Can We Have an Open Bar with Teetotaling Family?


Anti-alcohol family, but friends want a drink

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Q: We are getting married in the next couple of months and there has been some strain over whether or not to provide an open bar. Both of us are professionals (lawyer and doctor) and think it would be kind of weird for us not to have an open bar—it’s kind of expected. Still on my side of the family, there is a member of the family who is very much against alcohol.

My grandfather has never had a drop of alcohol and is very much against it. There is a story in our family that my grandfather wouldn’t talk to my grandmother after she had a sip of wine in Europe. Now, my grandfather is otherwise a wonderful and reasonable man, but my father is very worried that having alcohol at the wedding will cause problems. I also have a really good relationship with my grandfather, and I am worried about letting him down as well.

We are also having several more conservative members of my small town community at our wedding, and my father is worried about them being upset as well. Our solution is that my fiancé is willing to foot the entire bill on everything connected to alcohol so that my family can say they weren’t involved. Still, my father is upset, and my grandfather probably will be upset. Honestly, I don’t really care whether or not we have anything (I mean sugar and coffee is more my style), but my fiancé really wants to have an open bar for his friends. This is the only thing he wants for our wedding. Do you have any advice for dealing with anti-alcohol family members with a minimum amount of drama? Should I sit down with my grandfather ahead of time, or just not say anything?

ANSWER FROM THE EDITOR:

When combining different parts of your life it can be difficult to please everyone. Your partner really wants the open bar and some of your family members won’t like it one bit.

You need to decide whose feelings, emotions and reactions are most important to you before going forward. If you do decide to go with the open bar, it might be best to give grandpa a heads up so that he has some time to take this information in before he’s blindsided and upset on your wedding day.

Did you make any compromises at your wedding to appease your Family or guests? Was alcohol at your wedding an issue with your family? what did you do? 

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  • Amy March

    Does Grandpa storm off in a huff in restaurants that serve alcohol?

    Refusing to talk to your grandmother for having a drop of wine sounds controlling. Personally, I’d just let him not like it. No one is making him drink.

    • sofar

      All good points. If he visits establishments that serve alcohol but would be up in arms about a bar at an event he isn’t hosting, then it’s probably not the alcohol, but his control issues that would cause him to be against it.

    • PAJane aka Awesome Tits

      If he’s going to be a grump, offer to pay for his Uber back to the hotel. Byeeeeee.

    • Lawyerette510

      Yeah, the description of the grandfather sounds like he is vindictive and controlling. I don’t think pushing the groom to abandon his idea of being a good host to guests in order to appease one controlling person, even if it’s a grandparent, is a reasonable solution.

    • Mrs H

      As always Amy March, spot on.

  • Jessica

    There was an Ask APW recently that someone commented “So your fiance won’t get everything he wants–welcome to wedding planning.”

    Limiting the open bar to just wine and beer might make it a little better–people don’t tend to get as out of control–and giving your grandfather a heads up about how this is normal for your fiance’s family may be the prudent way to go.

    • yeah. what stands out to me here is “I honestly don’t care whether we have anything, sugar and coffee is more my style.” so it’s not “we want an open bar but my family disapproves”, it’s “do i please fiance and his friends or do i please grandpa whom i’m close to.”

      i’m gonna play devil’s advocate and say that sugar and coffee is totally awesome and you could give the FRIENDS a heads up that we’re having a dessert and coffee bar. i know this is probably not the wedding style LW is going for, but just sayin’…

      • PAJane aka Awesome Tits

        Do they want to set the precedent in their marriage that they’ll bend over backwards as a couple to appease an unreasonable relative? If she’s choosing between her fiancé and her grandpa on her wedding day, I would encourage her to choose her fiancé.

      • penguin

        If neither of the people getting married drank I might agree with you, but the fiance does, and I think it’s reasonable to be able to have a drink at your own wedding if you want one.

    • GBee

      It doesn’t seem like the grandfather would even be okay with limiting it to beer and wine only. He was angry about his wife consuming “a sip of wine.”

      Also, I’m VERY much in the camp of – you get to control your own body and your own decisions, that’s it. If the grandfather isn’t okay with drinking, then he can stay away from the alcohol. He doesn’t get to have control over everyone else.

