How can I discourage over-drinking at my reception?

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Tasty Drinks
Anyone have any good tips on preventing guest over-drinking at our reception?

A dry wedding isn't what we're aiming for, but we have a few family members who tend to party a little too hardy for our tastes. We're still in the early stages of planning, but our wedding will include dinner and our bar will probably be at least partially open, since we have a lot of friends who are low on cash.

Any ideas?


Our best suggestions would be to only serve beer and wine, and have a bartender who's comfortable cutting folks off if necessary. We also love the Tribesmaid who gently informed her guests, “Our wedding will have an open bar. It will also be heavily photographed, so any drunken shenanigans will be well documented and thoroughly mocked for years to come. Proceed with caution.” Obviously, if you have family members who are wrestling with alcoholism or early stages of recovery, your mileage may vary with these gentler techniques.

We'd love to hear from readers — how are you handling the balance between “Woo-fun!” and “vomitous drunk mess” at your reception?

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Comments on How can I discourage over-drinking at my reception?

  1. Something we use for work parties that seems to work decently well: giving people drink tickets. Also, having a limited bar seems to keep things under control (wines, beer, maybe one mixed “signature” drink…. or not).

    Have someone (trusted wedding party member, family member) pass out 2 (or 1 or 3, whatever you’re comfortable with) drink tickets to each person as they enter the reception (you can buy a roll of tickets at a party store or online). It seems to help if you have your ticket distributor ask the person if they plan on drinking at all, that way you don’t end up with the person who got 2 tickets and doesn’t drink alcohol at all, giving their tickets to someone else. Provide an ample supply of non-alcoholic drinks that are also yummy and tempting.

    Then, make sure you let your bartender know to only give out a drink with the “magic ticket” (bartender = hired/volunteer bartender, trusted friend, family member, or whoever is going to be manning the bar… definitely need SOMEONE though). Make sure they are an assertive person and won’t give in even when someone whines about not having an extra drink.

    This works really well at work parties… it doesn’t keep the determined ones from predrinking/sneaking in a flask, but at the very least – you aren’t sponsoring their drunken night of revelry, if that’s what they so choose to do.

    • Drink tickets have their downsides. Firstly, it would make me feel like I was at a work convention, not a wedding. Via wedding etiquette, guests should be treated to either a 1.) limited open bar (usually a few types of beer and wine, and perhaps a few of the couple’s favorite mixed drinks), 2.) full open bar with beer, wine, and liquor- doesn’t have to be top shelf or fancy!, or 3.) no bar at all. Cash bars- in my opinion- are rude because you should be hosting your guests’ food and drink throughout the reception. The upside to no cash bar is that you get to control what your bartenders are serving, which can help naturally curb people’s alcohol intake. Keep things consistent throughout the night, so your guests don’t have free drinks during cocktail hour and then get surprised with a cash bar after dinner, or have liquor the first hour and then find out they can only have beer and wine later on. More importantly, recognize that the heavy drinkers will just take drink tickets from the light drinkers and over-imbibe anyways, or sneak drinks in. I think the best hosts realize that adults who overindulge will not be thwarted unless you have security checking pockets at the door.

    • Tickets are a great idea, I think, but perhaps to avoid an “office” feeling, personalised tokens could be made or brought instead, like gold pirate coins or paper flowers. Anything that seems to suit, really.

      And to avoid the sneaking alcohol in, I went to one event where the invitation simply said “drinks will be provided” without mentioning that they would be subtly limited per guest, which meant that a few hard partiers were cleverly caught off guard. πŸ˜€

  2. When we were first planning, our date was booked at a possible venue for the evening so they offered us a lunch option. We had never considered it but started to think of the benefits and guests not going hard on the booze was one of our top pro points. It wasn’t about money saving as we got a package but as you say, some of the family members go too hard, too soon. It was an easy way to avoid an awkward situation.
    If you’re keen on an evening meal, maybe ask your venue to feature a mocktail and make that the choice drink. Tee up with your close friends to only drink that to make that the ‘cool’ choice. Also if you’re having kids attend they can feel special.

    • we had a lunch wedding reception and the bar only served soda, beer, wine, and sparking wine (there was water and ice tea on the tables which the hotel staff kept topped up). Our soda and alcohol bill came in at about .75 drinks per person, that means that most folks were happy with water and ice tea, as I expected! We had our friends over to a dive bar afterwards, with an open tab, but even then they consumed more fried junk food than alcohol (tab for 40-60 people came in around $450, including snacks).

    • We did a lunch reception, too, for several reasons, but alcohol was one of them. Some of our friends/family tend to get drunker than we wanted at our wedding, so having a lunch event was one way to cut back on that. Lunch is shorter and there’s just less expectation of heavy drinking. We had an open bar, but just with a couple of choices each for beer and wine. People drank less than we thought they would; I think we had planned on 1-2 drinks for every adult and we had a lot left over. We also served water, coffee, soda, and lemonade. (Bonus: the alcohol and overall wedding were much cheaper!)

      We had a couple of wedding-party members who we thought might overdo it, so we asked them ahead of time to respect our wishes and take it easy. It worked–they enjoyed themselves but didn’t get wasted.

      For my out-of-town relatives my parents hosted an afterparty at their home to lengthen the family time together. Apparently that got kind of boozy, but we were headed on our honeymoon so we weren’t there to be part of it.

      • This is a great compromise! You still get to have alcohol, but the time of day as well as limited bar options help get the results you want. OP, this is good advise.

  3. What about those who may have a family member that is either an alcoholic or recovering? How do you walk the line where you want to keep that family member safe from their addiction but don’t want to lose out on alcohol for everyone?

    • I commented below, but how we approached our family who we knew had alcohol issues, was we talked to them about it before the reception. Something like, “Just so you know, there will be an open bar, but we know you’re working through your issues so just a head’s up. We will be telling the bartenders to be really strict about cutting people off, and here’s hotel info so you don’t end up driving, and if you decide to leave early to avoid temptation, that’s okay too…”

      Bartenders were really good about cutting people off, and my family members were really good about being on their best behaviour. This approach probably wouldn’t work as well for anyone who isn’t already in a stage of recovery or at least acceptance of their addiction, though. I’m not sure how we would have handled that, to be honest.

