Bring Your Own Bickering: Why does everyone freak out over BYOB weddings?

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Photo by Jenny GG
Photo by Jenny GG
I'm having a backyard wedding, which means I'm only having about 50 guests.

I'm considering doing BYOB for the reception, mainly because it seems easier than having to get a special event license to sell liquor. I also figure that way everyone can just bring what they like.

Would BYOB be wayyy against wedding codes and etiquette? Or would it fit with the whole intimate backyard party thing? Thoughts? Suggestions?

Ah, ye olde BYOB debate. Second to the “Are potluck weddings tacky?” debate, this is one that people have some very strong and divided opinions about. As always, at Offbeat Bride our answer to “is this tacky?” is always “It's ALL tacky — so what?” …but there are some issues at play with BYOB that are more complex than just subjective etiquette and tastefulness police.

As with so many things wedding-etiquette, there's no hard and fast rule. For an intimate wedding in your backyard? Depending on your community, BYOB could work just fine.

That said, if you're trying to save money, generally it's easier to go for a dry wedding or a limited bar (punch only! sangria only! beer only! whatever!). BYOB weddings can bring up several issues:

  • Some people just really hate the concept. For some folks, any suggestion that wedding guests bring anything other than themselves is an offensive and seen as a gift-grab. Other people see BYOB as turning your wedding into a frat party. If you go BYOB, you need to prepare yourself for the fact that someone will be upset. You don't have to agree with them, but be prepared for the blow-back.
  • If you have problematic drinkers in your community, they may drink even more than they would otherwise. With no bartender to cut them off, you may risk having Auntie Julie blacking out.
  • Make sure your venue is ok with it — if you're in your backyard, it's fine! If you're at a state park or private property, there may be laws or liability concerns to factor in.

If your primary impetus is money, consider whether there are other ways to cut costs like cake & punch (a great concept that NEEDS to make its triumphant return), or a weekday wedding.

Doing a limited bar is also a great option. You can let guests know “Wine [or beer, or punch, or one signature cocktail, or whatever else] will be provided — feel free to bring your own poison of choice if you desire!” This sets expectations about exactly what you'll be providing, empowers folks to help themselves if they want, but doesn't request that they bring anything.

Alternately, if alcohol simply isn't important to you, just say fuck it! Consider having a dry wedding. They can be truly lovely.

That said, given the right context (intimate backyard wedding with picnic seating, for instance) a BYOB wedding could feel just right. Are your friends homebrewers? Does Uncle Joe have a favorite margarita recipe everyone loves? BYOB might be perfect! As with all things etiquette, the internet can only provide so much information — ultimately, you know your budget limitations and community best.

Alright, we know you're all dying to weigh in: why does the internet love debating the concept of BYOB weddings so much?

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Comments on Bring Your Own Bickering: Why does everyone freak out over BYOB weddings?

  1. Better to have a dry wedding than to host a party like a wedding (not a house party or BBQ) and ask guests who are likely giving you a gift to help stock the bar or pay for drinks.

  2. I’m a big fan of dry weddings, it just seems a whole lot less complicated. But that could rub people the wrong way too. As a compromise, I think a limited bar would work well. Go simple like with a locally brewed beer and maybe a wine from Costco, or a few bottles of something nice for the toast. Then pay a bartender to serve, but make sure they’re licensed. That’s my opinion on it. I would personally be uneasy about BYO Booze, because of the tendency to go overboard.

    I also wanted to say that the dress in the picture is awesome. I love how the ribbon ties into the bridesmaids’ dresses.

  3. If I were being invited to a simple backyard wedding, I wouldn’t expect an open bar. I would expect a drink table with sodas, hopefully water, a couple of big drink containers of something (lemonade or punch or spiked drinks) and maybe wine. If your group of friends and family doesn’t have a history of big alcoholic shebangs, they’ll likely expect the same thing. I don’t think it’s out of line to tell guests that you’ll provide some beverages and invite them to bring whatever else they want with them. I’m super picky, so I always appreciate when people give me permission to bring something. It means I’ll definitely have at least one thing I’ll like.

    But as OBB said, some people will have a problem with BYOB. Some people will have a problem with a dry wedding. Some people will have a problem with SOMETHING because there is always someone who has a problem with something. Always. So do what works for you and your budget.

  4. I’m starting to notice that no matter what kind of wedding you have, someone will get offended by some aspect of it. So, since there’s no way to avoid offending EVERYONE you invite, the best you can do is avoid offending the majority. Even though I would go with a limited bar myself to avoid potential drama in my own little community of wedding guests, BYOB could totally work depending on the community… Even moreso if you’re throwing a CASUAL backyard wedding. And if someone is still offended by the idea? They always have the option to RSVP “no.” 🙂

  5. We’re doing a potluck wedding, but providing beer and champagne. A few guests expressed interest in bringing additional alcoholic beverage as their potluck contributions (mostly people who don’t think either of the provided beverages), and we’re okay with that. No complaints on that plan of action thus far!