  • sofar

    I actually think this is one of those “wedding things” that’s just best to NOT bring it up to anyone and trust that everyone will just keep their disapproval to themselves on the day of. Bars at weddings are common enough that I don’t think you need to warn anyone. The only exception I’d see is if the religious beliefs of the bride or groom’s family preclude alcohol. What you’ve got is a couple people who “don’t like” alcohol.

    If you bring it up months in advance, grandpa will have months in advance to freak out about it. If he just sees the bar on the day of, he might huff and puff, and you (or whoever is near him) can shrug and say, “Groom’s family planned that part.”

    If grandpa is the type to make a scene, storm out and set the bar on fire, well … I’d say that’s an exception, but it doesn’t sound like the case here.

    For the record, my dad’s family are non-drinkers (and several of my aunts and uncles are recovering alcoholics). My mom and her side of the family are SUPER judgmental about alcohol to the point where I think my mom may have been a prohibitionist in a past life. When she found out I was drinking (in my mid-20s!) she actually hand-wrote me a long letter bout how I needed to find Jesus and stop drinking because alcohol is evil. My groom’s family, meanwhile, don’t consider it a wedding if there isn’t an open bar.

    We had an open bar. I drank. I’m sure some people were grumpy and judgy about it, but oh well.

    • AP

      Right…at my first wedding, my ex’s parents and some aunts/uncles were religious teetotalers. His parents briefly floated the idea that we wouldn’t serve alcohol, but they weren’t paying or offering to pay for anything connected to the wedding reception, so we didn’t even entertain the idea. They didn’t drink, others did, we paid for the alcohol, it was all fine. I’m sure there was gossip, but that wasn’t a concession we were willing to make. Honestly the fact that we didn’t have a church wedding was probably worse in their eyes than the open beer/wine bar.

      • sofar

        Oh yeah, having no church wedding was a HUGE issue for both our families. Obviously we had to tell them in advance because the question, “So which church were you thinking of getting married in?” came up, like Day 1. Even so, they were very gracious the day of and behaved themselves.

    • Jan

      Yeah, I think I’m with you on this one. This feels like one of those weird moments we all have as we become full-fledged adults where we get to (have to?) be like, “Wow, I do not have to answer to any of these people. I’ll do what I’m most comfortable with and just deal with the fact that I’m letting some people down.” Like, we don’t need to run things by everyone who might be offended by it beforehand.

      (I’m assuming, of course, that Grandpa will just be cranky and kind of annoying about it for a while, and not the type of unreasonable person who would quit speaking to you forever if you serve booze at your own wedding. Which, I don’t know his life, maybe he is that guy and if so, LW, i’m deeply sorry, dude.)

  • Transnonymous

    We had two competing family interests to balance – the side that collects wine and the teetotaling evangelicals (my husband’s grandmother has similar views to LW’s grandfather). We limited our open bar to beer, wine, and champagne. Nary a complaint was heard, either during or after.

  • Katie

    Siding with Amy. Nobody is making the Grandpa drink, and the wedding is not all about him anyway. I think that his authority over serving/not serving alcohol should only extend over his own household.
    Also, I don’t see why it just HAS to be an open bar vs no alcohol at all. How about just beer and wine? Maybe that would be more of a compromise, rather than an ultimatum.

    • Sarah

      I agree beer/wine/bubbly is a good compromise…this is what we did, because we were at a venue that did allow alcohol, but where it was pretty important for people not to end up falling-down-drunk. I think people are less likely to overindulge with this set-up versus free-flowing cocktails/shots.

      • Amy March

        I get this as a compromise, and I think it’s a good idea, but also surely I’m not the only one who gets plenty drunk on just champagne right?

        • Sarah

          Oh, it’s absolutely still possible! I think you just tend to get less of it. And, people have to be more intentional about going back to get another drink, versus with cocktails that can be really deceptive in terms of the amount of alcohol they actually contain.

        • Kara E

          Love me some champagne. I also think it’s pretty important in this scenario that if you’re doing a champagne toast (like served by staff), make sure the non drinkers (which included many members of my family at our wedding) were poured a non-alcoholic drink without comment or complaint. We also did an open bar of good wine/beer/champagne (and non alcoholic drinks) and people were pretty happy. Only person to comment on the lack of a “true” open bar was my MIL’s best friend (who also told me that people were getting bored and we needed to get the party started). *sigh*

          • PAJane aka Awesome Tits

            This is why they invented sparkling cider.

