Etiquette

Bars - Consumption or Per Person?

Hi ladies,

Our wedding date is less than 3 weeks away (Sept. 6)! I need to select a bar package and am considering the consumption option, as I'm wondering if it's more economical than paying $34/person for people that only have a glass of wine. We have some folks from church who just don't drink, but we have some others that will have 4 or 5 beverages during the 4 hours. :)

I'm thinking this may balance out to where we can have a $5K bar tab for 185 guests and offer top tier liquor for $12/drink. By my math, on the expensive end that should pay for 416 top tier liquor drinks, which is 2.25 drinks per guest. By the time some folks drink the tea provided by the caterer, some have a glass of wine and some others have multiple cocktails, it should balance out. Thoughts?

Has anyone else done a consumption bar? How many guests did you have? What budget did you allocate towards it? Did it last for 4 hours?

Look forward to your thoughts!


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Re: Bars - Consumption or Per Person?

  • photokittyphotokitty where I want to be mod
    Moderator Knottie Warrior 5000 Comments 500 Love Its
    I had a per person - $36 - bar and my brother had a consumption bar. He still won't tell me how much his cost, only that mine was way cheaper.

    At wedding people set drinks down and don't alway pick them back up. They try new drink and if they don't like them they get something else. Consumption bars frequently have diligent waitstaff picking up unattended drinks very quickly.

    IMHO I would never do a combustion based bar unless it was a brunch or lunch reception that ended before 5pm.
    :kiss: ~xoxo~ :kiss:

    wrigleyvilleindianaalum
  • tammym1001tammym1001 Akron, Ohio member
    500 Love Its 1000 Comments Second Anniversary 5 Answers
    We did a per person bar. Our friends would have drank us into the poor house if we would have done consumption. Per person was definitely the better option for us. I know at my own wedding I had 6 different drinks and what I ended up drinking was two sips of wine, 1 glass of champagne, a diet coke,and a few drinks of a vodka and cranberry. I would set my drink down to go dance or  talk to someone and when I came back it was gone. I know that happens at a lot of venues so you have to be careful about that also.
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    indianaalum
  • We did a consumption bar for our RD and open bar for our wedding. Per person, the consumption bar costed us less. It wasn't exactly apples to apples, though, since the RD/consumption bar didn't have as many top shelf choices and I think people get more drunk at weddings than they do RDs. It's hard to say if it would have been cheaper. I think if you have a light drinking crowd overall, a consumption bar is the way to go.
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  • I don't have an answer, but I read this as "Bras - Consumption or Per Person" and I was so INTRIGUED. 

    The only thing I'll say is that you should factor in how many of your drinkers might be beer drinkers instead of hard alcohol. That could significantly bring down your $12/drink estimate. Personally, I think mid-tier liquor is fantastic, but it's nice you're wanting to host so generously. I think once you factor in beer costs being less, your estimate of $5k is probably more than safe.
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  • I would go per person, just because then you know exactly what you are paying. I'd rather know and pay a bit extra than risk a surprisingly large bar bill at the end of the night. People drink more at celebrations, so even people who don't normally drink might have one or two.
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    wrigleyvilleindianaalum
  • Totally depends on your crowd and what they drink. We'll have quite a few abstainers, and a large chunk of "2 glasses of wine" folks. They'll more than balance out the handful of hardcore chuggers.

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  • Depends on your crowd.

     

    Also, talk to your venue...we paid per person, but our venue was willing to remove the people that do not drink at all.  So i was able to remove a few people who were recovering alcoholics who had been sober for a dozen years, as well as some people that do not drink for religious reasons.  i also left off a pregnant friend who will not drink at all, but left in a pregnant friend who drinks a glass or two of wine occassionally.  (don't just assume that everyone who is pregnant abstains completely.)

