There is a general consensus that cash bars (where guests pay for their own alcohol drinks) are not very good etiquette. You should look at your guests as your guests, not paying customers. For example, most people would not ask their beloved aunt to pay for a glass of wine at their home, so why treat them any different as a guest at the most important event of your life?
Obviously, the reality in this day and age, with the economic conditions many are experiencing, is that the cost factor has to weigh in on this decision for many people. The liquor and service expense for this part of a reception can really add up.
One of the major concerns is how to pay for alcohol, especially for families and friends that love to drink at a wedding. If you anticipate large alcohol consumption, then here are some tips:
• Negotiate a flat fee bar service with the caterer.
• Purchase the alcohol yourself via a discount superstore.
• Negotiate the return of un-opened bottles.
• Ask the caterer to not serve drinks at tables unless guests specifically request it.
• Require new bottles not be opened unless open bottles are completely emptied.
• For hotels, country clubs and resorts, you might set a dollar limit on the bar expense, after which it turns to a cash bar.
• Host the cocktail hour and the dinner wine and champagne, then switch to a cash bar.
If your affair is much more casual in nature, much of this might be a non-issue. Friends could serve as a bartender on the night and you can provide and keep the leftover liquor.
Safety etiquette suggests that you stop serving alcohol about ½ hour before the reception is due to end. This will save you money, but more importantly provides safety to your guests by stopping the drinking before they try to drive home.