          • We had that at our wedding for toasts (in addition to champagne) because a decent number of my family was nondrinkers/literal children (the teenagers definitely all thought they were being super sneaky with the champagne) and also because I just think that sparkling apple cider is the most delicious thing and I don’t like champagne, so I would ALWAYS prefer sparkling cider.

          • toomanybooks

            Yessss, I don’t drink so I really appreciate when there’s a different option for the champagne toast and everybody isn’t just automatically given champagne. (This is also great for when there are recovering alcoholics/people who have stopped drinking. You don’t always know where every one of your guests is with that…)

            Not a true open bar because it didn’t have every type of alcoholic beverage imaginable?? It’s free and available, isn’t it? It’s not like the beer and wine was locked up behind a paywall.

          • Jan

            This is why we skipped the champagne toast entirely. Well, and also we are cheap.

          • mjh

            Win/win :)

          • mjh

            I’ve never seen a different option offered for toasts, but that sounds great. I’m not one for drinking, so when a server goes around filling glasses with champagne for toasts, I decline. I’ve never been offered an alternative, so I just toast with my water glass.

            I’ve only been to a couple weddings which had glasses prefilled with champagne at every setting, but I’ve felt kind of bad about the fact that mine is a waste and I in those situations I really feel for those who stopped drinking for whatever reason but find alcohol tempting.

        • We had only beer and wine at our wedding for budget reasons and a not small amount of our guests still got DRUNK on our Brut. Which was 100% fine in our case, but yeah, not going to be a mitigating factor in every case.

          • lamarsh

            We had a full open bar cocktail hour, but switched to beer and wine only after that and as soon as my law school friends realized this, they promptly went out and purchased their own table supply of bourbon (which the bartender told them to do, lol). But that is all to say, if people want to get drunk, they will get drunk (though they may not get surprise drunk, which sometimes happens with a full open bar and strong drinks).

        • Katharine Parker

          I was hideously hungover after a wedding recently that only served beer and wine, because I was like, “it’s only wine” the entire time and waiters kept topping off my glass. Beer and wine only is not a safeguard against getting drunk!

          • angela

            Agreed! I actually stick to cocktails when I *don’t* want to drink too much, because I drink them slower. I can drink a loooot of wine if I’m at a wedding and not paying attention.

        • Leah

          Yeah we had someone get very unwell and others uproariously drunk at our engagement party and it was only beer and wine. If people want to get drunk, they will.

        • Jan

          Bruh. Yes. I don’t drink liquor at all but boy, I’ve been to some weddings with bottomless wine that left me feeling huuuuuungooooveeeeeer the next day. It just keeps showing up!

      • Katie

        @Abs brought up a good point (above) – if it’s an issue of grandpa trying to control others or being upset about his granddaughter not sharing his (sort of extreme, but nevertheless) values, then beer and wine only are not going to help.

        • Kari

          Exactly. I think this is a good example of trying to please everyone and succeeding not at all in pleasing anyone.

      • CII

        Do others notice a drunkenness difference at events that are beer/wine/bubbly only and those that also serve hard alcohol as an option? I feel like I have been to both types of events, and regardless of which type it is, there are always some people who drink one drink or not at all, a good number who get tipsy, and a couple people who get blitzed. And I feel like most people stop drinking hard alcohol with dinner and switch to beer / wine anyways? But perhaps my experience is unusual?

        I understand there are a lots of other reasons to limit to just beer/wine/bubbly, including cost, logistics, and venue options (we got married at a wine bar, so we only had beer/wine/bubbly, for example). But I hadn’t thought about the drunkenness factor as a consideration before reading this thread. Thoughts?

        • Amy March

          I’ve noticed more with type of event and time of day- Saturday evening, dancing, lights down low = more drinking.

        • mjh

          My experience is more or less in line with yours. What particular booze has been available hasn’t been a factor in the intoxication level as far as I’ve noticed, with the exception of one wedding I attended which had a reallly strong premixed signature cocktail being served in large solo style (but clear) cups. Other than that, it seemed to come down to whether people wanted to go hard or not, regardless of what was on offer. And I agree with Amy that the tone and time of the event has made a difference. Friday or Saturday night, dance floor etc has had a different base level of intoxication than morning ceremony and brunch, even if both were primarily serving champagne.