    • You could have a liquor potluck. Everyone brings their favorite beer, wine, or liquor, or just some ingredients to finish off common drinks. BYOB always seems very divided to me.

      • The only thing to really worry about, as I noted below, is that some folks can’t bring something. Flying in – especially from abroad – you can pack bottles in your check bag but there’s always the danger they’ll break. And if you don’t have a car/don’t have time when you arrive/don’t know the area/are super broke it can be tough to source alcohol.

  6. My wedding is coming up on Halloween. We are getting married in a barn on his parent’s property, so an intimate setting like yours as well. I am doing keg beer, wine, and an alcoholic cider (I feel it will fit for fall). I have toyed with the idea of a signature drink as well, budget permitting.
    It can be very expensive to have everything on hand for all different drinks, so I see the appeal of byob for you (trust me!). Is it possible to provide anything (like beer) and maybe word it with “Beer and non-alcoholic beverages will be served” and then they can flask it if they feel the need for something else? If you aren’t selling the alcohol, I don’t believe you need a license. Then you are just serving a drink to the guests in your home. I vote doing something within your means to provide a libation, but no need to go overboard. Also, if you aren’t selling it then you won’t need a vendor to mix it/take $$. That would provide extra cash for the beer/wine or whatever. Keeping the bar simple will allows guests to serve themselves.

    • Yeah, cider! There needs to be more cider (alcoholic or otherwise) at weddings! And everything else!

    • I had a BYOB Halloween wedding in 1998 and my invitation wording at the bottom, along with the RSVP info. read, “Bring Your Own Spirits” – it was a total hit. We had blow up skeleton/coffin drink holders and filled those with ice before anyone got to the reception so that people could put their drinks in them.

  7. Why not spin it as something like, “We love to try new drinks, so in lieu of a gift, please bring a 6-pack or bottle to share. We’ll have mixers, so let’s get creative!” Obviously adapt how you will. This doesn’t seem like a faux pas to me, but I’m in my 20’s so what do I know?

  8. You can have whatever mad thing you want, and put whatever responsibilities on your guests that you want, so long as you indicate to them that you’re not expecting them to arrive with gifts.

    • Yeah, as I said in this post, basically as long as you finish every single wedding communication ever with NO GIFTS PLEASE, you should be safe from many people’s ire.

      Although it can start to feel silly…
      Hey, so how’s the wedding planning going?
      Pretty exciting — NO GIFTS PLEASE!
      Did you find a dress?
      I did! It’s lovely — NO GIFTS PLEASE!!
      Where are you going on your honeymoon?
      Hawaii — NO GIFTS PLEASE!!!

      It starts to feel like the nervous bride’s equivalent of the awful NO HOMO thing.

      • The “no gifts” thing backfired for mine–not only did immediate family see gifts as the only way to shower affection upon us, but once they let go of the traditional gift idea we still ended up with two giant vases and a bunch of random stuff at the wedding!

  9. I’m having a potluck bbq backyard wedding at my home and we are not drinkers by any means so we decided to go with byob. I’ve asked guests that if they would like alcohol, please feel free to bring their own. So far no one has said anything. Everyone invited is happy to contribute a food dish and any alcohol they want. If you want to do a byob then why not, you can’t make everyone happy so you must do what makes you and your partner happy.

    • People might not say anything but it doesn’t mean they aren’t upset or annoyed by it. I’m not judging, just letting you know. I was in a wedding recently where many aspects of the wedding were not great for guests or the bridal party, but I didn’t say anything. Ultimately it was their day and not mine so I went with it and didn’t say anything.

      • I think ultimately this is the road to take. No one is going to be happy with everything about anything – the way any of us live our own life is always going to be up for debate in other people’s minds, and likewise, we all privately judge one another. Unless harm or hardship is being caused in a way that raises concern, however, most people should just MYOB. You do you, essentially. If I don’t like the way someone is planning a wedding, I can either excuse myself with grace, or keep my mouth shut, because it really is not about me.

        In terms of the OPs issues, if the BYOB thing skirts legal licensing in their area, I’d say go for it. If serving isn’t the issue, but selling is, then I would support the “pot of spiked punch” approach, with the encouragement to bring other things, *OR* the dry wedding.

  10. One thing about living in Europe is people give you alcohol as gifts all the time. Since we got engaged my fiancé and I have put it all away in a “wedding booze” box and we’ve managed to collect four bottles of champagne and around six bottles of I wine which we think should be enough for thirty people.

    • yes! It’s taking over my kitchen dammit… We don’t drink wine! And over here if you don’t ask for gifts/ expect gifts you’ll still get them anyway… People get more upset when you don’t want anything!

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