Wedding Reception Bar Etiquette: Terms to Know

25230667 - beautiful bride and groom wedding portrait with white bike Well, your planning process for your big day is well underway, and now it’s time to think about what kind of beverages you should serve. Unless your guests are all non-drinkers, most of your guests will expect you to have a bar setup and a good variety of wine, beer, and cocktails. What you will serve, however, depends mainly on your knowledge and experience with other weddings you have attended in the past. Factors to consider include the number of guests, time of day, and venue rules - but remember, this is YOUR big day. Your preferences trump almost everything else, so we have put together a quick guide to following rules for the common terms in wedding reception bar etiquette.

If you have a wedding planner, it is customary for him/her to manage the details of your reception bar. If not, a good source of etiquette will come from your caterers. They have the experience and local market knowledge to be able to answer your questions or lead you to other sources of inspiration/information. Just remember, all decisions rest with you, and each decision you make will impact your budget. Here we present some of the key wedding catering terms to know before you begin to put together your plan for beverages at your reception.

Beverage Stations

We have seen beverage stations grow from quirky ideas to the mainstream in wedding receptions. A beverage station is similar to a food station - each has a particular theme and serves only one type of drink. Think martini bars, margarita bars, signature red wine bars, etc. This arrangement is becoming more popular in both Napa and Sonoma wedding receptions.

Champagne Reception

Although this type of reception faded in popularity for a few years, it is coming back and is popular with retro and rustic wedding themes. A champagne wedding reception is just what it sounds like; only champagne is served. The term ‘champagne’ was minted in France’s Champagne region, but a few vineyards here in northern California also market their sparkling wine as champagne.

A good rule of thumb for ordering champagne for your reception is to allow four glasses per standard bottle, and three glasses per guest (one for the toast. and two for cocktails). A half bottle per person is also a good rule, unless you are planning on lengthy toasts or if your reception goes late.

Corkage Fee

A corkage fee is a charge for opening a bottle you have brought to your reception venue. Some of the wineries in this region require you to buy their wine, in which case they do not usually charge a corkage fee. If you have chosen a restaurant for your reception site, ask ahead of time if they have a corkage fee.

Consumption Bar

As a rule, we don’t recommend a consumption bar. The term ‘consumption bar’ means the bartenders and servers keep a running tab of each drink served, and you are charged at the end of the night for each guest’s consumption. Unless you have a lot of guests who won’t be drinking, a consumption bar generally costs more than other options.

Mixed Drinks

Mixed drinks are considerably more expensive than a wine and beer bar, but it does allow you to create a signature drink that reflects your taste.

Open Bar

An open bar means your guests can as many drinks as they want and you pay a flat fee per person, per hour.

Poured Drinks

This term refers to simple, one ingredient drinks that aren’t mixed, stirred or shaken. For example, a vodka over ice would be a poured drink.

Premium Brands

These brands are either top-quality, vintage, or rare imported liquors, beers, and wines. This type of bar setup is seen as the most elegant, but it is also the most expensive.

Table Service

This term means a waiter serves your guests at their table from a rolling bar.

Wine & Champagne Bar

This setup is growing in popularity here in northern California and features local wineries and brands, which range from chardonnays and Bordeaux to zinfandels and Chianti. But don’t forget about your guests who prefer non-alcoholic drinks; make sure you provide sparkling waters and juice.


By understanding the terms and your options, you can avoid a lot of confusion and wedding planning problems before your big day arrives.