A Guide to Your Wedding’s Most Authentic Bar


The wedding reception creates some of the best memories from the celebration. While carefully crafted food menus for cocktail hour through dessert are sure to impress, a well-planned bar offers an authentic spin on a classic component, with personality to boot. To offer some beverage planning insight, our team has tapped one of our many experts, TJ Cox, a nationally-recognized Certified Sommelier and beverage consultant. Between our event experience and TJ’s feedback, we offer careful considerations, suggestions and details to deliver your most unique beverage plan from pre-ceremony champagne service through cocktail hour, dinner and dessert selections. 


There are several ways to structure your reception’s bar service. Most commonly, we see the following offered:

  • An Open Bar is by far the most popular and is assessed based on a flat rate of beverage service per person and includes specialty cocktails, champagne or sparkling wine, beer, and other liquors plus non-alcoholic options. 
  • A Consumption Bar is a pay per drink scenario for the host.
  • A Soft Bar only serves red and white wines, champagne and beer.
  • A Cash Bar infers that each guest is responsible to pay for alcoholic beverages he or she consumes. 


We highly recommend the Open Bar. Bars on consumption may end up being surprisingly more than you anticipated, especially at receptions when people will put their drink down during conversation or to dance. Then, instead of retrieving their drink, they go to the bar for another. The second best option, if you are looking to save a few dollars is a “soft bar” but we find in the end, those savings to be somewhat insignificant.



During your initial consultation, our team absorbs every detail about the desires of the bride and groom. This translates to your flavor preferences for dining selections and beverage considerations. With the basics of the location, time, guest count and any religious considerations covered, the beverage planning starts with defining a specifically allocated bar budget.


Weddings are synonymous with toasts. TJ recommends carving out a budget specially bubbly–whether it is true Champagne or another sparkling wine, such as Cremant from France, Cava from Spain or Valdobbiadene from Italy. To follow traditional etiquette cues, toasts are made after the father of the bride’s speech, the best man’s speech, and the maid of honor’s speech. We coordinate the timing for each toast and communicate with the catering and service staff so that the champagne is poured and served at the appropriate time to ensure that everyone is prepared when it is time to raise a glass. 



Another popular option is to offer champagne or sparkling wine at the bar all night. It becomes actually less expensive than pouring champagne for toast, as most people prefer to toast with their drink of choice, whether it’s bourbon on the rocks or a nice chardonnay.


Developing a signature cocktail is one of the personal touches your guests will enjoy. As we work with couples, we try to define specific, special drinks shared on a first date or special occasion. Next, we highlight the perfect cocktail. TJ shared that most signature cocktails are classic in nature but offer a unique twist with the couples’ feedback such as a seasonal favorite such as a fruity margarita in the summer or cranberry spiced cocktail for a winter wedding. 



TJ recommends “his & hers” cocktail to incorporate personality and creativity if the couple simply cannot decide or wish to offer two unique choices. Recent signature cocktails at our wedding events include The Jack Lemon, a Jack Daniels and lemonade cocktail and a spiced pear Caipirinha, a twist on Brazil’s national cocktail. Other cocktails TJ has developed include the Poinsettia for a black tie winter wedding, a Prickly Pear Margarita for his wife, and an “Old Fitz,” bourbon & root beer cocktail, for a fun summer celebration.  


We suggest featuring the signature cocktails immediately following the ceremony with waitstaff passing them out on beautiful trays. Adding a signature garnish or a custom swizzle stick, or even an environmentally friendly straw, and a festive cocktail napkin is a great way to kick off cocktail hour. Plus we find, most people will default back to their personal beverage of choice after they indulging in one signature drink.


Throughout the planning process, we drill down into the logistics spirits. With the budget as our guide, our team and vetted vendors make recommendations and we make final selections with your input. For an Open Bar, TJ recommends one brand for each major spirit: bourbon, scotch, gin, vodka, rum and tequila. Those require an assortment of traditional cocktail mixers and sodas to create basic, crowd pleasing cocktails that accommodates most guests. Some of our clients opt for a mid range bar and upgrade their personal favorite spirit. A perfect example is wine selections. Starting with mid tier wines for the bar during cocktail hour and then upgrading for dinner service. Another nice touch a couple might consider is listing the dinner wines being offered on the menus at each place setting. 



With the cocktail components complete, our beverage contributors consider crafting a wine list.

Most caterers will allow the bride and groom to taste wine options when selecting menus for the reception dinner. If the bride and groom have favorites, our team will seek out label availability in your wedding’s market. For those ‘foodie’ couples looking to elevate the dining experience, recommended food and wine pairings may be made to showcase their personal affinities for the perfect pairings. TJ recommends selecting “crowd-pleaser” wines that agree with most menu choices or can be enjoyed as a cocktail. These wines are typically blends and are easy to drink. 


For non-alcoholic beverage selections, TJ suggests an assortment of sodas, tea and coffee. Obviously, water is important. Budget and your preference dictate whether still or sparkling water are served. If the guests are not big alcohol consumers, TJ recommends something festive and appropriate like fresh fruit aqua fresca, flavored iced tea or lemonade. Other unique options might include Italian sodas, flavored seltzers or a special mocktails.



Our team works seamlessly with various caterers and beverage professionals to offer beautifully appointed and well-executed bars that will carry the essence of the celebrated couple throughout and impress the guests at every turn. By working with our team, you gain access to our experts for all aspects of your wedding. Schedule a complimentary consultation today calling 843.749.2807 or emailing christina@christinabaxterweddings.com