  • We did a consumption bar and it ended up being cheaper ($15pp vs $23 for open bar). BUT this is the reason it worked:

    -We only served wine ($5 each) beer ($4 each) and signature cocktail ($8 each)
    -At least a third of our guests don't drink 
    -Of the people that do drink, I've never seen them have more than 2 in one evening.

    At $12 a drink I would not do consumption unless a huge portion of your guests never, ever, drink. I usually only have a glass of wine or two, but at a wedding I may end up with 3 or 4 by the end of the night.  
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  • lyndausvilyndausvi Western Slope, Colorado mod
    Moderator Knottie Warrior 10000 Comments 500 Love Its
    Sept  6 is my anniversary !!!

    depends on your crowd.     We are drinkers per person all the way.   Others consumption would be better.     If in doubt I would go per person.   I would rather have a known bill then being in shock at the end of the night.






    What differentiates an average host and a great host is anticipating unexpressed needs and wants of their guests.  Just because the want/need is not expressed, doesn't mean it wouldn't be appreciated. 
    peachy13
  • We had the same debate. If we did a per person bar with our current guest list of 195, our bar would cost us nearly $10k. We have a handful of minors, many non-drinkers, mostly light drinkers, and a few of our close friends that will hit the bar hard. We also are not doing a cocktail hour (ceremony right in to reception). We are opting to do a consumption bar, with our crowd in mind. We figure on the high side we could come in around 5k... My dad (who is paying) said he would throw up if he found out our total was something like 3k and he paid the per person amount. It's really a toss up, I think. You could either come in way under, just about, or way over. All depends what you are prepared for and comfortable paying.
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  • climbingwifeclimbingwife NYC 'burbs member
    10000 Comments Sixth Anniversary 500 Love Its 5 Answers
    We're doing a consumption bar. It's a daytime wedding and we have a good amount of people that don't drink.

  • My daughter had a morning church ceremony with a brunch reception at a nearby country club..About half of the guests were Asian, and do not drink alcohol.  We served bloody marys and mimosas as well as sodas. 
    If we had a more general population and an evening reception, we would have gone with the per-person rate.  As it was, we paid for a lot of sodas!
    httpiimgurcomTCCjW0wjpg
  • Alikat9614Alikat9614 member
    100 Love Its 100 Comments First Anniversary Name Dropper
    edited August 2014
    Our venue doesn't offer a per person rate, so we will be doing consumption.  We are only serving beer and wine.  The venue is special ordering us wine through a local winery (we are very close with the owners), so whatever doesn't get consumed we will take with us at the end of the night, and subsequently be able to sell back to the winery.  

    We will have about 105 guests, at least 15-20 of those are under 21 or pregnant and not drinking.  So, they'll be basing the order off about 90 guests. Our cocktail hour is 3:30-4:30, with dinner being served around 4:45.  Based on our guesstimated timeline, we will probably wrap things up around 9, so it's not an all night bash.  

    Even if they had PP the option, we would probably still be going consumption route.  For top shelf liquor, I'd think PP would definitely be the best way to go! 

    ETA: Yay, wedding twins!  I'm so anxious and can't wait for the 6th to get here!
  • Honestly? Unless you know you can CAP it at a "I will spend this much in liquor": I find consumption bars extremely risky..and honestly? I also think it is easier for them to cheat you as you clearly will be too busy to count how many drins were actually served.

    Yes, I might drink 2 drinks a night, however, I may inadvertantly leave them several times and end up going to the bar mulptiples times to get that same drink I never finishe. yes, people put down drinks and they get taken away.

    I would ask if you can have non-21 people not pay that fee as they won't be allowed to drink.

