When it comes to weddings, sure, everyone loves a heartfelt ceremony, but in reality, the “I do’s” only last an hour at the most. The bulk of time in most celebrations is the party that comes after.
The reception is also likely to comprise the bulk of your budget, and serving cocktails to all those happy revelers can quickly add up. But if you’re on a tight budget, don’t assume you’re limited to canned beer and a couple boxes of cheap wine. It is possible to have your bubbly and drink it, too.
Here are some helpful hints to help ensure the booze you choose won’t break the bank.
A catered affair
Many traditional wedding venues, such as hotels, wineries and country clubs, have on-site caterers who require you meet a minimum in food and/or alcohol expenditure. However, if you have a large guest list, it is easy to blow right past this minimum and end up with a bill that could make your ride off into the sunset a little less rosy.
To keep costs under control, consider limiting the amount of time you offer a full open bar, such as during the cocktail hour when people are just getting started and are more likely to appreciate a variety anyway.
Then downshifting to wine and beer only once the dinner starts, suggested Rachel Hardage, deputy editor of “Real Simple Weddings.” She advised asking about serving non-European wines whenever possible, as there are a number of great, affordable labels from less-established regions such as Argentina, Chile and South Africa.
Or ask if you can bring in your own. At the popular Holiday Inn Chicago Mart Plaza (host to an average of 80 weddings a year), couples may bring in their own dinner wine for a corkage fee of $5 to $10, depending on what’s needed to reach their minimum, said John Dexter, the hotel’s director of food and beverage.
Many stores, like Trader Joe’s or CostCo, offer truly good wines in the $5 to $10 range, and may give discounts on cases or even be willing to buy back unused bottles. Go this route and chances are that even with a corkage fee, you’ll end up saving money and serving a higher caliber vino.
Another option is to only provide wine and beer all night long, but also offer one liquor drink in the form of a signature cocktail inspired by your favorite drink, your wedding colors, the venue or the theme.
“My personal favorite is a spiked sweet tea,” said Hardage. “It’s perfect for a summer wedding.”
Although costs clearly depend on the length of time the bar is open, as a general rule you can shave about 30 percent off the total bar by limiting the quantity and quality of hard liquor. If you want to selectively upgrade, ask your venue if, once you reach your minimum with a house brands package, they would be willing to add a single luxury brand based on consumption.
But if you want it all for less, consider straying from the typical Saturday night event. At the Holiday Inn Chicago Mart Plaza, the Saturday night packages (which all include a four-hour open bar, the champagne toast, a four-course dinner, the cake, rentals and overnight accommodations for the bride and groom and both sets of parents) run the gamut from $88 to $128 per person, depending on the type of beverage service.
But if you opt to get hitched on Friday or Sunday, the price drops to $65 per person. The bar is downsized to three hours and the dinner is buffet-style, but all the other perks are included and, for a wedding of 200, the bill plummets from $17,600 to $13,000.
For even deeper savings, unconventional couples might like to skip the dinner altogether and instead throw a boozy brunch.
“That way you can simply serve mimosas and Bloody Marys, as opposed to the full offering,” said Hardage. “Chances are no one will crave scotch-on-the-rocks with pancakes.”
A home-style soiree
Although other costs, like rentals and tents, can add up when you have your wedding at home, you can definitely save a bundle by buying your own booze. Hardage’s must-haves are wine, beer and enough champagne for the toasts (about two glasses per guest). If you don’t care about fancy bubbly, consider toasting with Spanish cava or Italian prosecco instead. As to liquor, a 750ml bottle contains about 17 drinks, which makes it a pretty good deal, but remember that you will also need ice, mixers and more bartenders. It’s fine to offer a small selection and simply serve it until you run out.
To figure out how much alcohol you should buy for a four- to five-hour party based on how many guests you’re expecting, what you intend on serving (open bar versus wine, beer and champagne only) and the time of day your reception will take place, go to RealSimple.com and plug “wedding wine and liquor calculator” into the search function.