Caterer confidential: 3 tips for a classy, affordable wedding bar

There are corners you can cut to decrease the overall cost of a wedding.  There are corners that will end up costing you more in the long-run. Follow these tips to ensure you avoid potential surprises.

Caterer confidential: 3 tips for a classy, affordable wedding bar

1. Order up extra bartenders. Caterers will tell you that one or two bartenders will be enough to staff your large-scale event (such as a wedding reception), but unless you want 200 people standing in line for drinks all night, it won't be.

Most catering companies will assign one bartender to every 75 guests, but wedding planners in the know say that you should specify in your contract that you want one bartender for every 50 guests during the cocktail hour (when guests will do most of their imbibing), with one bartender for every 75 guests during the dinner hour. It will cost a little extra, but it will prevent your reception from looking like a cafeteria line.

2. Buy booze by the head, not by the drink. Even if most of your wedding guests are not drinkers, don't let the caterer talk you into paying by the drink. The secret is that many actually do imbibe when the liquor is free, and what's free for them costs you about $7.50 per cocktail.

You might think that because most of the people in your family don't drink much, that it makes sense to pay for the liquor by the glass. It will end up with the liquor bill coming out to more than the food bill.

It is almost always cheaper to buy liquor by the head. Caterers may charge you a flat rate per head for a four-hour event where guests can drink as much as they want, for example. With a per-head liquor contract, there will be no surprises when it comes to paying the bill.

3. Spring for top-shelf stuff. People will remember whether they had Grey Goose or Banker's Club vodka at your celebration, so you may want to spend a little extra for the brand-name booze.

Here's the thing: the price discrepancy between shelf and top-shelf liquor is only a few dollars per head, but it can make a significant difference in how classy your event is, and how happy your guests are. For 200 people, the cost will only be a few hundred dollars extra.

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