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The bar is the beating heart of every great event. It’s a gathering place and a conversation starter, not to mention an expression of your talent as a planner. But is your bar being done right? Whether to serve alcohol and how to go about it is a critical decision in setting the perfect tone for your event. Start by deciding on an open bar, hosted bar or cash bar, and don’t forget to know all the pros and cons that come with each option.

What is an open bar?

At an open bar, the drinks have been prepaid by the host. These are paid at an hourly rate plus a bartending fee, and rates can increase based on the quality of the beer, liquor or wine.  

Open bar pros

  • A classy way to treat your guests and typically expected at certain events like weddings and high-level corporate functions.
  • Reduces lines and wait time by eliminating transactions with the bar staff.
  • It allows you to control what your guests drink through pre-selected items (and push custom cocktails that integrate your theme).
  • No surprises at the end of the night, the final tab is prepaid before the event.


Open bar cons

  • It can be a waste of budget for small groups or groups not expected to drink much.
  • Guests can over-indulge leading to excessive drunkenness or having to cut-off offenders.
  • It can be expensive… after all, you are buying everyone’s drinks!

What is a hosted bar?

A hosted bar is the flip side of an open bar - the drinks are paid for at the end of the night. Hosted bars will count bottles or measure the amount of alcohol poured, and run a final tab at the end of the event.


Hosted bar pros

  • There’s no guesswork and no waste. You’ll only be charged for exactly what your guests consume.
  • Like an open bar, it reduces lines and wait time by eliminating transactions with the bar staff.

Hosted bar cons

  • Unlike an open bar, there is no limit, guests can consume as much as they want, and you’ll be stuck with the bill.
  • Like an open bar, guests can still over-indulge, taking away from the tone of the event.

What is a cash bar?

A cash bar operates like any other commercial bar experience - guests can order whatever they want but are expected to pay (and tip) the bar staff after each round.

Cash bar pros

  • By making your guests pay for their own drinks, they’ll drink less, resulting in less drunkenness and more engagement with the other aspects of your event.
  • Perfect for a small or limited budget considering one of your biggest expenses is being shifted to your guests.
  • Drink tickets can be given to guests as gifts or prizes.

Cash bar cons

  • Understand that some guests expect an open bar, and can therefore enter your cash bar event with a negative perception.


Be sure to know your audience, your budget, and your client’s expectations before committing to an open, hosted or cash bar. If you have a firm understanding of these things, there’s no wrong choice for your bar! Just provide your guests with a fun and unique experience that enhances your event, and you’re on your way to a better bar.