Cash or Hosted Bar?

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Photo by: Gilded Sparrow Photography


You’ve found the perfect venue and have devoted numerous hours to pre-event preparations and various logistics. Whether working alongside an experienced coordinator or shouldering most of the responsibilities yourself, you’ll inevitably be asked whether you’re hosting your beverage service or prefer setting up a cash bar for your guests. Which should you choose?


In some social settings, cash bars are increasingly common and well-received. In others, your guests may be expecting their drinks to flow more freely. Of course, you’ll want to weigh the pros and cons of both sides of this often-debated topic to ensure you’re choosing the right style of service for your event. Either way you’re leaning, we’ve got some tips that could help provide the clarity you’re looking for.


What is a Hosted Bar?

Many people use the terms open bar and hosted bar interchangeably. But they’re not the same. With an open bar, you pre-pay a set price according to the quality of the alcohol served and the number of hours the service is available to your guests. With a hosted bar, the amount of alcohol poured is calculated after the fact – meaning you’re only charged for the beverages consumed.


What is a Cash Bar?

Setting up a cash bar ensures your guests have the option of purchasing their drink of choice. You’re providing access to their favorite libations without absorbing the cost of the alcohol, mixers, or garnishes. Depending on the venue, however, you may be required to pay a set-up fee plus an hourly rate for each bartender scheduled to cover your event.


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Factors to Consider Before Choosing Between a Hosted or Cash Bar

Some event planners feel an invited guest should never be charged for refreshments. But that’s not the only school of thought. Others find that guests paying for their own drinks are less likely to overindulge, meaning fewer instances of drunken, unruly behavior. However, it’s in the best interest of everyone attending an event with a cash bar to be aware of the arrangement in advance so there are no surprises.


Depending on the purpose of the gathering, some hosts choose to give a set number of drink tickets to each guest or provide a complimentary bottle of wine or champagne for each table if there are plans for a celebratory toast. Most, however, choose between providing a hosted bar or a cash bar based on the following criteria.



Hosted bars providing your guests with an unlimited number of drinks throughout the duration of your event could add thousands of dollars to the cost. Some guests may have a mixed drink or two; others will take advantage of your generosity and drink a lot more than you counted on. The additional expenses can add up quickly. If you’re running with a tight budget, a fully hosted bar may not be feasible. If you’ve got the budget, we have also found that hosted bars typically keep guests at your event a bit longer into the evening.



Guests view cash bars at lavish events much differently than less formal affairs. Before you decide between a cash or hosted bar, consider the overall atmosphere of your event. Keep in mind that tasking bartenders with mixing drinks and handling payments can lead to long lines in a limited space, extended wait times for your guests, and less time for socializing.  



If you decided on a cash bar early on in your planning, you may want to take a step back for a moment to consider your guest list. To some traditionalists, paying for drinks at an invitation-only event of any kind goes against the grain. In many circles, however, it is a better option than no bar at all. If you’re still undecided, consider compromising with beer, wine, and a signature cocktail for a limited time during the event.


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Elevate Your Guests’ Experience With Beverage Service From The Deco Catering

The best beverage caterers don’t force you to make either/or decisions. When you choose The Deco Catering, our team will work with you to find the perfect solution for your budget, event type, and guest considerations. You could choose to host the whole bar, or host two kegs of beer and a case of wine during the cocktail hour, for example, then switch to soft drinks and a cash bar when the tap runs dry, set up a refreshing infused water station, or choose a dry bar with a selection of mocktails. 


To learn more about how we can make beverage services at your event a success, contact us at The Deco Catering today!