      • Having a nonalcoholic bubbly drink available could be nice for the nondrinkers too!

    • z

      Interesting that you used the word “authority”. Is this really just about the alcohol, or is it about a sort of “who’s-in-charge, I’m the patriarch”, defying the grandpa and parents and basically upending a family hierarchy kind of situation?

      • Katie

        No matter what I think about patriarchy and controlling behavior, it’s not really my place to judge LW’s family dynamics. Am I upset my grandpa’s behavior? Yes. Do I think he’s being unreasonable in his pouting about his wife sipping wine? Heck yes. Is it in my power to change it? Of course not. I offered the advice I could using the words I found appropriate, that’s all.

      • BSM

        Unless grandpa is paying for some portion of the wedding, I do not understand how he’s at all in charge.

    • PAJane aka Awesome Tits

      I would go a step further and argue that his authority over consuming alcohol begins and ends with himself.

      • Katie

        His wife has a say in what’s going on in their house, as well. Does she use this right? I don’t know. I hope she does.

    • Abs

      I think limiting to beer and wine only seems like a compromise if the issue is one on which both sides are open to compromise. To people who are fine with booze, it seems reasonable. To people who have never had a drop in their lives, it probably doesn’t mean a whole lot. So I think it matters what the relationship is with Grandpa, and what this is really about. If it’s about control, there’s no winning there and you might as well have the booze you have. If it’s about seeing drunk people staggering around, having only beer and wine might help. If it’s about feeling that his beloved grandchild is heading off into a life of sin that is completely unrecognizable to him (or similar), then I suspect there are ways of compromising that are more effective than limiting the types of booze.

      • Katie

        I absolutely agree that if it’s about controlling or being upset about your grandkids not sharing your values, having a beer and wine bar will not help at all. In my mind, it would certainly help if the issue was about very drunk people at the wedding, but it seems like it’s not about it at all, so yeah, you’re right, types of booze might not be a deciding factor.

  • ManderGimlet

    I think it would be a good idea to discuss with your partner how he envisions his/your friends enjoying the open bar. Is it going to get people loosened up, in the party vibe, and ready to dance? Or is it going to devolve into sloppy, shouting groomsmen with whiskey stains down their shirts and falling into tables? I think that supplying an open bar (which can be just beer/wine) should come with the balance of guest behavior expectation so everyone’s comfort is given (reasonable) consideration.

  • emmers

    We had teetotalers attend, and they were fine. A few even drank some of our (alcoholic) cider. Maybe there were some judgy/disgruntled folks, but they didn’t let us know. I know it can be hard with family opinions, but unless you feel like grandpa is going to make a scene, I’d do as sofar suggests, and just do it. As far as dad goes, I’d just say, yeah, we know you don’t like this, but it’s our wedding, and it’s something that’s important to us. In this situation, you will not be able to please everyone (though I can relate to the urge so much!).

  • Alexandra

    This was our situation as well. My husband’s family are teetotalling Baptists. They don’t dance, either. We are very religious, but we drink, my whole family is atheist and drinks, and all of our friends drink. What to do, what to do…

    We just didn’t make it a big issue (husband’s family didn’t pay for any part of the wedding) and had an open bar serving wine and beer along with fancy lemonade, sweet tea, and pitchers and pitchers of Diet Coke (husband’s family’s favorite). We didn’t talk about it. Nobody said anything. Nobody from husband’s side danced or drank. They were all very happy for us and seemed to enjoy the wedding, but they sat a little stiffly throughout, and that was fine.

    Now, was my wedding the most fun wedding ever? Nope. The clash of the values systems thing made life a little awkward. But there were no scenes or ugliness in any way, and nobody’s brought it up to us ever. And husband’s family is just wonderful to us and always has been. I love my in-laws.

    • C

      We had some objections from my husband’s family, too, about serving alcohol. I was a force of nature planning our wedding in three months and basically said, “yes, yes, yes, that’s an interesting point” and then proceeded to provide an open bar. I thought it was key, though to make a nod to people who don’t drink by having some sort of interesting non-alcoholic options. That seems like a nice compromise in my mind. But I’m also partial to shirley temples when I’m not drinking for whatever reason, because why not?!

      • Another Meg

        I love how you handled this. Also, if you’re at an age where a bunch of your friends are pregnant, it’s awesome to have some fancy NA drinks. One of my friends says her fave part of pregnancy was getting to order Shirley Temples without judgement. YUM.

