Although this hasn't really been a problem we've had to deal with given the fact that our wedding venue is a summer cottage, for years other couples have been forced to face the open bar vs. cash bar conundrum. And because it's what I do, I've decided to weigh in on the situation.
My main motivation for doing so? I'm tired of couples feeling pressured by this and oftentimes being forced into having an open bar even when they a) don't really want it b) can't afford it. Honestly, the pervasiveness of the wedding industry surprises even me sometimes. For years, the industry has done it's best to convince couples that it would be rude not to have an open bar, that it somehow causes them to fail to fulfill their duties as hosts, and that their guests will be hurt, offended, appalled, disgusted, horrified, shocked, *insert negative emotion of choice here* if they don't give in to the idea.
Take this article from The Knot, for example:
Q: Is it improper to have a cash bar at our reception, even if we will have around 400 people and don't have the money to provide for everyone?
A: While it is often necessary to find ways to cut costs, a cash bar is never a good choice. When you have a wedding, you're inviting people to a party, and they shouldn't have to pay for anything while they're there. [...]
Seriously? 400 people and they're still expected to have an open bar? Wouldn't that cost... um, about a bijjillion dollars? Oh, and as a warning, stay far, far away from the boards on The Knot if you're even thinking about a cash bar. Because they have etiquette police that will hunt you down and beat you with an old edition of Emily Post's wedding etiquette book.
As I watched my guilty pleasure/wedding planning show "Rich Bride, Poor Bride" tonight, the couple in question was discussing the possibility of a cash bar. Of course, the wedding planner was appalled by the idea, the bride wanted to have it, and the groom didn't want to fork over the cash. How'd they convince him? With this gem: "Well, just think about it. Would you invite friends and family over to your house and ask them to pay to drink? No, of course you wouldn't." And although he fired back with an extremely valid point: "Well, no, but I also wouldn't be offering them a $72 spread of food". A solid piece of logic which that they conveniently chose to ignore.
As I've already expressed in this post, I don't tend to subscribe to the "they're your guests, so you need to entertain them properly" philosophy that the wedding industry tries to shove down our throats. I've never felt the need to embrace my "duty" as a hostess, and I don't intend to ruin our budget just to avoid pissing people off. I love our guests, yes. I want them to enjoy the day, yes. But do I think that I need to provide $5,000 worth of booze to make them happy, ah hell no.
Personally, if I were to show up to a wedding with a cash bar, I wouldn't think anything of it. If I showed up to a wedding where they offered no booze, I'd be just as content. Then again, I'm not a big drinker, but even so, as far as I'm concerned, anyone who shows up to a wedding and gets pissed because the couple isn't breaking the bank to give guests a couple drinks can be told exactly where to go. Which is something I've already done with the two individuals that have expressed dislike for our booze-free wedding. While I understand that many people come to weddings expecting booze and some might even attend solely for the purpose of free food and the opportunity to get drunk, I'm not worried. For us, it's more important that our wedding be about the celebration of our union and the fewer people walking around in a drunken stupor, the better.
In addition to my stance against the wedding industry, we have a few practical reasons for excluding alcohol from our wedding:
1) The owners of our venue, my grandparents, are very strong in their religious faith and neither of them drink. So seeing friends and family slurring words and acting crazy (which, as unlikely as it may be, is always a possibility when there's alcohol available) could easily have the ability to ruin the reception for them.
2) Our venue is 40 minutes out of our main city and any overnight accommodations (except for an Inn which has 6 rooms, 3 of which are already booked for our wedding) are about 30 minutes away. Therefore, eliminating the possibility of drinking and driving is a necessity.
3) The cost. We simply don't care about it enough to fork over that kind of dough.
Like just about every issue with wedding planning, I desperately wish the wedding industry would get off people's backs when it comes to the bar. If you want it and can afford it, then kudos to you. But for everyone else who's having a booze-free or cash bar wedding, kudos to you too. So quit feeling guilty, don't feel like you're failing as a host, and don't feel like you're disappointing your guests. (I mean it, stop it. Right now.) Because more likely than not, the majority of your guests will be so thrilled to have seen you celebrate your love that the bar will be far from their minds.
Plus, think of it this way, even if you don't have the booze-a-flowin', you'll still be married. You'll still have each other. And you'll still be in love. Well, hopefully you will be.