image courtesy of nordica photographyTimes are a changing, and without a doubt, alcohol service at your event can be confusing for many. Who pays for what? What style is best? The norms can vary with the type of event, venue and crowd. Some events revolve around a steady flow of liquor and have the resources to cover such exorbitant costs. Other events find alcohol lower on the priority scale, and not worth the charges that they can incur.
Here’s a rundown on some of the most important basics to liquor service.
The first and foremost questions would relate to confirming if your venue or event site will allow alcohol on premise. If the venue is not licensed, then you require a special occasions licence. Check out the BC Liquor Control and Licensing Branch website for further information
Insurance is a must for events, especially if they include alcohol service. In your written policy, ensure that alcohol liability is included, as not all event insurance covers this.
For many, the option of providing an open bar for guests is the most appealing, although the expenses related to it are not. Depending on venue, it is possible that you can save money by providing the alcohol yourselves. Certain venues allow you to bring in your own alcohol, and caterers can hire out bartenders to serve drinks for a small corkage fee. This allows you to shop around for the best prices and choose liquor brands that you want to service. Any unopened bottles can be returned for a refund, so you do not lose money on overbuying.
Types of Bars
o A cash bar is when guests purchase their own alcoholic beverages. This is an ideal type of bar for the most budget-conscious events. Guests are allowed the freedom to purchase whatever drinks they want at their own expense. In many cases, this will help keep guests from overconsumption, as most tend to consume less alcohol when it is not free.
o The host of the event covers the cost of all drinks consumed at the event. This basic bar includes hard liquor for mixed drinks, wine, beer & soft drinks free of charge to guests. As open bars can become extremely pricey, this option is usually avoided by those on a strict budget. In fact, more alcohol is usually much consumed at open bars than at cash bars, as people tend to drink a significant amount more when beverages are free of cost to them. With an open bar, the sky is the limit. But watch out, because the tab could run sky high as well.
o This is what many consider to be a happy medium between the two other types of bars. The host offers a limited selection to guests so they can enjoy some complimentary beverages, without the host necessarily breaking the bank. This option allows you to provide your guests with drinks, while still having control over pricing and what alcohol is being served. At some events, this might involve serving less costly drinks such as beer or wine. At others, the hosts choose to offer “signature” drinks to their guests. Some offer an extensive selection of drinks, but limit the number of drinks consumed by guests.
Which one is best?
Like most event decisions, there is no clear right or wrong answer. The proper question to ask is, what type of bar is most suitable for your particular event? Everything from finances, time of day of the event, the type of crowd and your own personal preferences factor in - any style of bar could work for you. For example, a morning event would not require much, if any, budget to be allocated towards alcohol. On the other hand, it is common practice to have at least some type of alcohol to be served at evening events. Some crowds, on average, will only have a small glass of wine for the purpose of a toast; whereas others are the type to do shots and dance until dawn. Having a good understanding of type of guests attending as well as the occasion and you will have a clearer picture of what bar would be most appropriate. Many non-profit events choose to avoid alcohol-related events namely for budget reasons as well as to keep the focus away from drinking. Many corporate events include a limited event to keep costs down as well as prevent some workplace partying regrets.
Another thing to consider is the opening hours of your bar. It is customary to keep your bar open during cocktail hour, dinner and a toast. For weddings, even if the ceremony and reception locations are the same, it is very rare to have the bar open before the ceremony. Many couples are put off at people sipping on bottles of beer midway through their vows. During dinner, wine could be left on the table for guests to help themselves or could be served by staff so that guests do not have to constantly go to the bar for refills. Having an earlier last call in the evening is an easy way to save money as well as curb overconsumption and drunk driving.
To give the host an accurate estimate, the caterer will have to have a fairly accurate guest count as well as an idea of what type of bar you have in mind. Generally a caterer will supply a quote for labour costs as well as for equipment such as ice, glassware and mixers. In BC, only those with a Serving It Right certificate are legally permitted to serve alcohol.
Professional bartending staff are trained to recognized and handle intoxicated guests. Their training also includes knowing how to properly mix drinks so as not to make them too strong. If there are underage guests, bartenders will check I.D.
Some events (especially large fundraising events) provide complimentary (or by donation) rides home by volunteers of the organization for intoxicated guests. Many venues offer a designated “taxi phone” near the bar or the lobby so that guests can ring for transportation at their convenience. Vancouver has some safe ride programs in certain areas that can be less expensive than the cost of a cab, so when hosting an event, it is a good idea to call ahead to some of these programs and inquire about such services.
With these helpful tips, happy planning. Cheers!