  • Amandalikeshummus

    Is the choice between open bar and cash bar or open bar and no bar? No bar seems pretty extreme just to please Grampa. Unless he’s gonna go all Carry Nation on you, I don’t see why that can’t just be the thing he doesn’t like about the wedding (it’s gotta be something).

    It would probably be nice, though, to provide a signature non-alcoholic drink. A nice lemonade might go a long way towards making the whole thing seem less alcohol-centric.

    • mjh

      I’m a nondrinker who has never minded anyone else’s drinking (well, except a specific few people who act certain ways when drunk, but I’d mind that whether or not I drank…). I’ve never seen a non alcoholic signature drink at a wedding, but as I guest I would think it was such a nice touch if there were one (or a liquor optional one) offered.

  • PAJane aka Awesome Tits

    My brother doesn’t drink. Neither does his ladyfriend, who is also a vegetarian. They both have their reasons, and I respect those reasons, and don’t pressure them to put things into their bodies that they don’t want to. I would never expect them to provide me with alcohol when I visit them, and I would never expect my sister-ish-law to cook meat for me. In return, I will continue to prepare and serve meat alcohol in my home, and make sure I have exciting non-alcoholic and vegetarian options for them when they visit, because I want my guests to be happy. They have never given me a hard time about my choices, and I will never give them a hard time about theirs. There will be booze at my wedding, and they won’t drink it, and there will be no problem. There very likely will be no booze at their wedding, because that’s what reflects their lifestyle and values, and there will be no problem.Do what you want to do at your wedding because it’s what you want to provide for your guests, whether that’s an open bar, or a coffee bar. If somebody doesn’t want to partake, they’re free not to, and you can make sure their needs are still met by providing water and soft drinks. Don’t let your cranky grandpa throw a tantrum and emotionally manipulate you and every one of your guests into living by his arbitrary standards.

    • sofar

      Exactly. Why is this so hard for some people?

    • Jan

      Heh “meat alcohol”

      • PAJane aka Awesome Tits

        Gah!

    • mjh

      Yup.

      Spouse and I are both nondrinkers. I’m a vegetarian and he’s a meat lover. Our wedding was super intimate/just a handful of our every closest people, and the reception was in my brother’s backyard. The circumstances definitely made it easier but we basically let people know what we’d be providing (food and drink in great quantity, no alcohol, and we discussed the actual dishes we’d be cooking with anyone who cared to know) and people were welcome to byob or potluck anything else. Everyone told me in advance about food they’d like to contribute, which was great because it cut down the cooking we needed to do the night before/morning of. The bouquets were made of lavender and rosemary, and my girl decided to make a lavender/rosemary infused lemonade, decant some for nondrinkers, then spike the rest with vodka. A brother got a case of beer. Spouse and brothers grilled up steaks. My mom made a giant platter of rice with almonds and zirishk/barberries. My girl made a delicious gouda and white cheddar macaroni and cheese, and on and on.

      The nondrinkers and drinkers were happy, the vegetarians, the no red meat eaters and the general meat lovers were happy. We enjoyed each other’s food and drinks and traded cooking tips and stuff over the meal, and went on to generally have a great time. But I’ve been to all veg weddings and a few dry weddings, a number of weddings without a meatless entree and, once, a wedding with tons of booze but only water or diet coke for non alcoholic drinks and it’s always been fine. We are adults and can manage to spend a few hours celebrating the people we love whether or not the food and drink works for us.

  • topscallop

    My friend married a guy whose family are teetotalers and disapprove of alcohol. Their compromise was to have beer and wine during a cocktail hour and then stop serving. Luckily, my table of bridesmaids made friends with the bartender and he snuck us a bottle of wine so we could keep enjoying during dinner.

  • mjh

    It sounds less like a logistical issue and more like an emotional/don’t want family members to view me badly kind of issue. I get it, weddings tend to put us on display in a way that the rest of life doesn’t and it’s not fun to have people you care about and normally have a good relationship with view you and your partner as “the kind of people who would _______”. I agree with the idea that Grandpa’s personal values shouldn’t dictate what anyone else does, but I can understand why LW could still care about his judgement and tension (in their relationship) that could come from it without thinking he has a right to it. There’s no justification for Grandpa getting nasty, but IMO it’s up to LW and partner whether or not they want to potentially deal with unwarranted nastiness over this.

