they wish. This option is the most expensive but also the friendliest to the guests. And if you know that some guests tend to drink too much alcohol, you should warn the bartenders in advance and ask them to recommend other types of soft drinks or even coffee.

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