Canadian Wedding Etiquette… Cash Bar or Open Bar?

Canadian Wedding Etiquette: Should I Have a Cash Bar or an Open Bar?

As you’re planning for your wedding, one big question might pop up: should you go for an open bar or a cash bar? It’s a hot topic, especially here in Canada, where traditions can vary from coast to coast. But don’t worry, The Clever Barkeep is here to help you make the decision.

In many Canadian regions, like Ontario, open bars are pretty much the norm. Guests love the freedom to choose their drinks without reaching for their wallets. But if you’re in Nova Scotia or another Atlantic province, the expectations might be different. Here, your guests might not mind a cash bar as they’re basically the norm.

Gone are the days when cash bars were a wedding no-no. Nowadays, especially in the Atlantic provinces, cash bars are seen as a savvy choice for many couples. After all, it’s your wedding and the choice is yours. The key is to make a decision that feels right for you and fits your budget.

But, how much do couples spend on alcohol at their wedding?

On average, Canadian couples allocate about 20% of their wedding budget to booze. In Halifax, for instance, with an average wedding budget of $30,000, that’s around $6,000 for drinks. 

Whether you choose an open or cash bar can significantly impact this part of your budget.

What is The Difference Between a Cash Bar and an Open Bar?

The difference between a cash bar and an open bar at a wedding primarily revolves around who pays for the drinks. 

In an open bar, the host covers all the costs of the drinks. Guests can enjoy a variety of beverages throughout the event without having to pay for each drink they consume.

On the other hand, with a cash bar, guests are required to pay for their own drinks. This means that while a variety of beverages may be available, each guest is responsible for purchasing whatever they choose to drink.

Pros and Cons of an Open Bar:

Having an open bar is a fantastic way to boost the fun and keep the party vibes going strong for long. But, and there’s always a but, open bars can be pricey. You’re footing the bill for every cocktail, beer, or glass of wine your guests enjoy, which can add up quickly. And while we all love a good party, sometimes an open bar can lead to folks overdoing it, which might require a bit more oversight to keep everything smooth and enjoyable for everyone.

Pros and Cons of a Cash Bar:

Now, let’s chat about cash bars. They’re kinder to your wallet since you’re not covering everyone’s drinks. Guests have the freedom to choose and pay for what they fancy, which often means they’ll drink a bit less, keeping the atmosphere relaxed and manageable. 

But here’s the rub: not everyone loves the idea of paying for their drinks at a wedding. It can come off as a bit unwelcoming and might even cause a bit of a wait at the bar as each guest fumbles with their wallet or purse. And if your guests aren’t clued in that it’s a cash bar, they might not come prepared, leading to some disappointed folks.

Factors to Consider When Making Your Decision:

When deciding between an open bar and a cash bar for your wedding, there are several key factors to mull over to ensure your choice aligns with your vision and circumstances. 

First, think about your guests’ expectations and what’s customary within your social circle and family traditions—this can greatly influence how well your bar choice is received. 

Your budget is another crucial consideration; you’ll need to determine how each bar option fits within your financial plan for the wedding, as this can have a significant impact on your overall expenses. 

Don’t forget to check with your venue, too, as they might have specific rules or recommendations about alcohol service based on their licensing and facilities. 

Lastly, the formality and style of your wedding should guide your decision, as the bar service should complement the overall tone and atmosphere of your celebration. Taking the time to consider these aspects will help you make a choice that enhances your wedding experience for you and your guests.

How A Wedding Cash Bar Works

In essence, a wedding cash bar operates much like any traditional bar, but it’s integrated into the wedding reception. Let’s look at the details:

The Set Up:

The wedding hosts arrange with the venue or a bar service provider, like The Clever Barkeep, to have a bar setup at the reception.

The bar is stocked with a variety of drinks, including beers, wines, spirits, and non-alcoholic options, just like a regular bar you’d find at a restaurant or pub.

The Event

Guests approach the bar and order their drinks of choice and pay for each drink, similar to how they would at any bar outside of a wedding setting.

The bar staff manages the transactions, which can be made with cash or, in many cases, credit cards, depending on the setup.

The Logistics:

Hosts need to work out the logistics with their service provider to ensure a smooth operation. This includes deciding on the drink menu, pricing, and payment options.

Bartending service providers like The Clever Barkeep can offer insights and assistance in setting up a cash bar that aligns with your preferences and your guests’ expectations. Contact us for more information!

A Mixed Approach: Table Wine On You and Hard Alcohol On a Cash Basis!

If you’re not on a very tight budget and want to strike a balance between being a generous host and keeping an eye on your budget, here’s a nifty idea: why not cover the cost of table wine and perhaps a round or two of drinks (toast champagne?), and then switch to a cash bar for the harder stuff as the night progresses?

Here’s How You Can Do It:

At the start of your celebration or during dinner, treat your guests to a glass of wine or a drink of their choice. This way, everyone gets to enjoy a drink or two on your tab.

