Does the Groom’s Family Pay for Alcohol?
Alcohol often makes up a significant portion of the cost for a wedding reception. With open bars becoming increasingly popular at weddings, you may wonder if tradition dictates that the groom’s family pays for the alcohol served at the reception. The short answer is no – there are no hard-and-fast rules about who pays for what at modern weddings. However, there are some general guidelines based on tradition that couples can choose to follow if they wish regarding covering wedding costs.
Traditional Wedding Cost Breakdowns
Traditionally, here’s a general rundown of who was expected to pay for different wedding-related expenses:
The Bride’s Family Traditionally Pays For:
- The wedding dress
- Wedding accessories (veil, jewelry, etc.)
- Wedding day hair and makeup
- Bouquets for the bride and bridesmaids
- Boutonnieres for the groom and groomsmen
- The officiant’s wedding fee
- Ceremony musicians
- Wedding invitations
- Thank you cards and postage
The Groom’s Family Traditionally Pays For:
- The marriage license
- The groom and groomsmen’s attire/tuxedo rentals
- The wedding rings for the couple
- The officiant’s wedding fee (split with the bride’s family)
- The honeymoon
- Rehearsal dinner
- Boutonnieres for groom and groomsmen
- Wedding gift for the bride
The Couple Traditionally Pays For:
- Wedding planner/coordinator fees
- Ceremony and reception venue fees
- Catering costs
- Wedding cake
- Wedding decor
- Event rentals
- Transportation on the wedding day
- Wedding night hotel stay
- Favors for wedding guests
- Gifts for parents, wedding party, etc.
Who Traditionally Pays for the Reception Bar?
As you can see, the traditional breakdown does not specifically mention who pays for the bar/alcohol at the wedding reception. In the past, reception bar service was traditionally hosted and paid for by the bride’s family. Providing alcohol was viewed as part of being a gracious host for the wedding celebration.
However, these days with skyrocketing wedding costs, many couples pay for the bar expense themselves or split it with parents as a part of the overall reception costs. With extravagant top-shelf open bar packages becoming popular, alcohol costs now make up a staggering chunk of total reception price tags.
Having the groom’s family offer to contribute funds towards offsetting the reception bar tab is always a thoughtful gesture. But it should not be automatically expected.
Why Open Bars Can Be So Expensive
Why does alcohol tend to be one of the most expensive elements of modern wedding receptions? Here are some reasons that open bar tabs are climbing:
More Hours of Service
In the past, modest wedding receptions may have only offered a champagne toast, wine with dinner, and a few hours of beer/wine/basic liquor after dinner.
Now with longer wedding celebrations becoming popular, host bars are often open for 5 hours or longer to cover cocktails, dinner drinks, and after-dinner libations. More open bar hours = higher alcohol costs.
Couples are increasingly opting for top-shelf spirits and high-end beer and wines to offer guests a luxury open bar experience. Expect to pay a premium for Grey Goose vodka over Smirnoff, Johnny Walker Blue over J&B Scotch, and craft IPAs over Bud Light.
In addition to offering beer, wine and a full slate of liquors, many receptions now have custom cocktail menus featuring specialty “signature drinks.” Developing unique handcrafted cocktails requires extra ingredients and bartender know-how that couples pay for.
Wine Corkage & Pairings
More couples opt to serve fine wines they personally select to offer guests special vintages that complement their wedding cuisine. Any outside alcohol brought into a venues incurs expensive per-bottle corkage fees plus service fees.
Champagne & Wine Toasts
The tradition of popping bottles of bubbly for wedding toasts comes at a cost. Champagne can range from $30 on the low end up to $300+ per bottle for fine French vintages. Multiply that by your number of guests for a big number.
Bartender & Bar Staffing Fees
Trained bartenders and barbacks do not come free with the venue in most cases. Couples pay hourly bartender fees plus tips out of pocket, along with glassware rental and other bar setup costs.
How Much Does a Wedding Bar Cost?
With all the above factors adding up, expect to spend an average of $2000-$2500 on your wedding bar tab if you host an open bar for 100 guests. For 200 guests having cocktails over 5 hours, you may spend double that. Regional pricing varies too, so $3000+ bar tabs in major metro areas would not be surprising.
Of course, couples can lower their alcohol budget by:
- Only serving beer and wine (no liquor)
- Offering limited hosted selections (just wine, just signature drinks)
- Restricting open bar hours
- Buying affordable/well brand liquors
- Limiting drink choices (ex. just 2 beers, 1 red/white wine option)
But limiting beverage choices too much may frustrate guests who expect variety at a celebration. And restricting the open bar duration means paying for more bartender hours to reopen and close the bar.