      • I’ve seen suggestions elsewhere to try to fit an extra “and guest” for them to invite their AA mentor (or equivalent in other programs).

      • I think that while it is the person’s own responsibility, as Brigid said, I like the idea of the heads-up you suggest. I wouldn’t mention the cutting-off or the driving bits, because those suggest to me, “it’s OK for you to drink.” I might instead say something like, “Just so you know, there will be an open bar at the wedding. Is there anything I can do to help make it easier for you to be around that?” Then I’d leave it to them to suggest stuff like seating them away from the bar, or making sure that there would be non-alcoholic options available for a toast, or what have you.

      • I’ve heard of recovering alcoholics bringing their ID’s up to the bartenders at the start of the night with instructions to not serve them alcohol, no matter what. That way, if the alcoholic felt their control slipping during the evening, they know they are not “allowed” a drink, so they don’t have to worry. Of course, the alcoholic shouldn’t be forced to do this. I think this works best if they ask a relative or friend to go get them their nonalcoholic drink of choice rather than go to the bar themselves, so they can stay as far away from it as possible. One of the most important lessons a truly recovering addict has to learn is that the world doesn’t change just for them, their addiction will always be there to tempt them (especially something legal like alcohol, which is at many adult events), so even though you can help make these situations easier on them, you cannot plan every event around them.

        • That’s a really good reason to have the non-alcoholic drinks in dispensers away from the bar if you can. It also splits up the crowd flow a bit, and keeps the kids away from the booze which makes a lot of adults happier in general. If your bartender is in charge of those drinks, just make sure the dispensers are within that bartender’s line of sight.

      • My partner is a recovering alcoholic, and he felt that having a bar at our reception would be too much of a temptation, especially considering his drinking buddy friends will be invited (they all completely understand and support his alcohol free lifestyle) That, coupled with his parent’s tendency to drink to excess, led us to sit down and look at our options. We are providing all the soft drinks (and special ones for the toasts) and there will be tea coffee etc available (winter wedding) and we will not have a bar. We have put in the invitations however, that although there will not be alcohol served, should you wish to bring your own, we fully support it πŸ™‚ we’ve also given details of local wine merchants etc. on the info sheet. So far we’ve not had a single person complain, and my partner’s AA friends have said they find it really nice that there won’t be as much of a temptation!

    • To be honest, if this family member is recovering, it is their responsibility not to drink, it’s not your responsibility to make sure they don’t. If you’re doing assigned seating, I wouldn’t sit them right next to the bar, but they need to be aware of the temptation that attending a wedding presents.
      If this is someone who is not actively seeking treatment, but is someone who drinks too much and becomes a mess, then maybe it’s best to limit the alcohol at the entire event. Just have a cake and champagne party, or limit the bar to either beer/wine only, or only offer alcohol during cocktail hour and then have soda, juice and a mocktail during the rest of the reception.

    • The very best analogy for addiction that I have heard is diabetes. Like a diabetic, an addict is continually placed in situations where they have the opportunity to consume a substance that will result in very negative health consequences. They are continually faced with watching other individuals enjoy said substances, and each addict must learn ways to cope with that reality; the world will not change around them. Ultimately, every individual (addict or not) is responsible for his or her own choices and knows what they need to do to make those choices. I know of no addicts (and I know many) who attend weddings and are surprised to find alcohol on the premise. Although the motivation to want to help an addict friend or family member feel comfortable is admirable, I think that some of the discussions here are a little belittling to addicts (although I do not think anyone has intended this). Additionally, despite any “precautions” you may take to prevent an addict from drinking/using, if an addicts wants to use, they will, and nothing you can do will stop that.

      Trust that any addicts (in a program or otherwise) have at minimum learned their triggers and what works or doesn’t work for them and don’t treat them like a pariah by going overboard in “warning” them that (shock!) some other people may drink. Confirm with your bartender to stop serving anyone who has consumed too much, and be sure there are plenty of tasty non-alcoholic choices for anyone refraining from alcohol.

  4. I think having the bar only be open until a certain time is a good way to handle this. I don’t love the idea of only serving beer and wine unless you can’t afford anything else, only because mixed drinks are fun and some people really like their scotch (and sip it responsibly). In the end, one the things I just decided to accept when I got married is that whether they act like it or not, my friends and family are all adults, and I am going to persist in treating them as such, especially when it makes my life less complicated to do so.

  5. Two Words
    Drink Tickets.
    We are having a cash bar with drink tickets. Select people will get tickets under at their place settings. We will not have enough tickets for everyone and the people who have a tendancy to go overboard will have to pay to do so. I’m not interested in having drunk or even tipsy guests….I’ve had some pretty horrid experiances at weddings with open bars….

    • Respectfully, won’t this make the non-drink ticket guests feel like they are less important than the drink ticket guests? Even if you don’t see it that way, I wouldn’t want some of my guests feeling second-class next to the “special” ones.

      • I agree. IF you can’t afford to give it everyone, give it to no one.
        Also, how will you let those ‘select’ people know they have a ticket?

    • With all due respect, if I saw the person next to me had drink tickets, and I didn’t, I would probably find the maitre de and let them know there was a mistake. When they informed me that there was no mistake and that I wasn’t given any, I’d probably take my gift and go home. That would be extremely insulting to me. There’s a pretty good chance that would be the end of our friendship as well.

    • In that case, I think it’s best to give everyone one (or two) drink tickets rather than selecting some people and not others. Then if you want to slip some folks some extra tickets because “Hey thanks for helping to set up” or “thanks for all the help with preparations” you can gift those extra tickets to people without others necessarily feeling left out–all most will probably see is that there are tickets and not be policing how many someone else has. Just let those people know, these are for yourself, please don’t share.

