By Heather Brooks
Bar Talk – Not an Afterthought
I know, you’ve been all absorbed in the dress, the flowers, the perfect shoes that are cruelty-free. You maybe have already looked up some local caterers who offer plant-based options and dreamed of the perfect vegan wedding cake. Often the bar is left as an afterthought, but it’s one way to take your reception to the next next level. At the very least I hope to provide you some information here that won’t make it look like an afterthought!
You could start with a champagne hour. You’ve got all those lovely vegan-passed apps going around the room, you’ll want to plan what to wash them down with. It’s a time for folks to warm up to the event and whet their appetites for what’s to come.
Then there’s the reception! Signature cocktails? Maybe just wine and beer? When do we start? Where should it be? There are a lot of questions, and many opportunities to make it extra special. Take time to make good choices, but as with the rest of the wedding, determine what your bar budget is going to be.
First, there are ways to go big or go simple. One way to go big is mixed drinks and plenty of service staff, who not only help pour (making sure guests don’t have to wait in line too long for their “Henry and Abigail Hurricane” or “Manny and Tony Tequila Sunrise”), they also keep an eye on things, as well as clean up at the end.
It’s easy to think a bar won’t take much effort but don’t forget, somebody still has to receive those beverages, set them up, put out the ice, pour, mix, and clean up. That is why full-service catering is usually your best bet for any big event, so your friends and family can spend time with you. But if you’re having a small family picnic style wedding with fifty guests, you could pop hard ciders, bottled sodas, lemonades, teas, and wine coolers into big ice tubs with just a few helpers and hire some staffing for clean-up.
What about the liquor license? Every state and county is different. A good caterer can source the information you need and coordinate with your venue about the details. In most cases you’ll personally supply the alcohol and the staff will serve it, or guests will self-serve. Also, in most cases you cannot charge money for the drinks, and actually it’s often best at a wedding to avoid a cash bar. It is totally ok to have a tip jar out for staff if you want to, or you could ask them not to have a tip jar out and provide a tip for the servers yourself (which is a good idea anyway).
So what level of bar dazzling should you go for? This comes down to budget. Just keep in mind that the more products, bars, drinks, hands and rentals that have to be involved, the more it will cost.
Money’s No Object
- Have two bars in a large space or property: a small one for guest arrivals; a large one with bartenders for mixed drinks and alcohol.
- Start off with herb and fruit infused waters, sparkling water, tea, and lemonade. You could even do a lavender, rose, mint or other specialty flavored lemonade. When guests arrive they likely won’t have eaten and they might be thirsty, so plan for those eventualities.
- With champagne hour you could add in some lovely vegan wine and beer selections when the appetizers become available.
- The main bar starts pouring once things get rolling. You might prefer to wait until dinner is served, or you might be fine with the bar opening straight away. Keep in mind that staffing helps keep things on pace, so your caterer can advise you on all of the options for service.
- Signature cocktails, themed cocktails, cultural whiskies, brews, and cordials are all possibilities, as are local micro-brews, ales, and ciders. Are you Irish? Have some Irish whiskey! Or mixed drinks with Irish whisky as an ingredient.
- Champagne toast! Splurge on the bubbly! Since you’re already well-staffed for the bars, this will be easily handled by full-service caterers.
Money’s Kind of an Object
- One way to cut back on price is to stick to one bar. That means fewer rentals, and fewer servers. But don’t skimp on the bartenders if you plan on a big crowd. Your caterer will recommend the level of staff they think is needed and you should heed their advice to keep your guests from standing at the bar all night.
- Have some lovely fruit and herbal infused water towers for when guests arrive. Start with drinks at champagne hour. Then get the bar rolling once dinner kicks in. The staff will keep things on pace and make sure to keep serving sizes appropriate.
- One way to keep the expense of this down is with compostable single-use drinkware.
- A champagne toast is still important! There are ways to keep the cost of staffing down for the pour, which your full-service caterer can help you with.
I Like it Sweet and Simple
- One bar. You still need a couple of people to help with this. Somebody to bring and unpack the cases, set up the tubs, fill them with ice and all of that.
- This option really only works well for smaller weddings. If you’re on a stricter budget and have a larger wedding, try to work with your caterer to keep costs for the bar as low as possible, but throw in something special that is more budget-friendly, like herb-infused hard lemonade or a special seasonal sangria.
- Single serving drinks! This means nobody has to pour them and you don’t have to rent glasses. You can have an allotted number of wine bottles on the tables (somebody has to put them there, somebody has to open them, somebody has to collect the empties, and you’ll need to rent glasses or have compostable single-use drinkware).
- You can skip the champagne toast because even sparkling wine can get expensive, or you could spring for the staff to implement it and clean up after. I can’t stress enough how important some level of staffing is needed for any event that has a bar.
Now that you have some ideas about bars at your wedding, be sure to surf the web for vegan wines, there are a lot of wonderful resources and lists out there right now to help!
Heather Brooks lives near Washington, D.C.. She is the Wedding Specialist at D.C. Vegan Catering, a full-service catering company serving the DMV area, and is part of the management team. Heather is also an author of fiction, founder of the Women Authors of Maryland writers’ group and salons, and founder of The Write Women Book Fest.
Her journey towards veganism began with her daughter Amber, who decided she wanted to be a vegetarian at a young age. Heather is a big believer in empowering her daughters, so she worked at figuring out how to incorporate this new diet into their average American lifestyle. Read Heather’s articles