    • sofar

      You nailed it. That’s the hardest part of weddings. Deciding in which ways you can handle pissing people off and how much nastiness you can deal with.

    • Rose

      This is what stood out to me too–not so much worry that Grandpa might make a scene, but that he’d be disappointed. Which I totally understand could be difficult to deal with, but also seems like it might be a good exercise in establishing a few emotional boundaries and beginning to prioritize the new mini-family. Hard, but maybe useful.

  • It’s ye’re wedding, trying to please everyone is impossible.

  • Abs

    I had a friend in a similar-ish situation: wanted to do a whole pig roast at the wedding, Jewish grandparents very freaked out. Everyone involved is very secular, but that meant different things to different generations.

    I think it’s allowed for grandparents to be upset when their grandkids are doing something that seems to contradict their values. They don’t get to control what happens, but they do get to be upset. The couple just has to decide how they want to handle that upset–I found it easiest when decisions were presented kindly (not defensively), but as a fait-accomplit. Most people don’t jump down your throat unless they think the issue is still open for discussion.

    • PAJane aka Awesome Tits

      What did they end up doing?

      • Abs

        Pig ended up at the rehearsal dinner I think. That wasn’t an issue, apparently.

        • BSM

          Ha! Gotta love those seemingly-arbitrary distinctions…

  • PAJane aka Awesome Tits

    Ever notice how much family-related drama comes from anticipating what other people will be upset about, and trying to avoid it? OP is upset now because Dad is upset now because Grandpa has been upset in the past and might be upset in the future. This kind of thing happens in my family, too.

    • Katie

      Totally happening in my wedding planning right now, as well. EXPECTATIONS, goddammit. Even your own expectations of somebody surely getting upset!

    • sofar

      In addition to anticipating, there’s always an element of people twisting themselves into knots trying to make people NOT upset. Which amuses me greatly because as I (and everyone else who’s planned a wedding) has learned, family will ALWAYS find something to be upset over when it comes to weddings.

    • AP

      YES. Also my co-dependent mom throws way bigger tantrums anticipating that her parents will be upset over something that it turns out they don’t actually care about. (Example: every Christmas gathering ever.)

  • Mary

    I think in this kind of problems it’s up to the bride and the groom. If one of you shared the same values of your grandfather, then I would think you shouldn’t serve alcohol. since your fiancé wants alcohol and you are not against it per se, just go for it.
    But given the whose situation, I think you could give your best to make sure people don’t get wasted. For example, making sure the bartender doesn’t serve alcohol to already drunk people or giving a heads up to family and friends, saying there are some people who are against alcohol, so they can keep that in mind.

  • AmandaBee

    I had friends who had to deal with exactly this problem. Their solution: seat the teetotalling family at their own table, away from the bar as much as possible and remove any alcohol glasses from their table. Wait staff were given instructions not to offer champagne for the toast to that table. They huffed a bit about it, but ultimately had to be adults and deal with their personal feelings themselves. As is often the case when your personal choices differ from that of others.

  • rqued

    I recently attended a wedding between a Jewish woman and a Muslim man. For the Muslim family, alcohol was definitely off limits, but for the Jewish family, it felt essential. Their compromise was that the alcoholic beverages (simple wine and beer, nothing elaborate or likely to make people get wasted immediately) was served on a patio off the back of the main reception hall. Everyone knew it was there and people were comfortable walking around with their drinks in front of those who didn’t drink, but for those who didn’t want to partake in the drinking, it was easy to avoid and not a central focus of the evening. As a guest, it seemed like that compromise worked really well (although I’m not sure about the planning and family dynamics that went into the decision of course). That could be a good option for you guys though.

    • Ros

      I went to a similar wedding with more limited space, and they had drink tables… one table with glasses of sparkling cider and pitchers of non-alcoholic drinks, and one table with glasses of champagne and bottles of beer and wine on ice.

      Some of the more evangelical family members were still not appeased, mind, but it struck me as a thoroughly reasonable solution (especially since they seemed like the type who wouldn’t have been appeased by anything… )

    • quiet000001

      This is what I was thinking, roughly – have the open bar but arrange so it isn’t front and center and obnoxious, and make sure your dj/mc doesn’t make a big deal about people getting drinks or encouraging people to drink. And make sure it isn’t necessary to go to the bar for non-alcoholic options. (Ime sometimes serving staff seems kind of cranky about having to go get a plain soda or something, for whatever reason.)