  6. I’m not sure what the structure of your reception is–my husband and I had a very small afternoon wedding (10 guests) and took everyone out to a restaurant for an early dinner afterwards.

    We did have some alcoholism concerns at the outset, but it all worked out. I’m guessing this was due to the fact that we were all seated together over a meal that took about 2.5 hours from start to finish, instead of the 4+ hours of most receptions. There wasn’t as much down time, so people were otherwise occupied with ordering food, consuming food, and chatting.

    Not sure if that’s helpful, but it worked well for us!

  7. Love the idea about photo-caution!

    We had a fully open bar (everything including top shelf — major venue selling point for my husband, haha), despite a few family members who have had / are struggling with alcoholism. We were just really up front with the bartenders ahead of time, who were good about cutting people off if they needed to be — and one family member took it upon himself to introduce himself to the bartender, and told him not to let him drink too much because “he knew he had a problem and didn’t want to ruin our night”. (Bartender told me this!) So for us, just being honest with people worked out really well.

    I do have a bit of a disaster story regarding a dry wedding gone bad, though: I was the Maid of Honour for my friend’s wedding… and she had a certain bunch of family who were super religious and anti-alcohol, so they decided to have a dry wedding, because even having a bottle of wine on the table would set that certain continent into an uproar. This resulted in: the Best Man, knowing it was going to be dry in advance, having a flask in his jacket pocket, already drunk during the ceremony (and he had to drive us to the reception!); many guests heading to the hotel bar to get a drink, leaving the reception; and worst of all, a bunch of the groom’s buddies getting the bride/groom’s hotel room key from the groom’s mother, ordering room service and passing out drunk in their bed, which we found when I went to help her get changed out of her wedding dress at the end of the night. It was really, really sad to see how people couldn’t just respect their decision (and also how caving to one crowd caused so many more problems than a few people freaking out over a bottle of wine might have been)! Probably wouldn’t have been so bad if they weren’t in a hotel with alternative places to get alcohol, though.

    It’s important to find that balance, I think.

  8. What about closing the bar early? Like not having it open all night? I think that if we weren’t straight-edge and thus having a reception that also has booze that we’d a bartender to cut people and then close the bar with no “last-call” announcement, just close it and start serving water/iced tea/soda etc….

    Just a thought πŸ™‚

    • I have friends who did this something like this. They used drink tickets for cocktail hour so that it was one drink per person. Then they served coffee, tea, and water with dinner and cake. They did all of the speeches, cake cutting, first dance, bouquet tossing, etc. immediately after dinner, and then had an open bar for a couple of hours while people danced and mingled. It basically divided the reception into a formal piece with dinner and an informal dance party afterwards. Plus, her older/more conservative friends and relatives were able to leave when the music got loud (if they wanted to) without feeling like they were missing out on anything because all of the traditional “wedding” stuff was over.

      • That’s what we’re doing, it’s pretty much the ‘traditonal’ set up of a British wedding (at least the ones I’ve been too). It seems to work well because as you say people can pick and choose which bits they want to come to. Then you can invite people just to the evening bit- the reception which means they’re not completely left out but you don’t have to pay Β£60 per head for acquaintances or distant relatives but you don’t leave them out completely.
        That still might not be the answer for everyone but I feel have separate sections of a wedding really helps guests and the people getting married, you can layout what you’d like in those slots and guests know whats expected of them. I think sometimes offbeat weddings get accused of being selfish or ‘confusing’ (unfairly) because while we sway from the well trodden path of the WIC we also create an event society (and most importantly our loved ones) have never been to or experienced.
        It’s tough to deal with when your mum or grandfather is saying but without XXX how will people know it’s a wedding? Or the dismissive – it’s tacky.
        I think the key to overcoming this (on the day before that you’ll just have to keep firefighting, or being mysterious) is to give your guests some social cues to follow.
        Eg – ‘drinks/a bar will be provided.’
        I saw this in a comment above, I love how open ended it is.
        The newly weds would like to have a picture with each guest in the photo booth, see you there between 4-6. Drinks and snacks also provided.
        We request your presence not presents but if you’d really like to treat us with a gift then please donate to this charity/donate to our honeymoon fund/check out our registry/surprise us!

  9. We were also concerned about this at our wedding so we limited the types of alcohol available. Unfortunately our party-hardy crowd wasn’t going to follow the rules and many of them went and bought what they wanted and brought it in. Fortunately no one got sloppy, well, maybe some did but we were too busy to care by that point.

  10. Our venue’s policy was that the bar could only be open for two hours. You could consider having a time limit, rather than/as well as a cutting-off policy. We had alcohol available from noon to two (lunch wedding!) and I don’t remember any problems — I was definitely the drunkest person at the wedding.

  11. I’ve found that the best solutions are:
    1. Open cocktail hour, cash bar afterwards (everyone gets just enough to get them dancing, but are not a sloppy mess)
    2. Open beer & wine, cash mixed drinks
    3. Have a couple bottles of white and red wine on the tables (with a bottle of sparkling cider for the NA guests). Only replace the sparkling cider when the bottles are empty.
    4. Serve Sangria all night. It’s delicious, and you can change the alcohol content with each batch. Maybe start it off at “full potency” at the beginning, then by the end of the night water it down to the point of being juice. Nobody will know the difference and it’s a very affordable option.

