Should I have an open bar at my event?

As a live event professional, I have been a proud element of thousands of events. Corporate, private, military, campus, theater, fundraisers, virtual, the works! Here is another quick tip that comes from my personal experience!

Okay. I get asked this a whole lot. The lure of an open bar can double your expectations for attendance, however, I don’t have to explain how it can triple your worries and blow your budget. I have witnessed a very functional solution but let me paint a picture really quickly.

From an event production perspective, we are mainly concerned about our production budget and how to most effectively divide it.

There are seven elements of corporate event production and these are not dissimilar from producing a wedding.

  • Venue
  • Equipment
  • Food
  • Staffing
  • Decor
  • Bar
  • Entertainment
lowball glass with old fashioned cocktail

What does a newly wedded couple want their guests to take home as their foremost memory of the event? A great time of interaction with friends and family or a blurry memory that borders on risky or dangerous? Of course, we want them to be reflecting on a lovely experience instead of making “damage-control” calls after shoving aside the regret and brain and body aches. The answer is pretty clear but I have some research data to share!

BRIDES magazine reports that almost no one is doing a full-service bar anymore. Many are doing wine and beer only and this significantly reduces costs. Some are offering signature cocktails that are named after the people of honor and stocking only the spirits required for the custom recipes and this is still a very functional control measure.

For a wedding, the calculated average expense breakdown looks like this:

Wedding cost breakdown infographic
data from

Certainly, adult beverages consume the bulk of the reception budget but when asked, in retrospect, about how they would divide the budget differently, most remarked on how they wanted to give the gift of an indelible memory and that the open bar worked directly against that goal.

Not necessarily mentioned to toot my own horn, but most newlyweds also would have preferred to dedicate a lot of the bar budget to more impactful, interactive entertainment!

Okay, I promised a solution!

The most effective way I have experienced a full-service bar function at a corporate event is for there to have been two drink tickets issued to each attendee. It can be a cash bar once folks are out of tickets, but honestly, they get given away or traded to an amazing degree, so there will still not be a lot of cash business. However, this system of management will dramatically reduce your bar costs!

I emptied my pockets after a recent event and folks had given me their drink tickets as an expression of thanks. I had a dozen tickets (I don’t drink when I am working)! That’s twelve of many more that didn’t need to be paid for by you!

Why not reduce this to just two custom recipes for cocktails named after the company and event‽

This process offers attractive value, manages consumption, and delivers a fair measure for more accurate billing.

Reach me with questions! I’ll see you in the funny papers!