    Open bar was included in our package, so I never had to worry about what to choose but I DO know my friends experimented with drinks. If they got something they did not like, the put it on a table and went back and got something new. that happens, as well. It's not always "just about" how many people drink they actually CONSUME, but more about how many times they go to get the drink to drink. Hope that made sense

    Personally, I think "per person" is safer for your mental health. otherwise, all night you will be worried when you see people repeatedly getting drinks! LOL
    Knottie10345364
  • Oh boy. I think this just made my internal debate a little more intense! Thanks, ladies - all very good info. I'm just wrestling with knowing that our parents friends (half the guest list) don't drink at all or don't drink much, so those that do drink will likely do beer and wine. My FI's and my friends may be the ones that make up the difference and get the hard stuff. I could always do the $9/drink option, which is still good (think Absolute instead of Grey Goose; not gonna make you sick, but not top of the line, either). Thanks so much for all of the advice, definitely enough to go back to dad with! :) And yay for the Sept. 6 weddings/anniversaries! Definitely a lucky date.
  • The consumption bar with the $9/drink option seems like a much better route to go if there will be a lot of people who won't drink/drink much. We're doing PP, because we have a lot of heavy drinkers, but only wine, beer, and soda. They have the option to buy liquor though, since it is a restaurant and they have a full bar.
  • lyndausvilyndausvi Western Slope, Colorado mod
    Moderator Knottie Warrior 10000 Comments 500 Love Its
    I think the $9 option is great.  You would be surprised how many people consume a little more at a wedding.  Even those you do not expect to.

    Often you can negotiate with the venue on products.  Say you or your FI or even dad likes Grey Goose, you can always ask if they can upgrade just that liquor without upgrading the entire package.

    When my brother got married my parents paid for the bar.  They upgraded 1-2 items because those are what my mom and dad preferred.   Sales people want the guest of honor and the person paying to be happy.  Upgrading 1 items is not often a big deal.

    Doesn't cost anything to ask.






    What differentiates an average host and a great host is anticipating unexpressed needs and wants of their guests.  Just because the want/need is not expressed, doesn't mean it wouldn't be appreciated. 
  • My venue was very open to my listing whether a person was going to drink alcohol or not next to their meal choice and only charging the open bar rate for people that would be drinking. You may want to ask if that's an option. That said, you still need to be honest and even if somebody is only going to drink one drink count them for open bar, which can hurt your numbers. We opted for open bar per head just because it made our budgeting easier in the end. There are no surprises. But most people I talked to actually had lower tabs based on consumption bars. We're doing open bar for 5 hours and then switching to consumption - which may also be an option you want to look at.
  • huskypuppy14huskypuppy14 Boston Suburbs member
    2500 Comments Fifth Anniversary 500 Love Its First Answer
    I did pp because I was too scared what the bill would be at the end of the night.  We know our friends like to drink, and my dad's family are big drinkers. My husband's family doesn't really drink too much, but some did at our wedding.

    Your guests don't know if you're paying per person or consumption, and people are more careless with leaving drinks laying around and getting another one.
     
    We have a lot of friends that drink beer and wine normally, but we know at a wedding people are more likely to get cocktails if it's available. And they did!

    Even people that don't drink hard liquor that often (like my mother and MIL) had a couple drinks. Now there were some people that didn't drink, but we also had many people that made up their share.

    I would always do per person unless the majority of your guests are non drinkers.
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    indianaalumKnottie10345364
  • I would do the $9 option too. We had top shelf open bar, and maybe 3 guests thought to order the $30 a glass scotch. Most people are going for Captain and Coke, or the house wine. No point in having top of the line stuff to pour it into soda. If everyone is drinking martinis, sure, but that doesn't sound like your crowd.
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  • Our open bar will be $ per person - people over 21 (who drink like it's going out of style) vastly outnumber the people who are under 21 (who will party hard with lemonade or whatever), so it just ends up being more economical.    
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  • photokittyphotokitty where I want to be mod
    Moderator Knottie Warrior 5000 Comments 500 Love Its
    edited August 2014
    Our open bar will be $ per person - people over 21 (who drink like it's going out of style) vastly outnumber the people who are under 21 (who will party hard with lemonade or whatever), so it just ends up being more economical.    
    Your venue doesn't have a different rate for those under 21? I've never heard of a place that didn't as they can't legally be served. You might want to double check. Non-alcoholic beverages were included in my meal rates and then we paid per person over 21 for the bar.
    :kiss: ~xoxo~ :kiss:

    huskypuppy14
  • pinkshorts27pinkshorts27 Oregon member
    500 Love Its 1000 Comments First Anniversary First Answer
    We are doing beer and wine. With are venue we are ordering by the keg/half keg and then wine by the bottle. We are selecting the options and then the venue said they have extra on hand in case we add more day of (because they are options that they typically offer). 