While the groom’s family can graciously offer to chip in on reception bar expenses, couples shouldn’t automatically expect them to foot the full alcohol bill. Bar costs are realistically part of overall reception expenses the engaged couple pays for themselves. The groom’s parents can consider contributing a meaningful portion subject to their budget as a goodwill offering.
How to Split Wedding Costs Fairly
Rather than adhering to “old fashioned” rules about who pays for each wedding item, many modern couples split overall wedding costs evenly with parents or pay for the majority themselves. Here are some examples of fair, modern ways to allocate wedding spending:
With this approach, costs for all wedding-related events and items get split based on a predetermined percentage:
- Bride & Groom: 50%
- Groom’s Parents: 25%
- Bride’s Parents: 25%
Everyone contributes their portion based on the total tally of wedding expenses. This allows flexibility on what costs are higher vs. lower instead of getting nickel-and-dimed on each line item.
Line Item Split
The engaged couple sits down with both sets of parents and literally divides up responsibility for payment on needed wedding elements like this example:
- Bride’s parents will pay for: the rehearsal dinner and wedding flowers
- Groom’s parents will pay for: the bar package and videographer
- Couple will pay for: venue, catering, cake, attire, music, decor, etc.
This itemized breakdown may suit families who want to fund specific wedding elements vs. just writing a check. It also holds people accountable for their share.
Per Person Contribution
With rising headcounts, this cost sharing model stems from the reality that each additional guest ups the overall wedding spend. So parents give a fixed dollar amount per invited person from “their side” of friends and family.
If the approximate cost per head is $200, the per person formula would be:
- Bride’s parents contribute: $100 per guest they invite
- Groom’s parents contribute: $100 per guest they invite
- Couple pays the remainder for all guests
This rewards parents who trimmed their guest lists while fairly covering costs driven by their invites. There is no haggling over each budget item and couples know what they need to pay upfront.
Manage Open Bar Expectations
Before finalizing your reception bar package, have an open (no pun intended) conversation about the bar tab cost and who contributes what. Clarify everyone’s expectations in advance.
Some points to discuss:
- Be transparent about approximate bar expenses – don’t surprise parents later with a shocking bill! Share realistic cost estimates tailored to your headcount and plans.
- Politely inquire about bar contribution budgets – What dollar amount, if any, did parents plan or want to donate towards the bar? Make no assumptions here.
- Outline what’s included in your bar estimate – Specify the duration of open bar hours, types of drinks (beer/wine/liquor/signature cocktails), and any other reception variables that impact the alcohol outlay.
- Discuss scenario options – mapper out lower cost bar alternatives if needed to work within parental contribution limits. Maybe limit open bar to just beer and wine or the first few reception hours.
- Show appreciation for any offered assistance – Even a small gesture helps offset expenses. Thank parents for any willingness to chip in.
Being proactive prevents misunderstandings or disappointment if parents can’t underwrite all drinking costs. Savvy budgeting and compromise ensures affordability and good vibes all around.
Additional Alcohol Considerations
Here are a few final best practices around reception bar planning:
Don’t Skimp on Quantity
Over-estimating alcohol needs is better than under-calculating and running out. Even if you prepaid for more than what guests consume, unopened beer/wine/liquor may be eligible for returns, credits or can be repurposed elsewhere.
Factor in Bartending Fees
Don’t overlook the cost of hiring professional bartenders to serve alcohol. Their hourly rates tack on a few extra hundred dollars depending on the length of the open bar.
Have Backup Payment Sources
Assign someone trusted to monitor bar consumption and guest counts. Arrange for a point person to OK extending the open bar or allot more funds if needed to avoid service getting cut off prematurely.
Consider Liability Insurance
Party hosts can be held liable for injuries/accidents stemming from over-served attendees. Event liability insurance can protect couples from alcohol-related lawsuit risks.
Respect Underage & Non-Drinking Guests
Provide appealing non-alcoholic beverages so sober guests and minors don’t feel excluded. Tasty mocktails, customized sodas or juices show them courtesy.
Arrange designated drivers or on-demand transportation like Uber/Lyft to ensure intoxicated guests don’t drive themselves home. Displaying ride share info prominently encourages responsible habits.
Focus on Fun!
An open bar facilitates bonding and dance floor action. Go with beverage selections that make guests happy while staying budget-conscious. Compromise ensures everyone can celebrate joyfully.
Who pays for the alcohol at a wedding reception is a negotiable decision for couples and their families nowadays. There are no longer rigid rules.
While the groom’s side offering to cover bar costs is generous, engaged couples shouldn’t automatically expect them to underwrite the entire open bar. Bar tabs are realistically part of overall reception expenses the couple pays for themselves, often splitting costs with parents from both sides.
The wise approach is graciously accepting any assistance while proactively budgeting one’s own means to handle the bulk of bar expenditures. With good planning, strong communication and a spirit of compromise, the celebratory drinks can flow in moderation for all to enjoy!