    And now for a personal opinion on dry/cash bars! Hooray for advice you didn’t ask for! πŸ™‚
    As a wedding videographer, I get a little bit deflated when I see a full cash bar– In more cases than not, this usually translates to nobody dancing, which translates to not a whole lot of action for me to shoot, which translates to a more subdued video. I may sound obnoxious to those who are having a dry wedding/cash bar, but it’s the truth– keeping the guests from enjoying a cocktail will not only effect the guests experience, but it will also have a direct impact on what your photographer and videographer can deliver. I’m not saying that everybody should be slinging back enough booze to kill a small horse, but that glass of Merlot will be just enough to get Grandma up and dancing, or your shy sister-in-law to relax and rock the floor during “Shout.” I guarantee that the photos captured from the dance floor of your guests smiling and enjoying the music will be far superior to the flat, seated-at-the-table shots. You don’t have to spend a Zillion dollars on a full open bar– a little goes a long way πŸ™‚

  12. Our venue is limited to beer and wine, plus one signature cocktail. We’re planning on having lots of non-alcoholic drinks too, including a mock version of the signature cocktail. Since we have to have our sound system off by 10 anyhow, we’re planning on wrapping things up early-ish (say, 9:30), and letting people know that there will be an after-party in town. We’re going to be providing shuttles, which will hopefully discourage lingering at the reception venue. The hope is that folks who want to keep things going all night will pace themselves for the after-party, keeping the reception itself relatively shenanigan free.

  13. We really only have one person we’re concerned about with the alcohol, but we’re having self-serve alcohol instead of a bartender. So our plan is to talk to that individual and get them to agree not to drink at all. Then assigning them an unofficial “alcohol monitor”, someone they know, trust and usually listen to, who has the job of reminding them honor their promise should they stray too close to the wine bottles.

  14. I think there are some really great suggestions here. One thing I think might help is making sure people are drinking things other that booze before the party starts. My brother got married last week and it was fairly hot and their ceremony was outdoors. So, they offered pretty flavored water in jugs while people were waiting for the ceremony to begin. People were hydrated, so cocktail hour (which I think was just sparkling wine with a strawberry garnish) didn’t hit people so hard. Also, maybe consider having decanters of water on the tables during the reception. That way, people will have to get up to get a drink at the bar and if they’re having a great conversation, they might just fill their glasses with water. I think the key is making it more convenient for people to drink non-alcoholic beverages. Good luck!

  15. This was the number one thing we fought about the whole year and a half we were planning. Because we are youngish and I like to have the option to drink but did not have a ton of money for an open Bar, and we have a handful of people who we did not want to ruin our night myself included. So what ended up happening was we bought enough wine for everyone to have about 2 glasses of wine. There was a bar outside the room where the reception was being held so people who wanted the hard stuff were able to go buy what they wanted and bring it back. A few people also brought in there own alcohol which would have been bad had they been caught but they weren’t. We had 4 bottles of wine left over! and no one got so smashed that there were any incidents that upset or “ruined” our day. With all the arguing we did about the wine it ended up perfectly and we had a lovely wedding.

  16. We are planning our ceremony for a year from now, and had similar concerns. This was my action plan:

    – I talked to the people I know that don’t drink for various reasons and said, “It is important for me to have you at my reception, and I am planning on having alcohol. What do you need to feel comfortable?” It was super easy to meet most of their needs (not sitting at a table with heavy drinkers, having tasty drink alternatives, etc.)
    – I am talking to the family I am worried about directly and compassionately to tell them I really want fond memories
    – No hard alcohol
    – During dinner, the caterer will be distributing beverages. That limits the number of refills people are getting
    – We are buying all of the alcohol instead of doing an open bar (our venue is an art gallery), so once it is done, it is done.
    – We are providing drink tickets for post-dinner beverages.
    – There are a few friends that have volunteered to be designated drivers, and we are giving them special thank you gifts for keeping our loved ones safe.

  17. I like the drink ticket idea, as well as only serving alcohol during specific times. Maybe foregoing a cocktail hour (or cutting drinks off at the tail end of the cocktail hour, with an announcement like ‘bar is closing, get your last drink, until champagne is served’)…that discourages overdrinking. Or have the bar close 1/2 way through dinner. Or pick a time of day for the receptioon that discourages drunken revelry…nobody really wants to be shitfaced at an 11am reception πŸ˜‰

  18. We are doing wine and beer and mead only, at a lunch reception. No hard alcohol. this is because it’s lunch, it’s less expensive, and that’s all we ever drink anyways. Our families and friends aren’t that into cocktails or hard alcohol. Except for one person, I think that will be sufficient for preventing drunkeness. I’m planning on having a bouncer for that one person. If he get’s drunk and starts being a bastard, he’s getting kicked out.

  19. I had the same concern at my wedding. We had a wonderful bartender who was very comfortable cutting people off, and his success was obvious – despite the open bar, no one of our 150 guests was sloppy.

    I was worried because some of our guests are DRINKERS. However, we had a Halloween costume reception. Bizarre as it may seem, it appeared that people were having such a good time interacting with each other, eating cookies from the cookie table and cake, and dancing to our dj that they didn’t flock to the bar as much as I’ve seen them do at less engaging/immersive/distracting events. So, giving your guests stuff to do, and the (assured!) awesomeness of your pending nuptials *may* help deter excess drinking as well!

  20. I felt stuck about alcohol too, neither my fiance or I ever drank but we felt we needed to have something for guests. I was concerned about over drinking too so we only allowed beer and wine. Our venue gave us a couple of options and seeing the prices of everything, we ended up saying that we would do a tab and once that amount was reached it would become a cash bar. I felt a little tacky doing that but we were already spending enough for everything else. I warned guests that if they expected to drink, the bar would turn into a cash one at some point, be prepared and everyone still had a great time!

  21. The hubs and I wrestled with a similar issue when we got married. He and most of his family don’t drink at all, and my whole family does, and one half of my family REALLY does. We resolved this issue the best we could by having our wedding in the middle of the afternoon and not making a big deal out of the bar. We had our reception at a restaurant and they couldn’t close the bar, but it was on the a different level than the main party was.

  22. To be honest, we didn’t have any alcohol at our wedding, even though it was on Cinco de Mayo, and it still worked out awesome.

    It was mainly for personal reasons, as my guy and I didn’t want any drunks at our wedding (some of the people attending would have drunk themselves under the table, and we didn’t want to deal with any of that). Plus, woot for saving monies! (booze is expensive!)

