As an event producer, I’ve heard this question many times. I think there are 2 reasons why you should have a cash bar:
• You cannot afford an open bar (in which case, you should cut down on other costs)
• A portion of bar proceeds are donated to a cause (great for a fundraising event!)
Every event planner has a unique perspective, and mine is to optimize the experience for both you and your guests. A happy crowd equates to a stellar event, and a stellar event equates to a satisfied host. Whether it’s a kick-ass corporate function for employees/clients or a beautiful wedding for a glowing couple, you should always have your guests taken care of. Sure, many times we coordinate get-togethers that are BYOB or potluck, but these are far less formal and excluded for the sake of discussion.
I like to frame it this way for clients:
Corporate – this event is for your employees and customers/clients who grow your business and earn you more money in the long-run. On top of that, they are showing appreciation for your company by attending your event. Is it really worth the difference in bar savings at the cost of making them feel less special and privileged? After all, these events are typically geared toward boosting relationships and morale, or even your brand, right? I think it’s best to follow through with it!
Wedding – this event is the most personalized and emotional experience of your life. One that you will remember forever, and your closest friends and family will certainly plant it in their memory bank as well. So why not truly embrace that? You have a grand opportunity to showcase your love for one another (and your friends and family), so I think it’s best to hit a homerun when you have such an amazing collection of people in one place!
If you simply do not have the funds, then (1) trim down on costs elsewhere or (2) scale down the bar by serving beer, wine, and/or a specialty cocktail rather than a fully stocked bar. You can also (3) stick with mid-range liquor rather than top-shelf to save some money. Finally, (4) confirm whether you have to buy your alcohol from the venue or caterer; it may be cheaper to buy it on your own, plus you can expand and customize your options that way! 99% of guests are not overly particular; they just want to feel somewhat appreciated for showing their support.