Mary-Catherine Berry had two considerations when she was planning the beverages for her wedding reception: "Cost was a huge factor for us," she says. "Also, religion. My husband's side of the family is conservative Baptist. They don't drink."
Berry's solution was to offer creative non-alcoholic beverages at the reception and then invite guests who wanted to join her and her husband, Micah, for a drink afterward at the Old City Bar in Shockoe Bottom.
The decision to serve or not to serve alcohol needs to be made early in the planning process. Like Berry, many brides have a specific reason why they don't want to include alcoholic beverages. "Sometimes it's a matter of preference, and sometimes it's for religious reasons," observes Meghan Ely, owner of OFD Consulting, a local marketing and public-relations firm for the wedding industry. "Some people want to save money on the reception by cutting out the alcohol, which can be a large expense."
For her reception, Berry placed three 3-gallon beverage dispensers, modeled after martini shakers, on vintage tablecloths. The dispensers held water flavored with sliced cucumbers, unsweetened tea with lemons and fizzy raspberry lemonade with floating raspberries. "People could go up and get their own beverage," Berry says. "It was a casual, Southern, old-school wedding."
Couples going the non-alcohol route have a variety of innovative options such as an infused-water bar — think flavor combinations such as watermelon and cantaloupe or mango and pineapple. "We use sugar and fresh-fruit purees to make [our infused waters]," says Ryan Traylor, director of unique events at Mosaic. "We usually make them about two or three weeks in advance so the flavors can sit together." Other choices include a lemonade bar or an iced-tea bar with a variety of flavored teas.
Some couples opt for a nonalcoholic look-alike drink, often referred to as a mocktail. A warm-beverage station with hot cider, a variety of coffees and hot chocolate works well for a late fall or a winter wedding. A hot-chocolate bar is another brilliant cold-weather choice. "You can use crushed mini marshmallows, M&Ms, flavored whipped cream, and peppermint sticks," Traylor says.
Of course, many couples choose to serve alcohol, so they must decide between a full bar or serving just beer and wine, which is by far the less expensive option. "It's about 50 percent cheaper to do beer and wine," notes Wendy Wyne, president of Studio, a Richmond event/marketing and design studio.
If you choose that option, you'll want to feature two or three different kinds of beer, including a low-calorie brew, a regular beer, and a microbrew or specialty variety. As for wine, check off white and red. Traylor suggests Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc or a mild Chardonnay. "You want something that is easy to drink," he says. "For reds, some people get Cabernet, but a Merlot or Pinot Noir is easier to drink. You could also feature an interesting wine like Malbec along with a mild wine."
Couples can also opt for a wine-tasting station featuring two or three white wines and the same number of reds.
Often, couples will choose to have a signature drink in addition to beer and wine. "Signature drinks are big [now]," Wyne says. "If you want a signature drink, you can come up with fun ideas. You can decorate the drink with a unique garnish or stirrers that match the design [of the wedding]."
Right now, some of the hottest signature drinks originate in Latin America, but with a twist. "We've done a blueberry and pressed ginger mojito and an ancho chile margarita," Traylor says.
Receptions featuring a full bar usually include bourbon, vodka, Scotch, rum and gin, either house brands or premium. "It's up to the bride and groom to decide how much liquor they want on the bar," Ely says.
Couples can cut their alcohol costs by purchasing their own beer, wine and liquor. "You can buy beer in bulk and go to a wholesale wine store like Total Wine," Wyne says.
You have to commit to bringing your own beer, wine or liquor at the beginning of the planning process. "Look to see if it's a venue that allows you to bring in your own alcohol. It may be a full-service property that doesn't allow it," Ely says, adding that if you provide your own alcohol, you must obtain a one-day liquor license and follow ABC laws.
Ely suggests hiring professional staff to serve the alcohol, even if you are buying it yourself. "If you have friends serving it and not controlling the portion size, you won't save money."