Should you offer an open bar or a cash bar? In this interview, Maureen Woodman helps navigate the issues around the bar.
John Maher: Hi, I’m John Maher. Today I’m here with Maureen Woodman, Director of Sales at Woodman’s and the Essex Room which is a Massachusetts’ wedding venue north of Boston. Maureen is also a wedding planner, and today she’s here to talk about open bar versus cash bar and what’s trending in alcohol at weddings today. Welcome, Maureen.
Maureen Woodman: Hi, John. Thanks for having me. This is kind of a hot topic right now.
John: Do people still do an open bar at their wedding?
Maureen: Here in Massachusetts there’s a lot going on with the liquor laws and everything. I would say 50 percent are open bar and 50 percent are cash bar, if I had to answer that question.
John: Are there regional differences in terms of where people are from in terms of whether or not they have an open bar or a cash bar?
Maureen: Sure, one of the biggest things I always see if either the bride or groom is from New Jersey, New York, or Connecticut, they wouldn’t even think of having a wedding that wasn’t an open bar. It’s something we try to accommodate dealing with both sets of parents. Usually one is from Massachusetts and somebody is from somewhere else.
John: At a wedding, who pays for the bar?
Maureen: This is something that you might see where people are all trying to help, because weddings are so expensive now. Sometimes you may see the groom’s family or an aunt or somebody come in and take and say, “You know what? I’m going to pay for some of the bar.”
At some venues your bar is based on consumption, and at some venues your bar is a set price. You might pay $34 open bar all night per person, a built in gratuity, and a tax. Other places, like the Essex Room, all of our liquor is punched in. It’s based on consumption. Whatever they drink is what you pay, plus gratuity.
John: I was at a wedding this weekend, and they had a champagne toast, which I think is pretty typical. Is that still true these days, that people do champagne toasts?
Maureen: If you have an open bar, you may see the champagne toast going away, because somebody will have something in front of them. Usually the quality of the champagne in the champagne toast, even though you’re paying for it, really isn’t that good. There are some people that go away.
I still say cutting the cake, the champagne toast, there’s always a lot of toasting going on. Toasting is actually more popular than it used to be. Now you see four or five toasts where, back in the day, it was just the best man.
I do think that the champagne is still important. What’s changing there is what would be called the signature cocktail. The signature cocktail is something that’s coming in where the bride and groom choose one or two, they usually call it the Mr. and Mrs.
You’ll see a sign at the bar where they can choose what’s favorable to them. There’s definitely a change where a lot of the young bride and grooms are drinking whisky. Whisky is very, very popular now. Crown Royal has definitely come back. There are a lot of drinks that have whisky around them, or there are champagne cocktails that have come back that have some kind of flavored liquor in them.
John: What about other alcohol options like micro brewed beers?
Maureen: A lot of times a groom will ask us, “Is there any way you can get me this beer? It’s my favorite beer. Everybody is going to drink this beer. I want all the guys to have this beer.” We work very hard with our vendors.
I’m sure wherever anyone goes, if you tell your bridal consultant or the person that’s in charge of the alcohol at your venue that you’re looking for something, I would give them a six month lead time. Usually you have to buy the entire case. It’s not based on the bottle.
If it’s a special order, they usually do their best to accommodate you. What they’ll do is charge you case price. They’ll figure out an average of who they think is going to drink that beer to make sure you don’t run out. That’s definitely very popular for the groom. I think that’s his part in the wedding right now.
John: Do people still do coffee drinks as a sort of after dinner drink?
Maureen: Sure. One of the things we have is a man called the coffee guide. He comes in with a little cart. He makes the lattes, the espressos. Then you’d have a cordial cart next to that where you can do an amaretto or Sambuca.
It’s really, really popular, I think, just coming off Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts. Coffee is really big right now. This is something that adds in. It’s a little additional money. It really adds a nice, homey…it almost gives you a little ethnic Italian feeling.
He shows up with his pushcart. He’s in the back of the room, and everyone picks their coffee. He actually does iced and hot. Then you can go to the bar and get a shot of whatever you want put in there.
John: All right, Maureen Woodman, thank you very much.
Maureen: OK, John, thank you.