      Restricting the alcohol at the bar may or may not make sense, but having the bar front and center where it’s in your face for the whole reception seems inconsiderate for the people who dislike alcohol, if it isn’t a big deal to have it elsewhere. (Like, there’s “it’s our party and we are doing what we want” and also “it’s our party and we are doing what we want and also rubbing it in your face that we are doing it.” The latter, imo, is not really being a good host.)

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  • SS Express

    I might be mistaken but it sounds like your grandpa’s objection to alcohol is just a personal choice, not a religious/cultural issue. If that’s the case, I would think he’s been to many weddings and other functions where alcohol was served, eaten in restaurants that serve alcohol, been to concerts and sporting events in venues that sell it, probably even been to homes of friends where alcohol was present in the house (if not served), and he survived all those just fine. I mean, if he’s not worried about falling off the wagon or going to hell, what’s really his concern here? That other people will make choices that are different to his? I think that’s something most adults can deal with.

    If you come from a non-drinking family it might not feel like a big deal to you, but as a (fairly moderate) drinker, alcohol is such a normal part of a celebration for me that I would REALLY hate the idea of having a dry wedding, especially if the only reason for it was one guest’s personal preference.

    • Violet

      I’m guessing he survived those events because it wasn’t his granddaughter supplying the booze at them. I think he takes his loved ones disagreeing with him personally, whereas he likely does not care nearly as much what strangers do with their lives. Just a guess. Example: My mom doesn’t really like tattoos but also doesn’t get riled up when she sees them. But if my sister or I got one, MAN would she be bummed out.

      • SS Express

        Would she be equally bummed if you married someone who had a tattoo and didn’t want to cover it up for the wedding though? She might privately think “what a shame that this tattoo will be visible in all the wedding photos” but like, would you have to worry that she might not even come? Because it doesn’t sound like the LW herself is particularly interested in drinking, her issue is whether she should accommodate others who are.

        • Violet

          There’s a step between being upset by something your loved one does/accepts and taking those feelings and being a controlling asshat about it. Grandpa has a right to feel how he wants, and I was just trying to explain why he might feel differently when something is coming from his family member’s choice rather than society’s choices writ large. But even if he feels more strongly because it’s his own kin, that in no way justifies behavior like not speaking to his wife or throwing temper tantrums.

  • Hijacking this slightly, but I’ve always wondered about the open bar / cash bar / no bar dynamics at US weddings. In the UK, when you’re talking about bars at weddings you’re talking about the evening portion of the do – bubbly for toasting and wine with dinner are part of the standard catering – but the impression I get online is that the bar in a US wedding is referring to all of the alcohol at the event. So at a UK wedding, when you’re talking about a cash bar you’ve already provided your guests with a couple of glasses of bubbly and roughly half a bottle of wine during the reception part of the do, and the cash bar is for people who want more drinks during dancing. When you talk about having a cash bar at a US wedding is the assumption that the guests buy their drinks with dinner? What about bubbly for cocktail hour/toasting?

    To unhijack this a little, it’s possible that catered alcohol with dinner and a cash bar for the dancy party could be a compromise, with free non-alcoholic drinks all night?

    (I’ve worked a few UK weddings with a full open bar, and it is such a bad idea in this country. It’s rare enough that guests seem to assume it works like the catering, in that anything not used up is binned/consumed by the staff, so feel obliged to help the couple “get their money’s worth” by taking whole bottles of wine and six packs of beer to consume when the bar announces last call. Hated working weddings with open bars. Please stop downing that wine straight from the bottle, sir, your taxi is here and they won’t take you if you’re that drunk.)

    • Amy March

      Typically, if you say you’re having a cash bar at a US wedding, you mean guests must pay for all of their alcoholic drinks. I’d refer to what you are describing as a partial cash bar. And I think it’s pretty rude to your guests in the US, although I know people do it and views differ.

