When I was pursuing my certification, there was a small handful of things that we were told never, ever, ever to let our clients do for their wedding. Of course, we weren’t told to forcibly stop them. But we, as educated professionals in our field, were to vigorously advise them against doing any of these things at all costs, lest they commit one of the most grievous and unforgivable faux pas’ in Western wedding culture. Truly, these items were given “a curse on both your houses”-esque gravity.
One of these items was the oft-assailed Cash Bar.
“You wouldn’t invite someone into your home and ask them to pay for their drinks,” it was phrased to us, “so why would you do that for your wedding?”
And when you phrase it like that, I can see your point. Your guest may have already spent money on gifts, clothing, or transportation to make it to your wedding. Some of them may hesitantly be taking time off of work. So why ask them to spend even more money at your wedding?
I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a fair question.
However, what wasn’t acknowledged is that this line of thinking is not universal. On the contrary: it’s extremely dependent on where the wedding is and who is hosting it.
For example: I was born and raised in small-town, semi-rural Ontario. As anyone from my natal neck of the woods can confirm, cash bars are the norm for us. They’re expected. Up until the first time I had acted as a Wedding Planner’s Assistant at twenty-five years old, I had never even been to a wedding that didn’t have a cash bar. And no one I had ever spoken to before my certification course had complained. If you were to ask any member of my family, they can say the same thing: Cash bars are the status quo for our communities and our region.
The mentality that cash bars are a hard no, and should be for everyone, just enforces my belief that the “rules” (or at the very least, the standards) of modern weddings are dictated and enforced by those who stand to profit from them. When the option that costs less is painted as unacceptable, the more expensive, more profitable option is easily marketed as necessary or mandatory.
I could go on for ages about how unethical the Wedding Industrial Complex is, and how this kind of toxic marketing is making what should be a very joyful, intimate time in people’s lives stressful and inaccessible. But that’s a post for another day. What I’d like to do right now is provide you with two things: The pros & cons of cash bars (if you’re still on the fence), and some validation (if you’ve made your decision and fear the reactions).
Firstly, the cons of a cash bar are fairly straightforward:
1. Potential for judgment or offense from others
2. Potential for extra financial strain on guests who may already be struggling financially
Depending on what your family or social circle situation is like, one of these two points may be enough to make you opt for a host bar. However, it’s worth examining the pros of cash bars before you finalize your plans. For a lot of weddings, I think the positives of cash bars outweigh the negatives:
1. It’s less expensive for you. If you’re already struggling to figure out how to plan the wedding of your dreams on a tight budget, compromising on the bar package could easily save you hundreds (more often, thousands) of dollars. When it comes to weddings, everything we’re told we need seems to cost an exorbitant amount of money. Judgment from others may feel uncomfortable, but does it feel uncomfortable enough to spend a few thousand dollars to make it go away?
2. Fewer drunk guests. If you want things to get a little wild at your wedding, all the power to you! But if you’re going for something more laid-back or sophisticated, a cash bar would be an excellent choice. When people have to pay for their own drinks, they drink less. This will likely lead to fewer embarrassing anecdotes or exchanges (no promises, though. I don’t know your guests.), a more kid-friendly reception, and less confrontation. If you have a high-drama family or friend group, it’s probably a good idea to minimize the potential for conflict that could be exacerbated by alcohol.
If you really want a cash bar, but are still worried about whether it’s a valid option or not, let me pose a question to you:
If you were attending a wedding, and they weren’t serving any meals that featured red meat, would you be angry?
Then why should it be any different for drinks?
Alcoholic drinks are one category of beverages. They are not the be-all, end-all. It should not be mandatory in the first place. Dry Weddings are okay– and so are cash bars! In the case of cash bars, you aren’t depriving your guests of alcohol. It is still available to them. It just costs a little extra. Which brings me to my next question:
Are your guests at your wedding so they can drink? Or are they at your wedding to celebrate and spend time with you?
Their motivation for coming should be about loving and supporting you- not about free booze. Anyone who can’t see past the bar to the real meaning of the day probably shouldn’t be at your wedding in the first place.
Having a cash bar is not the end of the world. Despite what the Wedding Industry may tell you, it is a perfectly valid choice. It doesn’t have to be a compromise, or a back-up plan, or a thing you do because your hands are tied. It can be a simple, direct, “because we want to” choice.