    So instead we served sweet tea, unsweetened tea, punch and water. It was pretty nice to have everyone sober, and no stress on our end about dealing with certain relatives. =)

  23. We’ve had many of the same thoughts but still want to do an open bar.
    To curb over-drinking, we’re only doing beer and wine through cocktail hour AND dinner. After everyone has eaten, then the full alcohol open bar will start.
    Also, be sure to provide a lot of water! Our wedding is in Las Vegas in July, and although it is indoors, just traveling is hot, so we’re going to have some fresh lemon water, cucumber water, etc. at our ceremony, as well as cocktail hour and the reception.
    Also, you can ask your bartender to NOT serve shots. Many venues actually will not serve shots at events like weddings.

  24. It seems like most the comments vary between “mitigate how much alcohol you serve total” versus “deal with individuals directly.” The other thing I would suggest would be, if you have mutual friends or family that can serve this role, would be specifically designating “handlers” who agree to keep on eye on individuals with whom they have a close relationship and rapport, who may have known addiction issues. Drinking wasn’t really an issue for us– we had a weekend wedding with plenty of BYOB and hosted beer & wine at the reception, so there was no frantic-flask-chugging going on as in the dry wedding scenario above — but a close family member has addiction issues with opiates and other drugs, and a friend and another close family member helpfully volunteered to “handle” him on the day of. (This ended up being useful when they had to haul him to the ceremony because he was detoxing/dry and throwing up all day…) We had a long discussion with his mom, who initially thought of the idea of asking him to be clean for our wedding, but it’s just not acceptable or fair, and definitely not realistic, to expect people who have addiction, which is a real physical and mental illness, to be completely clean just becuase it’s your wedding.

  25. We didn’t have alcohol for our “cocktail hour”, just artisan sodas. We weren’t serving food until dinner, and decided that having people fill up on booze with an empty stomach was a bad idea. Our bar didn’t open until after dinner, but we served wine at the tables. When the bar did open, it was an open bar, but we didn’t allow shots.

    We were pressured, several times, to open the bar early, and stuck to our guns. Family that really felt the need to drink before dinner left to do so. We have a large variety of “functional alcoholics” in our family, and they can usually be counted on to behave fairly well, but there were a few that our wedding planner was keeping an eye on.

  26. I echo a lot of previous suggestions with a limited bar of beer and wine, and I also want to add that focusing on food with a heavy rich entree will prevent people from overdoing it. Something cheesy or fatty.

    • We had a pasta bar. People filled up on noodles and didn’t have much room to drink to excess. Even my bridesmaid, who can drink with the best of ’em, barely consumed any whiskey because she was so full of pasta.

  27. I’ve been to a number of weddings where champagne was served (flutes filled, passed by servers on silver trays) for the first toast, & that was either the only alcohol or the only other alcohol was 1 bottle of wine per table at dinner for 6 or 8 people (thus 1 small glass per person). Looks classy & keeps the booze to a minimum.

  28. We’re having a cash bar, which will certainly slow people down. Another idea I like is drink tickets. You can give your guests X drinks for free, but they have to pay for any others. Chances are they won’t want to pay for extra.

  29. Only serving wine or beer isn’t going to keep people from getting drunk if they’re determined to do so. Especially if beer or wine is their drink of choice to begin with.
    You might be serving wine by the glass and not realize that your cousin is drinking it by the bottle. The only real way to limit how much a person drinks is to limit the number of glasses being served to each person – which, admittedly, is probably easier with beer or wine served with food.

  30. What our friends did at their wedding was to have the bar “open” for only certain people, and even at that there was a 300$ cap, in their case it was whoever had a boutinear on or a corsage was on the “list” and the bartender knew not to charge them.. to everyone else it was a cash bar.

    For them it was their wedding party only, but this could also be a good way to limit the “open” bar-ness, either by limiting WHO can have free drinks to those who you think can handle it… OR by setting a CAP so once it’s reached, too bad so sad it is now a cash bar (which can discourage some of the sloppier drunks) Or some combo of the two πŸ™‚

    • I really feel like I need to add my 2Β’ here. First, only certain people get drink tickets or free bar? I would notice that, and I would feel excluded and extremely put out. Second, I know weddings are different in different areas of the country, but here in NJ, you just don’t see cash bars. If I ever went to a wedding with a cash bar, I don’t expect that I would stay very long. I don’t get smashed, but I definitely have a drink or two to loosen up and have a good time. Third, with all due respect to all of you saying how wonderful people thought your wedding was, even if I had an absolutely rotten time, I’d still tell you how perfect it was and how much I enjoyed myself. I recently went to a wedding with a cash bar (even soft drinks – $3 for a seltzer water. It’s water. With bubbles. $3??), no vegetarian entree, no cocktail hour and terrible music. And my date was seated at the attendant table and I was seated elsewhere. I was thirsty, hungry and bored. But I still told the couple what a beautiful wedding it was and how I had an amazing time. This is one of the times you lie. I like what the videographer up there said. No alcohol means less dancing and interacting.

      • Uggh. Sounds like that wedding was full of rude-tastic behavior towards the guests. I hate when people sit SO’s separately.

        • They were an extremely young couple, so I don’t think it was rude so much as ignorance. I’m old enough to have been to many weddings, and so I know things by now.

        • I got sat next to my SO at the head table because he was a groomsman. I was really freaked out by that. I’d never seen that before!! In that case there were other friends I could have sat with, and I think I would have been much happier with that. His “job” at the head table only lasted an hour, after that no one was sitting down anyway. But everyone kept wanting to talk to me, and I ended up in all their pictures, and I had only met the bride and groom the day before. Awkward. Not cool. Split them up or put them both in the wedding party or don’t invite the SO.