  • Violet

    Have the kind of bar you want. Unless Grandpa gets in a huff whenever anyone in the world drinks, this is not about your guests and how drunk they may or may not get. It’s about his granddaughter being okay with alcohol when he’s not. Apparently he’s decided that when he is against something, he will be personally and deeply offended when his loved ones have a different opinion. I’m actually kind of shocked nothing has come up before where living your life in a perfectly reasonable way hasn’t upset him. That other than this really glaring controlling behavior, he’s wonderful and reasonable. But c’est la vie; sometimes weddings are really the thing that bring out differences in values amongst family members that you were able to avoid before.
    I frankly don’t care whether it’s that he doesn’t like alcohol or doesn’t like when people are drunk. It’s his prerogative to have his opinion, but not to foist it on you. If your dad is coming to you worried, that’s actually just his own issues with his dad, and frankly, not something for you to mediate. “We’ve already made our decision, Dad,” and let it go. I wouldn’t tell Grandpa beforehand—this is not a weird thing you’re planning on doing and does not warrant any more attention than your dad is already giving it.

  • Nell

    Ok I might be reading too much into this but the opening line stuck out to me:

    “Both of us are professionals (lawyer and doctor) and think it would be kind of weird for us not to have an open bar—it’s kind of expected.”

    So to me, what LW is saying is that educated (presumably relatively well-off) professionals are expected to have a certain type of party. Having an open bar to appease the invisible status gods is just as bad as not having an open bar to appease Grandpa.

    Make the decision based on what you and the person you’re marrying would enjoy the most at your own wedding.

  • Kadee

    My (very large) family is varying shades of Catholic. My husband’s parents and extended family are Mormon, though he and his siblings don’t consider themselves part of the faith. Plus there were only going to be 8 people at the wedding he was related to, including his parents and 2 sisters, compared to the 50 or so of my relatives who were invited.

    This was a huge thing for us to navigate when planning our wedding last year. To make it more complicated, I’m much less of a drinker than he is, plus members of my family are fairly likely to get pretty well drunk, but we wanted everyone to have fun and feel comfortable, and we didn’t want his family to feel overwhelmed.

    We decided on having an open bar, but with beer and wine only, to keep things a bit calmer. We also made sure his parents knew money they put towards the wedding wasn’t going to booze, either at the reception or the rehearsal lunch before hand.

    tl;dr: be respectful. In grandpas case, I’d probably err on the side of not saying anything to him, but having family members he’s likely to grump too ready with a planned response for the day of, unless he’s known to make a scene.

  • I grew up in a relatively conservative religious community in the South and most weddings I went to were not serving alcohol. I do remember at least one at a country club where alcohol was served, but it was not served in the main room, so people went to wherever the bar was to get drinks. I wonder if something like that might calm the situation. Also, if water, soda, tea, and any other nonalcohol cold drink were served in the same type of glasses as the wine, this would also make it less clear who was/wasn’t drinking and could soften the impact since it would be less clear and everyone would have a “fancy glass”….

  • I’m wondering if LW’s grandfather knows she and her fiancé drink sometimes? I grew up in a family that did not drink (for religious culture reasons), but in my twenties I started drinking a little bit. At some point I talked about it with my parents about how I didn’t feel drinking (not in excess) didn’t go against anything in the Bible, etc., and gave examples that related to our common religious cultural background…like talking about the story of Jesus’ first miracle being turning water into wine). They mulled this over and I think they agree, but they almost never drink anyways, but I don’t think they judge people who do (as long as it is in moderation and safe). Now they are not shocked if they visit and wine is served with dinner, etc., so they’ve adapted over time. I don’t know if there is a way to approach the grandfather in a similar way and to discuss the why behind the decision? Of course, they grandfather seems pretty entrenched in his views and not open to hearing other perspectives, so I am not sure this would be a solution in this particular situation.

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  • Plangal

    I’m just starting wedding planning and my concern is the opposite–should i have an open bar with an alcoholic (and never actually has attempted to be on the wagon…so this isn’t about providing temptation) future brother in law? this guy is unpredictable (other than he will definitely imbibe) and can be a jerk and is probably self-medicating mental issues or mental illness of some kind or another. I realize I can’t control his actions, but given that we’re planning a small wedding and my family barely drinks, giving him an outlet for endless whisky seems like a bad idea. It’s amazing to me even as I’m going through it that one person can impact my own decisions for an important life event so much. If it weren’t for him, I’d just have an open bar and realize that most of my other small guest list will just drink sensibly. I guess I better get used to it anyway, given that i’m marrying into the family.