Wedding Reception Bar Etiquette: Terms to Know

When it comes to wedding catering, a major consideration is what beverages to serve. Unless everyone you know are non-drinkers, many of your guests will expect you to have a bar setup that serves alcoholic beverages of some sort. But what you serve and how you will serve it depends on your knowledge of wedding reception bar etiquette. Some of these factors include the time of day, number of guests, regulations imposed by the site and, of course, your own preferences.

A good source of etiquette will be your caterers. With their experience and market knowledge, they should be able to guide you to the needed information. But the decision rests with you, and it could be an expensive one. Here are some of the wedding catering terms you need to know before you commit to serving alcoholic beverages at your reception:

1. Beverage Stations: Growing in popularity, these are similar to food stations. Each features a specific beverage theme — a martini bar, tropical drinks like margaritas and pina coladas, and a sparkling wine-tasting bar.

2. Champagne Reception: This type of reception spotlights champagne as the only alcohol-based beverage served. The term "champagne" refers to sparkling wine produced in France’s Champagne region. Although many other places produce sparkling wines, they must use another name under an international agreement. Some American sparkling wines also are marketed as champagne.

When calculating how much champagne to order from your wedding catering service, allow four glasses per standard bottle. For a toast, figure one glass per person. For cocktails, you may need two. One-half bottle per guest is usually sufficient for most receptions unless you expect a series of formal toasts or if your event is very lengthy.

3. Corkage Fee: This is a fee per bottle to open and serve liquor you bring to your reception site. Most of the time only restaurants will have corking fees. Other venues will require you to use their wine.

4. Consumption Bar: At this type of reception, your wedding catering bartenders keep a running tab of drinks served and total the cost per drink. You pay for each drink consumed, and, depending on the tastes of your guests, your cost could be high.

5. Mixed Drinks: Everything from a cosmopolitan to a Bahama mama, mixed drinks are made from combinations of liquor, juices, and waters. They include such drinks as martinis and manhattans. They cost considerably more per drink than most wine or champagnes.

6. Open Bar: At an open bar, your guests can have whatever drinks, and as many as they want, relatively speaking. You pay a flat rate per person for a certain period of time.

7. Poured Drinks: Simple drinks that aren’t mixed, shaken or stirred. For example, vodka on the rocks would be a poured drink.

8. Premium Brands: Well-known or top-quality brands of liquors, imported or vintage label beers and wines. These are among your most expensive options.

9. Table Service: wedding catering beverage service provided at the table by a waiter or by a server with a rolling bar.

10. Wine & Champagne Bar: This alternative features champagne and other wines that can range from chardonnays and Bordeaux to chianti and zinfandels. They’re usually accompanied by a choice of sparkling waters and juices to satisfy those guests who prefer nonalcoholic drinks.

By following bar etiquette and understanding terminology and your options, you can head off most wedding planning problems before the reception even starts. It also prevents wedding guests from expecting something they will not be able to have