  31. I went directly to the source – I had a few family members that I knew were not good with alcohol. I told them directly that I would appreciate it if they didn’t drink at the wedding, even though I was extremely nervous about the reaction – we had an open bar, for crying out loud! I also let them know that once I was gone, and the after party started, do what you want as long as you get a cab ride home! I was very lucky, in that the reaction was well received. I also made sure to approach it as diplomatically as I could, and emphasize the fact that I was so extremely happy that they were there. If you think it is something you can approach one-on-one, I say go for it, especially if you know that over-drinking is a likely scenario, vs. something that may-or-may-not happen.

  32. I think anything that allows some guests access to an open bar and others not, is problematic and not very polite.

    It should be all or nothing. If you really think someone you are inviting (and really want to be present) can’t handle being in the presence of alcohol, don’t have it at all.

    If you just are trying to micromanage friends who get a little crazy, decide how much it matters to you and use the suggestions above to stage your bar accordingly.

    Finally, remember your guests are not a reflection of you and if someone does get a little drunk, it’s not going to ruin your day. You are married to the partner of your dreams surrounded by friends and family. Chill out.

    • Thank you! I was starting to feel like the only person who felt having tiered guests was rude!

      I know we don’t like the word “tacky” here, because everyone has a different vision and budget for their wedding day- and that’s awesome. But I think ANY wedding- whether a vegan handfasting or a traditional fluffy church shindig- must follow the simple rule of hosting their guests properly, which means not treating some guests as more important than others. Think of how badly you’d feel if you were at a reception and were served chicken, pasta, and juice and some select guests were served steak, shrimp, and free cocktails. You’d feel second-class, right? I can guarantee that even if your guests ACT like this is okay, they are really feeling hurt and probably talking about you behind your back. Any wedding with guests, no matter the budget, needs a chair for every butt, a meal for every mouth, and a personal thank-you-for-coming from the wedded couple. Have a limited open bar if you can’t afford top shelf liquor, or even a dry wedding if you can’t afford to host any booze. Don’t make your guests pay for upgrades and trust that your guests are adults and can handle themselves around alcohol, or have the bartenders cut them off.

  33. I’ve worked at restaurants that had a lot of rehearsal dinners and engagement parties, and other non-wedding events as well. The best thing I’ve seen from a service perspective is drink tickets followed by cash bar, or simply stopping after the tickets. Most venues will provide tickets for you, and may prefer to so they can control the flow. Then they can also set out one-to-however many at each place setting. People who aren’t drinking can give away their tickets. Your party stays lubricated enough to dance but not sloppy.

    Also, having a professional bartender and service staff is better than just friends for these situations. We’re used to cutting people off and having them get mad. Your guests will be less likely to try to bargain with a stranger than a friend as well.

    Another thing is to have food out during your cocktail hour, if you have one. Then people who might be nervous- or boredom- consumers will have food to eat instead of just pounding drinks.

    You can also tell your bartender/service staff/manager about certain people who might need to be cut off early or might be trouble. You can also let them know that you don’t want your party getting all the way to the legal cut-off limit of intoxicated and have them stop people at just buzzed.

    Also offer non-alcoholic mixed drinks like flavored lemonades or italian cream sodas. Often times they come in fancy glasses, are pretty, tasty, and feel more special than just water after everyone has used up their drink tickets, if you go that route.

    You could also maybe talk to the people you’re concerned about and let them know that even though this is a big party and going to be a lot of fun that your and your fiance(e)’s families are going to be there so its not the same as your big raucous nights out and should temper their drinking. You don’t even have to tell them that you’re worried about them directly. Maybe while talking to them mention that you’re really worried about some people getting drunk and offending your grandmother/father/aunt/whoever. Then they get the seed of not drinking heavily planted in their head without being accused.

  34. As someone who is currently in therapy to deal with having a hard time being around people drinking because my father was an abusive alcoholic, I totally can relate. Even though my fiance drinks while I don’t (maybe 5 beers a year- basically on a very very rare and special occasion will I have a drink), we considered having a keg at the reception. We are now having the wedding in a national park that bans booze- which is a wonderful excuse. Both of us have many alcoholic family members.

    As my therapist says, you cannot control other people’s behavior. You can only control your reaction to it and set the terms of certain behavior to allow them to be a part of your life.

    Alcoholics will figure out a way to drink if they want to drink. The ideas of talking with people one on one can be good but won’t always work out. Even if your wedding is dry they might drink anyways. Remember that they have an addiction.

    the drink ticket thing is good with people who aren’t alcoholics but might go overboard at a wedding. There is a difference between the two types of people and so dealing with them requires a different approach.

    In the end remember that their behavior is no reflection on you. You cannot control them. They might promise to act a certain way if you talk to them and that still doesn’t mean that they will. Accepting the things you cannot change is an important component of dealing with alcoholics if you still want to include them in the event.

    I wish everyone the best in trying to deal with these issues.

  35. The main problem I have is not all of my guest over-imbiding; just one, my birth father. We’ve had a rocky relationship due to his drinking and he has not gone to rehab or AA, anything of the sort. He’s gotten better at not doing it openly infront of me though; we want to have an open bar but we don’t want my dad to drink… Anyone know of a polite way of saying “If you plan on drinking you will be kicked out of the wedding” (he’s a very rude drunk)

    • I tend to think that directness is to your advantage in situations like this. I see nothing wrong with saying “Dad, we want our wedding reception to be full of positive, happy memories. We ask that you refrain from drinking. If you choose to drink, you will be asked to leave the reception.” That states your purpose, your expectation, and the reasonable consequence. After that, the ball is in his court.

      • Being open is great. I went to a wedding where the mother of the bride had gotten very drunk at wedding of a different child. So the bride was scared she would make a fool of herself at her wedding. So everyone at her table baby sat her and monitored her drinks. She didn’t notice, but if she caught on, I could foresee feeling getting hurt real fast.

      • Yes, exactly!

        My Opa was (apparently – I never met him) a raging alcoholic and my mother told him that he had to be on his best behaviour on her wedding day or would be kicked out (or not allowed in at all, if he was drinking beforehand). To this day, she marvels over how good he acted all day. I believe they weren’t on speaking terms before her wedding, and definitely weren’t after (as evidenced by my never meeting him). But whenever she talks about her wedding day, she has happy stories and memories about her dad.

