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Alcohol and Wedding Receptions?Everything You Will Need to Know

Sure you want your guests to enjoy themselves at your wedding reception, but if you don't want to break the bank or the law here's what you will need to know, including how to calculate how much to buy.

Unquestionably, one of the hottest topics that must be dealt with when planning a wedding reception is whether to have an open bar or a cash bar. Why does this particular topic tend to be so controversial?

Well, for one thing, some people will tell you that it would be rude to invite guests to your reception, then ask them to pay for their own drinks. On the other hand, an open bar-at which your guests drink for free, perhaps into the wee hours of the morning if they last that long-could leave you with a bill that will forever remain etched in your memory.

Both points of view are well taken. It's true that one wouldn't ordinarily invite people to dinner or a party with the expectation that they will pay for what you serve. But it is equally true that people tend to be overly indulgent, not to mention downright wasteful, with alcohol they aren't paying for. They will take a sip or two, set their glass down and begin talking, then walk away. Later, instead of returning for their glass, they will head for the bar to order yet another drink. So, what's the answer?

Options, Anyone

There really isn't a correct answer, but there are options. You could:

*Serve free champagne punch. Since it is relatively light in terms of alcohol content, your guests aren't as likely to become obnoxious, even if they've had more than their fair share.

*Have an open bar for the first hour or two. This approach will prevent you from feeling, and looking, like a cheapskate but will allow you to keep your bank account in the black.

*Have each table set to include the allocated bottles of wine or champagne. For example, a table seating six to eight people might be decked with two bottles of wine or champagne. Since you can expect each bottle to hold between 4 and six glassfuls, everyone will have one to two glasses for dinner and the toast. (Obviously, you will want to have the toast as early as possible to avoid an embarrassing situation in which guests will be forced to hold up empty glasses.)

*Use the open-and-shut-case approach. This requires purchasing beer kegs or cases of good-quality beer, plus several cases of good-quality wine. Since you have purchased the supply in advance, you will determine just how much is being spent on drinks.

For guests who insist upon drinking until the cows come home or would like something stronger, make a cash bar available.

*Have waiters and waitresses serve drinks from a tray. This approach is not only stylish, it is also quite cost effective because you remain in control of how much is consumed.

Choose a few different drinks to be served, including beer and wine. Then have the staff circulate throughout the reception area at pre-scheduled intervals. Perhaps the waiters and waitresses might offer drinks when the reception starts, then just before or during dinner, then a few times later in the evening but not throughout the night. With tray service, you guest will not pay for their drinks, but this will still be a lot cheaper than having an open bar.

At-home Receptions

If you are planning to have your reception in a home or backyard and you will not be using a caterer, here is what you will need to know.

In this situation, a cash bar is simply not one of the available choices. It is against the law to sell alcohol without a liquor license. (You wouldn't want to spend your honeymoon in the pokey.)

If the home is not equipped with one, you will need a rented bar (or a sturdy table or two, dressed to the floor or ground with linen). Plan to stock the bar or table(s) with beer, vodka, rum, whiskey, tequila, cordials (liqueur), brandy, gin, wine, sparkling juice, and possibly punch.

Offering a sparkling white wine is also nice. If you are planning to serve champagne (Although only a sparkling white wine made in the Champagne region of France can be truly called champagne, people often refer to any bubbly by that name.), expect to pay more. A decent bottle (You will only disappoint the true connoisseur, and they are a dying breed.) will cost between $10 and $12 and will serve seven to eight glasses. Even at these prices per bottle, you may want to reserve it for the toast.

Borrow or shop for a bartender's guide (Mr. Boston Deluxe Official Bartender's Guide, for example). For your mixologist, you might also stock such things as lemons, limes, celery, maraschino cherries, and olives. You'll also want to have soda water, tonic water, sparkling water, coke, ginger ale, and a few other soft drinks, plus swizzle sticks and cocktail napkins. Last, but not least, remember to have an ample supply of ice (crushed and cubed) on hand.

Standard Guidelines for Consumption

Expect each guest to have four to five drinks at the reception. You'll get twenty-five drinks from a fifth of liquor, providing you're using a one-ounce pony to make them with one ounce of alcohol each. Using one and a half ounces of alcohol (that is, a one-and-a-half-ounce jigger), you'll get eighteen drinks per fifth of alcohol. A single case of alcohol contains twelve bottles. Assuming that you're using one ounce of alcohol to make every drink, then one case will yield 300 drinks.

If you would like to serve beer on tap, half a keg will yield 260 eight-ounce glasses of beer. Seven cases of beer will yield the same amount.

With regard to unopened bottles of alcohol, don't be too concerned about over stocking. It is better to have too much, rather than not enough. Besides, unopened bottles of alcohol can usually be returned to the store.

The Law and Your Liability

Needless to say, it is against the law to serve alcohol to anyone under the legal drinking age. The sobering fact is that courts have consistently ruled that restaurants, caterers, and hosts are financially liable when minors who are served alcohol are injured, become involved in a car accident, or break the law.

You can also be held liable for an adult who suffers an injury, become involved in a car accident, or step outside of the law after drinking too much in your home. Caterers and restaurants are subject to the same liability.

Your best protection against legal liability involving alcohol is to plan ahead and react sensibly. If your reception is to be catered, discuss a plan of action with the caterer before hand. He or she undoubtedly will cooperate.

Avoid serving salty foods since they make people thirsty. Foods high in protein-such as meat, fish, eggs, and cheese-will help to keep your guests sober.

Once a person is drunk, it's too late to reach for the pot of coffee. Giving your happy drunk coffee will only make him or her hyper and jittery. If you need to sober someone up, try to get the person to drink water, which will dilute the alcohol in their system and flush it out.

By no means, let that person drive-no matter what they say. Instead, call for a taxi or find another driver to take the person home.

About the Author

Jean Bachcroft is a former public relations director, founder of Bachcroft and Aloha Labels, and the publisher and editor-in-chief of Town and Country Shopping Bargains Magazine. For designer wedding, holiday, and year-round mailing and return address labels, visit Bachcroft Mailing and Return Address Labels and Aloha Return Address Labels

For bargains and bargain shopping articles, visit Town and Country Shopping Bargains.

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