For the toast, popping some champagne is always a classy touch. And don’t forget to have plenty of water available to keep everyone hydrated!

A fun and organized way to manage this is by using drink tickets or tokens. You can slip a ticket or two into your wedding invitations or hand them out at the entrance. This way, guests can exchange their tickets for a drink of their choice.

Drink tickets are great because they give guests the freedom to choose their preferred beverage. Plus, if someone doesn’t drink, they can pass their ticket to someone who does, ensuring no drink goes to waste.

This method also promotes responsible drinking. When guests have a limited number of free drinks, they’re likely to consume them more thoughtfully, reducing the chances of overindulgence.

Why This Works:

Guests appreciate the gesture of free drinks, and transitioning to a cash bar later in the evening helps manage your budget without feeling like you’re skimping on hospitality.

It also helps reduce waste. When guests know they have a limited number of free drinks, they’re more likely to savor them rather than leaving half-full glasses around.

Work with your bar provider to ensure the drink selection is appealing yet not overly pricey. Offering a selection of basic yet delicious cocktails and spirits can keep your guests happy and your costs in check.

By blending a bit of both worlds, you can create a memorable experience for your guests without blowing your budget. Plus, it’s a great way to encourage everyone to drink responsibly and enjoy the celebration to the fullest.

Should I Hire a Bartender for a Cash Bar?

Absolutely, hiring a bartender for a cash bar at your wedding is a smart move, especially if you’re looking to optimize your budget. Here’s a breakdown of why:

  1. When you hire a professional bartender or a mobile bar service like The Clever Barkeep, you’re investing in efficient alcohol management. A professional can ensure that each drink is made correctly, minimizing waste and extending your alcohol supply. This is particularly handy if you’re supplying your own alcohol, as it reduces the likelihood of ending up with excess stock at the end of the night.
  2. Our bartenders are experts at inventory management and can provide a smooth, efficient service that keeps your guests happy and the line moving. This expertise can be a game-changer in maintaining the balance between a great guest experience and your budget.
  3. When you opt for a service like The Clever Barkeep, you’re getting a full bar service. This includes not only the skilled staff but also the bar setup, glassware, and all the tools needed to run a successful bar. If you choose to supply your own alcohol, we can work with that too, ensuring that your wedding has the professional touch without the hassle of managing it yourself.

Tips for Hosting a Cash Bar:

Hosting a cash bar? Here’s how to make it smooth and guest-friendly:

  • Give your guests a heads-up about the cash bar. Pop a little note in your invitations or update your wedding website. A simple heads-up like, “Our wedding will feature a cash bar, so please come prepared with cash or a card.” This way, everyone knows what to expect.
  • No need for excuses. Remember, it’s your wedding! There’s no need to feel awkward or apologize for having a cash bar. Most guests understand that weddings are expensive and will appreciate your transparency.
  • If you can, keep the drink prices friendly. Not everyone wants to shell out a lot for a drink, so setting reasonable prices can keep the spirits high and the party lively.
  • If you know your guests are travelling far and wide to celebrate with you, consider greeting them with a complimentary drink. Offering a welcome beverage or a couple of drink tickets can be a lovely gesture that sets a welcoming tone for the evening.
  • A little sign at the bar with drink prices and payment options can go a long way in keeping things clear and straightforward. Plus, it adds a nice touch to your bar decor!
  • Ensure your bar is well-staffed so that guests aren’t waiting too long for their drinks. Quick and friendly service keeps the good vibes flowing.
  • Even with a cash bar, you can offer a range of options to cater to different tastes. From soft drinks to cocktails, a good selection ensures everyone finds something they enjoy.
  • Don’t forget to provide plenty of non-alcoholic options, especially water, to keep everyone hydrated and happy throughout the celebration.
  • Okay, we’ll be shameless here. Hire The Clever Barkeep. We’re your go-to resource for all things related to wedding bar services. We’re located in Dartmouth, NS, but we serve the entire Atlantic Canada.

How The Clever Barkeep Can Help

Deciding between a cash bar and an open bar for your wedding can feel like a big decision, but you’re not alone! The Clever Barkeep is here to guide you through every step, ensuring your bar service is a hit, no matter which option you choose.

We understand that every wedding is unique, and so are your bar service needs. That’s why we offer personalized consultations to help you navigate the pros and cons of cash and open bars. We’ll consider your guest list, budget, and wedding style to recommend the best fit for your celebration.

Not sure if a cash bar or an open bar is right for you? Don’t worry! We’ll explore all the options, including limited bars, drink ticket systems, and more, to find a solution that aligns with your vision and budget.

Whether you choose a cash bar, an open bar, or something in between, we’ll help you create a customized drink menu that delights your guests and complements your wedding theme.

We will also handle all the details, from setup to cleanup, so you can focus on celebrating your special day.

Explore Your Options with The Clever Barkeep:

A cash bar isn’t your only option for saving on alcohol costs. We’ll help you explore a variety of bar service styles to find the one that best suits your needs and leaves a lasting impression on your guests. Contact us today for a consultation now!


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