Open Bar or No? 4 Event Planner Tips to Consider

September 9, 2022 Desiree Homer

Generally speaking, if you’re providing guests with some option for a free beverage, it’s believed they won’t frown upon having to pay for other drinks and specialty cocktails. But what do event attendees really think about going to a wedding or conference that has an open bar versus the cash bar? Exploring what event planners see and based on feedback from guests, these are the tips to consider when deciding which bar option to have at your upcoming New York event.

1. Weddings Are Different

So, among the various event types that fall under the category of social events, weddings tend to be the most common when discussing the open bar versus cash bar debate. And the experts will mostly tell you that an open bar is the way to go. Most guests will expect some form of bar freebie, whereby readily available alcohol is served up free of charge. It’s not uncommon to have hybrid variations, too, where beer and select spirits are complimentary while remaining bar selections require payment. But, in general, try to offer some free-flowing beverage options and keep your guests content.

2. Let the Budget Help You Decide

Ultimately, setting up the perfect and the most ideal bar setting for your upcoming event or celebration could also come down to the available budget. Obviously, if it’s a true open bar, where all beverages will be paid for by the host and guests drink free for the duration of the event, it’s going to cost more than a hybrid open bar. And in some cases, especially for more intimate social gatherings or private parties, there may not be a budget for any complimentary alcoholic beverages. As an event planner, when you’re having these conversations with your clients, lean into the budget preparedness and coach them accordingly. 

3. Open Bars for the Right Audience

Another consideration when determining whether to go with an open bar or cash bar is the audience. Are your guests going to appreciate and expect free booze? Alternatively, are you hosting a corporate event where some alcoholic beverages are ok, but the host isn’t looking to encourage any overindulgence? Those considerations matter when setting the parameters and budget for the ultimate bar station. Talk with your clients about the invite list and behaviors required for a successful event. 

4. Seasonal and Venue Considerations

If you’re planning a New York event during the summer months with an outdoor venue, having cool and refreshing drinks available is paramount. Winter drinking favorites tend to include bold wines and traditional cocktail sippers. Those menu preferences, seasonally-inspired, and indoor versus outdoor considerations will all play into your bar planning decisions.

There isn’t going to be an ultimate right or wrong way to set up a bar station at your next New York event or conference. But consider these tips and pointers before deciding to make sure you’re offering the best complement to the guests’ preferences and event style and budget.

Speaking of events, did you get to attend The Event Planner Expo 2022? Get on the waitlist now for The Event Planner Expo 2023!

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