        I think that kind of direct approach is the best, especially if he’s already taken steps to not do it in front of you already. My experience with people in my family who haven’t engaged in any sort of recovery is that they’re willing to try for special people on special days πŸ™‚ It’s essentially what I did to my uncle as well, if you see my comments above….and I think he’s the one that introduced himself to the bartender as having a problem, because he knew he’d get kicked out if he slipped up that night.

  36. My fiance and I don’t have specific guests we are worried about, but frankly, we both have a good number of more eccentric family members, and my family is Irish on top if it! Actually, the recovered alcoholics are the ones I’m least worried about, they stay sober even at parties where everyone else is drinking.

    But we are thinking of doing either a limited open bar (wine, beer and a signature cocktail and cut off alcohol shortly after dinner), drink tickets, or both. The main thing we want to avoid is having sloppy drunk people around the kids that will be there, especially since my fiance’s custody agreement with his son’s mother prohibits having him around people who are drunk/high/whatever.

    My fiance wants to kick people out of our reception (send them home in a taxi) if they get sloppy, but I’m wondering if it may be better to assign a good friend to wrangle any drunk people into a quiet corner where they can sober up a bit?

  37. I really like the idea of drink tickets and no hard liquor combo. My hubby and I are avid drinkers, we love beer, I love the history surrounding drinks and culture, and we even brew our own beer and mead. That said, we usually don’t drink more than a glass a night, and rarely get “drunk” So we wanted drinks at our wedding, but didn’t want people to be passed out drunk. We had only one bad drinker, which resulted in my Maid of Honor crying, but still having extremely pleasant memories of the wedding.

    That said, if you still want to have signature cocktails I would suggest making a “weak” cocktail. Maybe doing something like a sangria, or something like hard cider sangria, beer mixed drinks, or soju cocktail. Soju is a Korean rice alcohol which is kind-of like a watered down vodka. You could take any punch that uses vodka, and replace it with soju.

    Also ask which glasses drinks are being served in. Glasses have gotten larger over the years, which means, more is drunk. As your venue how many ounces the glasses hold, ask not to fill them all the way, or if they won’t use certain larger glasses.

  38. My suggestions to clients who want to keep drinking under control is to serve beer and wine only (& maybe a signature drink during the cocktail hour); have experienced, professional bartenders, and close the bar at least 1/2 hour before the end of the event. Offer a coffee station near the end of the evening.

  39. We did beer and wine only for a couple reasons. 1) We didn’t want people smashed. 2) It’s cheaper than doing a full bar. 3) Even if we did a full bar we couldn’t decide on which types of liquor to carry.

    Our caterers let us handle the alcohol/beverage purchasing/prepping and we handed it over to them to serve, so we just hauled ourselves off to costco, got three (or four?) cases of wine and something like five cases of beer for our wedding of 85-ish guests who were mostly adults. It was pretty inexpensive, which was great, and we got to decide what we wanted to drink at our wedding. Good beer! We ended up with at least an entire case of wine and an entire case of beer (or more) left over that took us another few months to finish off. It worked out well.

    There were a couple friends who we knew would be likely to BOYB and we just let it slide and figured it would get dealt with when/if it happened. A couple friends brought flasks (but shared with others so they didn’t get smashed!) and another couple friends brought some mini bottles, but no one got truly wasted. It all worked out swimmingly.

  40. Several suggestions:
    – Low alcohol beer (no triple IPAs) and wine only
    – Small glasses (the 8 oz solo cup, not the 16 oz)
    – Make sure there is lots of water everywhere
    – Have starchy alcohol absorbing food at cocktail hour
    – Consider a morning or early afternoon wedding
    – Plenty of rolls or other bread at dinner

  41. Aw man, I feel like the odd one out right now. When we picked our venue, BYO alcohol was a huge bonus. I want people to relax and have a good time. I want to BE relaxed and have a good time myself! There will be copious amounts of booze at my wedding.

    That said, here in Australia it isn’t such a big deal to have a cash bar at a wedding. Often, the wedding party will have a tab but everyone else has to pay. Or maybe theres a beer & wine package for a few hours, and you pay after that. I would discourage setting a certain cash limit – it encourages the heavy drinkers to use up as much of that limit as they can before it runs out.

    Drink tickets remind me of skeezy pub crawls and choosing between the cheapest, nastiest alcohol options. I’d rather a cash bar with a nice selection, over drink tickets.

  42. I don’t know if this has been said yet, but I was talking with my sister about this exact same issue the other day. My fiance and I are not big drinkers (though we do enjoy an occasional drink), but I have family and some friends who may get a little out of hand. Not like, getting into fist fights and passing out/getting alcohol poisoning (which I’ve seen at other weddings) drunk. But tipsy enough that they probably shouldn’t be driving (and they will have to drive home/to a hotel afterwards).

    My original plan had been to have a keg of beer, local cranberry wine (my favorite), hard cider (the groom’s favorite). and a boozy 18th century punch (we’re historians). But my fiance also like gin and tonics and I like amaretto sours and we have a ton of friends who like rum and cokes.

    SO – my sister’s idea was to get those stopper top pourers that measure out exactly one ounce (it’s actually a little less usually) and then click and stop, and then you have to tip the bottle all the way back upright and over again to pour more. I wasn’t planning on having a bartender (it’ll depend on our venue), but that would be a really awesome way to remind people exactly how much alcohol they are drinking and so that they don’t make their drinks accidentally over strong (intentionally over strong is another kettle of fish, but at least it takes effort then). It also lets people like me pour an ounce or even less, if we want drinks that aren’t going to get us totally sloshed.

    So that’s just another thought for self-policing.

  43. We have a lot of family members who do not drink. We do not want to offend anyone at the reception so we want to have a buffet meal then the cake cutting and during this time we would just have water, tea, soft drinks. We will wait until after cake cutting to offer beer and wine. That way those who do not drink can enjoy most of the festivities, then have the option to leave before we start serving alcohol. Is this ok?