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  • Our open bar will be $ per person - people over 21 (who drink like it's going out of style) vastly outnumber the people who are under 21 (who will party hard with lemonade or whatever), so it just ends up being more economical.    
    Your venue doesn't have a different rate for those under 21? I've never heard of a place that didn't as they can't legally be served. You might want to double check. Non-alcoholic beverages were included in my meal rates and then we paid per person over 21 for the bar.

    That's correct, they charge per head, regardless of if they're 21 or not.  They don't serve the under-21-ers, however, since they card at the bar.  This option was still cheaper than other venues though, who charged an arm & a leg per 21-year-old.  
    I Dunno
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  • melbensomelbenso Hoth, apparently member
    500 Love Its 500 Comments Third Anniversary First Answer
    It depends on how heavy your drinkers are and what the per drink vs. per person cost is. 

    We had a consumption bar with very reasonable drink prices for us.*  We had beer, wine, champagne, well liquor and call liquor (excluded the super fancy high end stuff) and price per drink topped out at $5.50 for a call level liquor drink.  Our consumption bar bill averaged out to about $20 per guest of drinking age - excluding non-alcoholic drinks offered at the bar.

    We also didn't have many heavy drinkers among our guests.  And a decent number of our guests were not drinking (due to pregnancy or medical conditions).  We factored all this in when deciding to go consumption.

    My friend from college's wedding several years ago has a per person bar.  She came up to us during the reception and (jokingly) told us that we all need to drink more because she had paid for the bar per person and people weren't drinking enough to make it worth it.   But if we had all been the lushes she thought we would (read, if more of us were staying at the hotel instead of driving the hour home that night), I'm sure she would have saved a ton.

    *Note for lurkers: another reason not to have a cash bar - hosted bar prices are often less per drink than cash bar prices. Drinks at our wedding cost us almost $1 less per drink than it would have cost our guests if we had a cash bar.
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  • lyndausvilyndausvi Western Slope, Colorado mod
    Moderator Knottie Warrior 10000 Comments 500 Love Its
    Our open bar will be $ per person - people over 21 (who drink like it's going out of style) vastly outnumber the people who are under 21 (who will party hard with lemonade or whatever), so it just ends up being more economical.    
    Your venue doesn't have a different rate for those under 21? I've never heard of a place that didn't as they can't legally be served. You might want to double check. Non-alcoholic beverages were included in my meal rates and then we paid per person over 21 for the bar.
    the boat I worked on had 3 pricing levels.

    3 and under -- free
    4-12 - half off
    13 and up - full price

    It included an open bar.    At least in the islands sodas and juices were as expensive as some alcohol.   Add in kids tend to drink a lot of that kind of stuff, the price was justified.






    What differentiates an average host and a great host is anticipating unexpressed needs and wants of their guests.  Just because the want/need is not expressed, doesn't mean it wouldn't be appreciated. 
  • We are going with consumption, but we are also only serving wine, beer and sangria. The bar package for the same would have been $32 per person. We are expecting around 160 guests. Under the consumption tab, we'll be paying $5 per drink (beer, wine, or sangria) and $2.5 per soda. Our reception is 6 hours long. (If the party goes that long. We have the venue and the vendors until midnight, but we can always choose to end at 11 and transition to unhosted after-party across the street at the bar at 11 if we want.)

    If we had gone with per person, we would have been at $5120, which under the consumption tab is about 6.5 drinks per guest.

