How to Offer an Open Bar at Events Without Draining Your Association Treasury

Whether you are throwing an award dinner, a networking cocktail event, or a holiday party, certain business-related events call for drinks. Associations, in particular, tend to be involved in special events where your guests expect the opportunity to get a little toasted. Whether it greases the wheels of networking or makes a celebration all the more joyous, alcohol is a part of modern business and has been for centuries.

It’s also one of the biggest costs in event hosting. Especially if you want the freedom of an open bar. Open bars are, in theory, a great idea that invites everyone to manage their alcohol intake and choice of flavors. If the focus is to party and socialize, a bar is seen as a magnanimous gesture from the host encouraging everyone to relax and perhaps to get footloose on the dance floor. But in practice, there’s a serious financial risk. A small group of heavy drinkers could significantly increase the cost of your event beyond the predicted budget. Or one event might’go wild’ and everyone drinks at a higher cost per-guest more than usual.

However, normal budget-controlling methods like drink tickets can be seen as less than fun at a celebration or social event. And they often limit the drink options so that some people can’t find anything they like. Fortunately, an open bar is still within the reach of a budget-conscious association. With a combination of clever strategies, you can ensure that everyone enjoys themselves without your wallet taking a major hit at the end of the party.

Unlimited Wine and Beer

The most common answer to the open bar conundrum is to limit your free offerings to wine and beer. These drinks are more than alcoholic enough to help people loosen up, but are also light enough that any responsible adult can avoid making themselves sick by accident. Wine and beer are social drinks and everyone can feel included, even if they don’t drink often.

And if you choose your brands correctly, wine and beer are alot easier on the budget than free-flowing liquor. Just be sure to offer a reasonable selection of brands and flavors, including lighter options like wine coolers or simple wine mixers.

Seasonal and Traditional Liquors

Open bars become a major cost when guests decide to ask for expensive liquors. While most events won’t involve much hard liquor consumption, sometimes one group will go off doing shots, which can get very pricey. A great way to keep hold of the reigns and know what to expect is to limit your liquor and cocktail selection to a few reasonable choices instead of the venue’s entire bar from bottom to top-shelf.

Instead, keep your guests happy without surprises by offering a few seasonally appropriate liquors. Create a reasonable selection of year-round favorites and a few bottles of something traditional for the time of year. You may also want to consider limiting the number of bottles in stock. ‘Open Bar’ doesn’t necessarily have to mean ‘Infinite Free Drinks’. Just free until the supply runs out. This way, the bottle count cannot go above your predicted costs.

Signature Cocktails

Cocktails can be used to dilute expensive liquor and spread the fun around, or they can rack up the bill, depending on how they are enjoyed. Guests allowed to go nuts with specialty and expensive cocktails at an open bar can significantly increase your event costs. But cocktails don’t have to get a bad budget reputation. Used correctly, an open bar with cocktails can create affordable fun for every guest by spreading the expensive liquor out into flavored fruity mixes.

The key is to offer specific cocktails instead of offering a full menu. First, you want your cocktails to be themed for the event, making everyone feel festive when they order and drink. Second, you want these cocktails to be made with affordable ingredients. Stick to mid-shelf liquor and colorful but inexpensive fruit juices /  chocolate and milk to make drinks that taste great but don’t cost much to make hundreds of them.

This will make your guests feel welcomed to celebrate with brightly colored cocktails and themed mix drinks while giving you the opportunity to define the mix of expensive liquor to more affordable drink mixers.

Affordable Fixins

Speaking of mixers, you can spice up a limited open bar selection by making sure that there are plenty of not-so-expensive things to mix with the wine and liquors available. If you do allow your guests to create or request their own mixers, you can keep it affordable by laying out the options. Set up the bar like a candy shop (visible jars of mixer treats) or even a DIY mixer buffet of colorful drink accessories.

No need for gold leaf and truffle shavings. Sweet and Sour, fruit juices, fruit chunks on decorative sticks, and little drink umbrellas are all easier to bankroll than costly liquors. The more options you give your guests to mix, the less they will pine for liquor variety. And, of course, diluted mixed drinks are better for both your treasury funds and everyone’s ability to enjoy the party without overdoing it.

Drink Tickets

Some associations hosting events decide to build a clever compromise between an open bar and drink tickets. If, for instance, you only offer free access to beer and wine, you can add to the fun by giving each adult guest a certain number of drink tickets for cocktails and liquor allowing you to know approximately how much of the fancier drinks will be on the event bill itself. Drink tickets can also be used just to keep track of drinks and to keep all drinks at approximately the same price per serving.

Cash Bar Options

Finally, there are cash bar options. Some people have a favorite drink, get a craving for a specific liquor, or are very picky with how they drink at events. If a guest’s preference doesn’t fit within your limited open bar options, a good host maneuver is to leave the option open for guests to pay for the specific drinks they want. Whether it’s a guest who wants a top-shelf liquor you don’t offer, more cocktails than they have tickets for, or to buy a special drink with a friend, many will appreciate the option to buy the experience they want without impacting the event budget or anyone else’s good time at the event.

Offering an open bar to your event guests is a very welcoming gesture. With these approaches, your association can be a magnanimous host, keep track of the event budget, and encourage guests to have the event experience they will enjoy most. Limiting your selection, encouraging mixers, and allowing guests to pay for special requests ensures that everyone can drink the way they want to, reduce drunken shenanigans, and respect your final event budget. For more great event planning tips or ways to increase your association revenue, contact us today!

Comments are closed.