    • Make sure you have all of the “formalities” out of the way (bouquet/garter toss, 1st dance, father/daughter & mother/son dances, etc.), so none of your guests who choose to leave early due to alcohol being served won’t miss out, or feel excluded.

      • Yes – we would definitely want to do all of those things! Would you have any suggestion as to how we would “announce” that we would be serving alcohol when we got ready to?

        • The best thing to do, as much as is possible, is through word of mouth *before* your wedding day. That way your guests can plan accordingly. You want to avoid having those who will most likely be leaving early because of alcohol from feeling like they suddenly have to cut their evening short.

  44. A couple other things come to mind.

    Have pretty printed reception “programs” done up. Only need 1 or 2 per table, or you can do 1 at each place setting if you prefer.

    Also, have non-alcoholic choices available. Google “mocktails” for some great recipes.

    My fav is called “Tastes Like Champagne.” Mix one 64 oz bottle white grape juice, one 32 oz bottle club soda & one 64 oz bottle 7-Up.

  45. My Wedding is at a friends farm, which he is letting us use for free and do whatever we want, which is a huge thing for us to not have to pay for a venue. The thing is, its about an hour away from where we live and where most of the guests will be coming from. This is our main concern for wanting to limit alcohol consumption. We will only be serving wine and beer which I know helps, but also thinking about ticketing. But how do you do that? I’m only 22, so there will be friends there who are not quite 21, and some family friends who have teenagers. Do you ID everyone before you give them tickets? Is that a big inconvenience? I hate carrying my wallet around especially in a nice dress for a wedding, so I can see how some women might not even think about bringing their ID. Is this something I should even be worried about? Also we do have a friend who works as a bartender who has volunteered to help us, and we have a separate table for non-alcoholic drinks.

  46. I just went through all of the comments, and I’d like to thank every one of you for your point of view (although most of you probably never see this). I have been thinking about this topic for a while now and I currently have come up with the following:
    When it comes to alcohol we will be serving only beer, low-alcohol cider, low-alcohol mead and wine. I will ask everyone what they want to drink during dinner on the RSVP card/form (as well as allergies/diet preferences).
    This way I can provide guests with the drinks they like and keep the consumption “in hand”.
    Serving mocktails, very low alcohol mead/beer/cider (<2%) and juices/lemonades during the rest of the day.

    We will have a fairly small wedding (40-50 adults) and neither of us drinks while we aren't against "some" drinking either, hence the low-alcohol solution πŸ™‚
    I am quite sure everyone will be content this way, with several glasses around dinner time for those who like the taste and at the same time ensuring the mood stays light and puke-free.

  47. I am having a cash bar as that is the norm here in the uk, but i am giving drink tickets to those who are just coming in the evening as they wont be given anything else to drink for free. Everyone else gets one for toasting. I will probably give some to anyone who has helped us out too as an extra thank you. There is no way i would ever do a cash bar as here in Glasgow thats not a loverly guesture its a challenge. I have also banned jagerbombs too, but thats cos my fh got wasted at our engagement party with his friends and fell into a table!!!

  48. We aren’t having alcohol at the ceremony, which begins at 3pm. Our reception begins at 5pm We plan on cutting off the alcohol at the bar off at 10pm (we have the venue until midnight) and also no bottles of wine on tables and no spirits. Also strong words to the bartenders to push guests to drink water before ordering another drink etc, I have worked enough weddings to see guests get very drunk to know I don’t want my guests behaving in that way. Fingers crossed it goes to plan

  49. At his first wedding my brother and his bride took the “guilt” route. He got up and announced that this was a happy day all around and that they would really like to not be marred by tragedy so to please enjoy responsibly. I thought it was brilliant. Sadly, the marriage didn’t last but his the second one has and even given me a niece! so woot!

  50. I had to rewrite this because I felt I was getting a little ranty and want to check my attitude. Lol.
    Personally, I think having a cash bar isn’t tacky. Look, some brides may be able to afford paying for their guests drinks and some may not. When it comes down to the choice, drinks for the guest or paying for that really good Photographer/DJ/Food etc., alcohol just falls to the bottom of the list.

    I can honestly say that, as a guest at a wedding where I had to pay cash for my alcohol, I didn’t mind it. There were a few people that complained but I thought less of them for failing to appreciate all the other work the couple put into the wedding just because they couldn’t drink themselves under the table.

    Now I’ve chosen a venue that offers champagne toasts but still has and cash bar because I just can’t afford to guess how much alcohol will be enough for my guests. They can still have all the water, tea and punch they could want but they will have to pay in order to get a buzz. It’s not me trying to be rude or wanting to hamper their fun, it’s just what I can afford to do.

    Just remember that brides genuinely feel bad if they can’t afford to give you that “open bar” policy. Don’t make them feel worse by complaining about it.

  51. Our venue is basically a blank slate so along with caterers for the food we are hiring a bar service. Some of my family are alcoholics and a couple of friends go overboard, and we are also planning afternoon activities that won’t go well with alcohol! So the solution we decided upon was limited availability of alcohol.

    We’ll serve alcohol with the meal after the ceremony, so the guests already have some booze on us. The bar will be open throughout the afternoon but only serving soft drinks (it will be in the summer so hydration is especially important). No more alcohol will be served until the evening. It’s also a cash bar, but we will give people drinks tickets. That way, they are likely to have a few free soft drinks on us throughout the day and by the time the bar is serving alcohol guests will probably be paying for their own and thus limiting the intake.

    We feel this is a good way of buying our guests drinks without paying for everything (which we couldn’t afford); and having a chunk of time after lunch with no booze available helps to pace consumption and avoid people drinking too much in too short a space of time. This may not work for everyone and ours is an all-day event so a few hours booze-free in the middle makes sense. For a shorter wedding/reception maybe have a shorter alcohol-free time in the middle?

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