Traditional wedding etiquette discourages the cash bar at a wedding reception, and even though an increasing number of brides and grooms are opting for a cash bar to minimise costs the open bar is still the typical way to provide alcoholic beverages for wedding guests. Wording an invitation to include an open bar at a wedding reception is as simple as not including the wording at all--thus allowing the guests to assume that the open bar will be available--or including an extra reception card with mention of it.
An open bar tends to be controversial for some brides and grooms, as well as some wedding planners. Wedding etiquette has generally held that the open bar is the most correct option for guests, because the guests have attended the wedding and brought a gift, so the bride and groom should indicate their gratefulness by allowing guests to order alcoholic beverages freely. At the same time, this tradition also assumes that guests are courteous enough to have only a couple of drinks, and when they do not the bride and groom can be left with a massive bar tab.
The decision to include an open bar indicates that the bride and groom are willing to take on the responsibility of providing all alcoholic beverages for their guests. In addition, brides and grooms should bear in mind that certain weddings lend themselves more to an open bar than others. A lavish wedding reception in an exclusive country club should almost certainly include an open bar: if the bride and groom are willing to spend money on such a location, they should assume responsibility for the open bar. For a small, intimate wedding reception at a local church, guests will not be so likely to expect an open bar.
Unless the bride and groom plan to offer a cash bar at the reception, guests may assume that any bar available at the reception will be an open bar. As a result, there is no need to state this on the invitation itself. If, however, the bride and groom choose to include a wedding reception card in addition to the invitation, they may note the type of meal and the type of bar on this card: Buffet Dinner served at 7:30 PM and Open Bar.
As weddings evolve into the 21st century, some brides and grooms have begun to embrace alternatives to the traditional open bar. The most popular is the limited open bar, in which guests are given a select number of drink vouchers that they may use at the bar. For instance, each (adult) guest may be provided two vouchers for free drinks, with any drinks after that requiring payment from the guest. This option may be controversial in some cases, but it provides a way to control wedding reception costs.
The choice to include an open bar indicates that the bride and groom are prepared to pay for the open bar cost, whatever it happens to be. Wedding experts advise that brides and grooms be fully aware of how much they can afford and provide an open bar only if they feel as though they--or the family members who are paying for the wedding--can take on the cost.