Let’s face it — despite all the reserved pageantry of sharing vows and walking down the aisle, a successful wedding is also a successful party.

How to handle the bar at your wedding

Let’s face it — despite all the reserved pageantry of sharing vows and walking down the aisle, a successful wedding is also a successful party.

Celebrating the occasion with some choice alcoholic libations is a time-honored tradition that transcends cultural boundaries and generations.

So, how do you do it right?

There’s a lot that could go wrong — Uncle Jerry getting a little too deep into the bourbon, someone getting sick, or even worse, a guest getting into the driver’s seat after having too much to drink.

But with some good planning and the right set-up, there’s no reason your reception, and the drinks that make it happen, can’t be a key part of your night to remember.

First up, cash bar or open bar? Area wedding planners agree, a cash bar is a no-no.

“Guests don’t expect to pay for anything at a wedding,” said Janet Dunnington of Manchester, Vt.-based Destination Weddings. “Most don’t bring money with them to a wedding so that is the negative for a cash bar. The other negative is that you asked guests to travel and book accommodations; therefore, proper etiquette is to provide the food and beverage at a reception for your guests.”

If you’re trying to save money, you can still make an open bar work, said Nancy Jeffries-Dwyer of NJOY Event Planning in Stowe.

“If your budget is tight, consider alcoholic beverages such as beer and wine only,” she said. “Provide your own bar servers, and start shopping the sales early and stockpile so that the costs aren’t all lumped so close to the wedding.”

What about cocktails? Should you spring for top-shelf liquor? If you are pinching pennies, personal preference is your guide to what types of drinks to provide.

“An open bar has something for everyone,” Dunnington said.

If you’re going to spend extra money on anything, spend it on wine “to compliment your menu,” she said.

“Signature cocktails are replacing a fully-stocked bar, which reduces the cost and is quite festive,” Jeffries-Dwyer said. “Very popular are late-night coffee bars — coffee with shots and all the fabulous toppings. Also, ice shots are very popular in the winter.”

Dunnington said many couples are featuring cocktails based on themes, like color or ingredients.

A drink recipe using blueberries, for example, was served at a wedding where navy was the dominant color, she said.

“One couple from London is using Pimms (an English blend of liquor and flavorings) added as the main ingredient for the special drink,” she said.

The type and shape of the glass is key to the signature drink, Dunnington added.

She said some couples also have centered the bar around one classic cocktail, allowing guests to pick their favorite variants.

“We have done cosmopolitan, Martini and bourbon bars,” she said. “To make the theme bar a focal point, create an ice sculpture with the couples’ initials, or for a Martini bar, create an ice luge lighted with the couples’ colors.”

Of course, making sure your guests get home safely is a top concern.

“I always make sure the bartenders know they have the right to refuse to serve anyone who is consuming too much,” Dunnington said. “I strongly recommend to all my clients to rent vans so that guests who should not drive won’t be on the road to hurt themselves, or worse, someone else.”

“Unless you have a friend who volunteers to be a designated driver, it seems unfair to ask anyone to assume this role,” Jeffries-Dwyer said. “Better to pay for it.”

To cut down on overdrinking, she suggests couples wait until the reception to start serving alcohol and to provide a selection of alcohol-free choices.

“Have plenty of non-alcoholic beverages available and quite visible all evening,” she added. “This will help dilute the alcoholic content, as well as save on your budget.”

“At the very least, have transportation available at the end of the reception for those who had too good of a time,” Dunnington said.

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