If you have a cash bar at your wedding, will your guests come? Here's the proper etiquette

·5 min read

To attend a wedding is costly. Between gifts, clothes, travel — not to mention if you're a member of the wedding party — it can be an expensive affair for guests.

To host a wedding is, without question, also costly.

One of the expenses for marrying couples to consider is alcohol — and how to provide it to your guests if it's a desired element for the wedding reception.

An open bar, which 79% of couples opt for according to "The Knot 2021 Real Weddings Study", can ratchet up a host's spend a significant amount depending on what is served.

So, some opt for a limited open bar — offering a particular drink or selection of drinks such as beer or wine — or a cash bar.

How should guests feel if they're confronted with additional charges at the wedding, like a cash bar? And how should hosts deal with pressure to provide an open bar to their guests?

A bar at a wedding USA TODAY reporter Morgan Hines recently attended.
A bar at a wedding USA TODAY reporter Morgan Hines recently attended.

Some wedding guests find a cash bar off-putting

Some people say they would refuse to attend a wedding if an open bar isn't included in the celebration.

"Y’all must not go to weddings if you think we crazy for not going if food and an open bar aren’t involved," @_BriaPlease wrote on Twitter. "Baby don’t have no wedding reception if you can’t feed the guests."

@TheAbitaBeer agreed.

"It's wedding season... if there is no open bar, we will be politely declining," @TheAbitaBeer wrote.

Others don't find it to be a necessary offering to guests.

"Why do people get so upset ab no open bar at weddings? That is such a strange hill to die on to me," Londyn Monét said in a tweet.

So what's the proper choice for those planning weddings? If it stretches the budget, can you nix the open bar or will you offend your guests? USA TODAY asked experts.

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When having a wedding, remember you're the host

James Abel of James Abel Events, based in Manhattan, said hosts should keep in mind that "the experience is really about entertaining your guests."

"I personally think that people need to keep in mind that when you're planning your wedding, you're the host of a party, for your friends and your family," Abel told USA TODAY.

Marcy Blum, an event planner with some 30 years of experience, said she feels strongly that hosts should provide an open bar at their wedding.

"I think it's rude not to," she said. "Why not just give each guest a check for their food?"

Blum continued that if, as a host, you can't afford an open bar there's no shame in that — providing only wine and beer is "perfectly fine."

But, she continued, the same way you shouldn't charge guests to eat or drink in your home she believes it's "not gracious to have a cash bar at your wedding."

Abel believes that "unless there are religious constraints about no alcohol or anything, I think a bar should be offered."

Abel continued that marrying couples should do everything in their power to make their guests' experience the best one possible considering what they've spent on clothing, travel and gifts.

If you only offer a cash bar, you're asking your guests to spend even more money to celebrate you, he continued.

Whether "it's an extremely large budget or a smaller budget... I believe there's a way of navigating that so that everybody feels included and special and treated," Abel said.

Technically, there's no rule on the matter in terms of etiquette

Jacqueline Whitmore, etiquette expert and founder of The Protocol School of Palm Beach, told USA TODAY in an email that "there is no rule of etiquette that deems one more appropriate than the other."

She's seen cash and open bars at weddings — it all comes down to the marrying couple's budget, she said.

But while one option may not be more proper than the other, she still recommends providing some level of open bar to guests.

"I say, if you can afford it, offer your guests either a full or limited bar," she said. "If the couple is on a budget, they can arrange to serve beer and wine only."

If you plan to have a cash bar only, you should make sure to include that information on the reception card, she added.

She also warned: "If your guests bought you a gift and spent money traveling to the wedding, they might resent having to pull out their credit card for alcohol."

Skipping a wedding because of a cash bar? Think again

But invited guests need to consider proper protocol, too.

Elaine Swann, lifestyle and etiquette expert and founder of The Swann School of Protocol, said wedding-invitees who are so put off by a lack of open bar that they decline to attend should do some reflecting on their relationship with the marrying couple.

"They really have to look at their overall relationship with a couple (and) ask themselves: 'Is having a drink during this three hour period worth more than missing out on this one day in the lifetime of the bride and groom?' " she said.

Abel agreed.

"I think that that's a very short sighted response because the reason you're going to the wedding is to support the people that are getting married," he said.

If you're close enough with the marrying couple to receive an invitation, you should be "respectful enough" to attend, Abel said.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Open bar or cash bar at your wedding? What guests have to say