Beverages On A Budget

By Sharon Naylor

April 15, 2011 5 min read

From Champagne toasts to wine, beer and frozen drinks, a fabulous reception often features drinks your guests will love. But it comes at quite a price. According to The Wedding Report, the average cost of reception bar service ranges from $1,897 to $2,569, depending on the premium level of alcohol provided and the reception location.

Brides and grooms on a budget will be happy to know that they can create an impressive bar list filled with quality wines and cocktails for far less than the national average by following the tips provided here.

"A bar with top-shelf liquors is not a must. Lower-priced versions will do just as well," says Susan Schneider, executive editor of Bridal Guide magazine. "Wise brides and grooms taste-test 'midshelf' drinks either on their own or through an acceptable request to taste liquors and wines at their food tasting visit. Exploring vintages and moderately priced liquors often reveals exceptional tastes and delicious cocktail offerings for guests."

And don't think you have to offer a fully stocked bar. Schneider warns that it's the full open bar, which gives guests access to a wide range of liquors, that accounts for the highest bar tabs. "If you have on hand ingredients for basic drinks -- such as rum, tequila, vodka and red and white wines, plus mixers -- that should be fine," she says. Don't worry about guests being offended if you don't have their favorite brandy at the bar. The trend of the limited bar has been around long enough for guests to be quite used to a tailored list of drinks.

To be even more budget-conscious, make it a rule that no shots are to be served to guests. Also nix any drinks that require many different types of liquor, such as Long Island iced tea, as a smart budget strategy.

_ "For a really tight budget, keep to just wine, Champagne and sparkling water," Schneider says. This collection of drinks works beautifully for an afternoon wedding, when drink consumption is most often lighter than evening and late-night weddings. An alternative to this light-drink plan is wine, beer and sparkling water.

_ Another trend in stocking your budget-smart bar is serving a signature cocktail, such as a colorful or classic martini. In this scenario, the signature cocktail is often the only drink containing hard liquor available, and the bar also is stocked with beer and wine for those guests who do not like the signature cocktail.

_ You don't have to skip the Champagne. Because bubbly is often the wedding couple's wish for their first toast, it's become a smart money strategy to pour each guest a single serving of Champagne for the toast and then take it off the menu. Another option is to have your bartender pour Champagne cocktails in smaller flutes, mixed with a fruit juice and a berry for garnish. This style of serving stretches out the pour of each Champagne bottle.

"Substitute lower-priced bubblies, such as prosecco or cava, for Champagne," Schneider advises. The light taste of prosecco has made it a popular choice, especially for afternoon weddings.

_ "Be open to wines from around the world instead of those that are heavily marketed and possibly overpriced. Look at wines from Spain, Chile or South Africa," Schneider says. Visit Wine Spectator magazine's website to learn about award-winning vintages of wines and Champagnes from around the world. You will find exceptional vintages at low price points. An inexpensive wine is not always a poor-quality wine.

Sangria has come into its own as an affordable drink option on many reception bar lists, again creating more servings per bottle than straight wine pours. Guests say that sangria is not something they get to enjoy often, so they see it as an indulgence instead of a cost-cutting measure. When you offer unique drinks, it looks as if you spent more.

Punch is making a comeback, perhaps inspired by "Mad Men" and our culture's current penchant for retro drinks and entertaining elements. Visit the Food Network's website and to find flavorful, colorful punches in alcoholic and nonalcoholic varieties, including Champagne punches, as a budget-friendly and enjoyable bar feature.

And lastly, soft drinks such as iced tea and lemonade join colas as welcome wedding drinks, particularly on hot summer days and at outdoor or beach weddings, where guests may be parched and prefer nonalcoholic drinks. Even club soda with artistic twists of lemon or lime is a welcome drink at weddings, and it's inexpensive.

With a few well-chosen, unique drinks on your reception bar menu, guests will feel treated, and you won't overdo it as far as your budget is concerned.

Sharon Naylor has written more than three dozen wedding books.

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