    When we considered that about 40ish of our guests are elderly and will probably leave after the cake cutting and probably will drink 2 glass of wine before that... the fact there will be about 10 teenagers (we wouldn't get a per person discount for them, even though they would be drinking only soda)... the fact there would be a handful of preggo ladies... the fact there is also the chance of one or two no-shows, and the fact that our heaviest drinkers are all in the wedding party and thus won't even be drinking during the cocktail hour because they'll be taking photos, it just seemed highly unlikely we could even get close to averaging 6.5 drinks per person.

    When our wedding coordinator told us that she had never seen a consumption tab come to even close what a per person tab was we thought she was crazy. But when we did the math, we could see how that would be super common. When we were debating between three different caterers, only one even offered consumption. When we asked the other two if we could do it, they were both adamant that we could not. Which gave me the feeling they thought it would be lower too.

    Our coordinator is going to notify us when we hit $5k in case we want to end the reception early. But I'm really not worried about it at all.

  • jacques27jacques27 member
    Knottie Warrior 500 Love Its 1000 Comments 5 Answers
    edited August 2014
    As someone who used to tend bar at a couple of different event venues, I will echo the sentiments about it being risky to do per person, particularly with larger guest lists.  People absolutely do drink more than they usually would and are more careless about their drinks ("Oh, gee, there was only my glass on that table when I went to dance, and now there are five - which one was mine?  Oh, I'll just grab another one.").  Heck some people who you may never have seen drink at all and peg them for not drinking at your wedding may surprise you and have a drink or two to celebrate (my immediate family does not drink...at all probably 364 days of the year, and they will have a drink for grand celebratory occasions, much to my surprise).  Unless you have a small guest list and are intimately familiar with each of their drinking habits or you're having a brunch/daytime wedding, I would be hesitant to go pp instead of consumption. 

    But it really is a know your crowd sort of thing - I have seen it go both ways where the consumption bill was significantly lower and where people were practically bankrupted by the bar total at the end of the night.  The rule of thumb is to estimate two drinks for the cocktail hour and one drink per hour of the reception (and that is for everyone - some will drink way more than that if they aren't the designated driver and some will drink less).  Also remember, if you have juice available for mixers, many non-drinkers will order them and that will count towards your tab as well.  And factor in the type of reception - a dance party with a DJ will have a higher bar total than a quiet dine and dash type reception.  HOWEVER...

    At one of the venues where I previously worked, we did have an option (not advertised, but something our event coordinator would arrange) where the bar could start out as consumption, but if the bar tab ended up exceeding the amount that it would have been had they gone the per person route, then we charged them the lesser of the two amounts at the end of the night.  Have you tried talking to your venue and seeing if this is something they would be willing to negotiate with you?


  • Know your guests!

    If we did consumption our friends would drink us out of house and home! We keep telling them all to drink up and that we have a "drink minimum" (haha) - they are happily obliging to have fun and drink whatever they want!
  • Before our wedding, I made an elaborate spreadsheet designed to answer just this question. Based on my calculations, we decided to go with the consumption bar over the per person flat fee. This was also in line with what I've heard from a number of event professionals ("the consumption bar is ALWAYS cheaper," they said).

    Welp, we chose wrong. Our consumption bar ended up costing us about 1/3 more than the flat fee would have cost. That's because my estimates were based on two main assumptions that turned out to be wrong for our crowd. They were:

    1) People will drink on average 2 drinks for the first hour and one drink per hour after that, leaving with us an average of 6 drinks per person for our 5 hour reception. Our guests averaged nearly 8 drinks each.
    2) The breakdown of drinks consumed will be about 65% wine/15% beer/20% liquor. Our guests consumed about 20% wine/20% beer/60% liquor. Guess which option was most expensive? Oops.

    Those assumptions are apparently what event planners use as a rule of thumb, so I'm sure they are probably pretty accurate for most crowds. But not all crowds, apparently!

    Just one more data point for you to consider.
    indianaalumKnottie10345364
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