1. Never underestimate the beauty of the signature drink. Oh, the signature drink-what a beautiful thing! This is a great way for Brides on a budget to save a little money while amping up the personal touches that make a reception great. Choose a drink you and your SO really like, give it a fun, flirty name and voila! A signature drink is born. Then, serve your guests soda, coffee, champagne for the toast and your signature drink. Also, consider making a colorful sign to announce your drink at the bar. Here's a drink idea to get you started!
Love's First Kiss
garnish with Lime, serve over ice in a cocktail glass
*This is one of my favorite drinks. I happen to really like Cape Cods, though. Great for summer!
2. Limit the free stuff to a few choice items. This works well for couples who would like to have a few free items on the menu, but maybe don't want to give away the farm. I suggest paying the corkage fee on a limited number of wine bottles and ordering a keg or two of beer. Also, if your venue will allow it, have them put any partially used bottles of the toasting champagne on the bar for the guests.
3. Consider the password. This can be used like a drink ticket/token, but less obtrusive. Perhaps you'll want to limit the number of free drinks for the entire guest list (two or three seem to be most common). Unlimited drinks for a small group of people (think bridal party, parents and a few close family and friends) is completely acceptable as well. Make the password simple and relevant to the wedding (think last names or the date of the event). Whatever you do, make it fair. Do not choose a group of people who, to a guest outside that group, seem to be chosen at random. Make the group and the reasoning behind it crystal clear. Confusion is usually not an element of an unforgettable wedding.
4. Keep an open dialogue with banquet staff. Inform the wait staff(preferably the Banquet Captain or Catering Manager) that you and your SO would like to be kept in the loop when deciding to open more bottles and tap more kegs. Timing is everything, so use your best judgment. If you seem to be running out and it's only 10pm you may need to rectify that problem, tout de suite. Is it 11:15pm and you have to be out by midnight? That's a different story-maybe you only refill wine. It's your call. Also, let the bartenders know not to open any bottles they don't have to. If you have Ketel One on the bar and no one asks for it, send it back unopened. If it's open, but unused, you will still pay for it. A little diligence goes a long way, trust me.
5. Get to know the menu and ask questions. I saved this for last because, in my opinion, it is the most important. Get cozy with the corkage fees and drink charges. The sooner the better.
Can you bring in your own alcohol? Is there a corkage fee? What percentage is the service charge? What is the general price difference between rail and top shelf liquor? What do "rail" and "top shelf" mean? These are all questions you should be asking. Get answers to them. Don't sign anything until you do. For beverages that come in bottles, but are charged by the glass-ask how many glasses count as a bottle (at our venue, it was six). It may be cheaper to buy a set number of bottles beforehand at the bottle price. This goes double for champagne. If you want an open bar, find out if they have any packages (3 and 5 hour packages seem to be the most common). Also, check to see what the price per hour is. You may save money by limiting the open bar to just one or two hours.
All in all quite a few money saving options exist when it comes to the bar. You just have to know where to look. If you are without a planner, it can be difficult. The best advice I can give you is to always remember that the vendors work for you. Not the other way around. Getting what you want can be tricky with weddings. Getting what you want at a price you can afford is trickier still.
Photo Credit: Maui Weddings.com