The Essential Etiquette Rules To Follow At An Open Bar

You probably hear the phrase "open bar" and automatically think: Yes! Free drinks! But an open bar is much more. Typically, it's a reason to celebrate. They are usually set up at weddings, galas, reunions, work events, and more. You may have paid to be there, in the case of a corporate event — or if it's an occasion like a wedding, you've likely traveled to get there. Suffice it to say, you're wanting to get your boozy fill while you can. 

But there are etiquette rules you need to follow so that you don't abuse the open bar environment. You don't want people to talk about you during the event or after the night is done — and, as you know, word travels fast these days! 

For obvious reasons, people tend to change their drinking habits when at an open bar. So, if you want to be invited to the next event and don't want the bartender (or guests) to call you out for bad behavior, you better know how to act. Here are the essential etiquette rules to follow at an open bar.

Don't cut the line

Nobody likes to wait in line, especially at a bar. Having to try and catch a bartender's eye as they look passed you is one of the most frustrating experiences about ordering a drink. You've tried the tricks by flashing some cash or waving at them, but to no avail. Not only do you need to follow the etiquette of an open bar, but you should also be following the rules for how to politely get the attention of the bartender. When you're at an open bar, everyone is waiting for drinks that they're getting for free — so, just wait in line and get your free drink when it comes. Don't rock the boat, so to speak. Be patient. You'll move forward like everyone else. 

Even if you're at a wedding and you're getting a drink for the bride or groom, nobody likes the person that jumps in front of everyone else. An important thing to remember here is that you aren't more important than any other guest. 

Don't complain about the alcohol

When you're at an event with an open bar, the rules are pretty much set so that people can't order anything they want. You aren't paying for your own drinks, so you need to drink what is offered. Don't be that person who loudly bemoans the fact that they don't have your favorite beer or whiskey.

When it comes to open bars at weddings, you need to remember the venue likely put together a package the bride and groom selected –meaning that they were offered a certain style of alcohol, not brands, as a part of their wedding costs. The basic open bar concept usually comes with two or three beer choices, two or three wine choices, and standard liquors like one type of vodka, whiskey, scotch, tequila, etc. Just because they don't have your high-end preferences doesn't mean you should complain. If it's a wedding reception, the couple went through a painstaking process of deciding which package was right for their guests and budget. And if it's a corporate or other type event, the producers (those who paid for it) went through a similar process. 

And so, be appreciative and enjoy the festivities rather than complain about what booze isn't available. 

Going overboard isn't cool

Many of us have been there — the night's going great, the band is killing it, and you're leaving it all out on the dance floor. You might think having the best time means continuing to drink. But you don't want to embarrass yourself, especially if you're at a family wedding or work event. Getting turned away by the bartender (and potentially making a scene because of it) is the last thing you want to have happen. Take this to heart: Have some dignity and monitor how much you're actually drinking. 

Even if you're okay with riding the buzzed train, you don't want to be remembered as "that person" from the open bar. Maybe just get a club soda the next time you go up. Some people take any chance they can to indulge heavily — don't be one of them. You not only risk embarrassing yourself but those around you. Always drink responsibly. 

Tip the bartenders

Just because you're getting drinks for free doesn't mean you should stiff the bartenders. In fact, because you're not paying for each drink means you should be tipping more – because, let's be real, it's costing you zip to imbibe. A bartender's job at a private event is sometimes thankless. They aren't getting the tips they would normally make on a night when they're tending bar, as people don't have to pull cash out or use a credit card. While caterers usually request hourly pay for their bartenders, remember they are spending their time serving you and not expecting many tips in return. 

Here's our suggestion: Make your bartender feel special. A nice $20 tip when you visit the first time is an excellent gesture — knowing you'll likely be visiting them plenty throughout the evening. The bartender might even catch your eye when the bar is crowded and you're trying to order another round. 

Maximize your time

We get it! Open bars are an invitation for you to drink the night away — responsibly! But you don't want to be going up to the bar every few minutes, even if you're just accompanying friends while they're getting drinks. Maximize your trips by either offering a round for the table or a drink for you and your date. It's a nice gesture (and etiquette) — and most people will reciprocate. 

Think of it this way: Reducing your walks to the bar will free you up to enjoy the party and not have to wait in line as much. And if you're only grabbing a drink for yourself, you might consider asking the bartender if they'll give you two — a couple beers or easy cocktails — because this will eliminate excessive trips. Nobody wants to spend most of an event peaking ahead at the line.  

Don't ask for crazy concoctions

You might think you're making an impression by requesting a mojito or fat-washed mezcal. But there's a time and place for those drinks. When you're at an event with an open bar, nobody cares about this cool new cocktail you may have invented at home — or something you read about on a boozy site. The bartenders work fast to serve a large amount of drinks — and they don't want to make something intricate that takes forever. Save those orders for the fancy bar up the street, or an evening out of dining and cocktailing. 

Don't be the person that orders something outrageous with 15 steps. That's annoying for the bartender and all the folks in line. Imagine people waiting for some color-shifting cocktail you ordered with butterfly pea flower! Or an incredibly difficult drink that requires layers of chocolate throughout. No way! Stick to common cocktails. Think: Martini, Manhattan, Negroni — keep it simple. You'll be doing the bartender (and everyone around you) a favor.

Be respectful

Just because you're at an open bar event doesn't mean you can be rude to the staff. Even if they're taking awhile with orders, you should treat all interactions with respect — bartenders and staff are super busy, and it's not helpful if you're impatient with them. Your courtesy is an essential etiquette rule — and it goes a long way. Not to mention rude and entitled behavior will get nothing but stares from people who might even talk behind your back. You definitely don't want it getting to the hosts that you're a difficult guest who has zero appreciation for the stress the staff might be experiencing. 

Show everyone that you're having a good time by also showing your hosts (and staff) that you're grateful for the invite and all those working hard to make a memorable evening. Really, this all comes down to having good manners — and politeness is an indication of etiquette!

Tell guests if it's not an open bar

Typically, guests are expecting to attend a wedding and enjoy an open bar. But if you can't afford one or want to limit the amount of drinks guests can enjoy, you need to let them know in advance. There are multiple kinds of bar options that you can feature at your wedding or other event. For example, you can have an open bar where the price of drinking is covered for all guests. You can also choose a cash bar, where guests must pay for their own drinks. Hosts can also cover beer and wine, but allow guests to pay for cocktails and mixed drinks themselves if they choose.

Some couples don't drink, so they offer a dry bar. Other organizers will opt for drink tickets, setting a limit on how many drinks each guest has for free. Whatever you choose is up to you. But you should alert the guests before they arrive. Adding it to the invitation is a smart way to clear up any possible confusion among guests — which can be a little awkward.

Drink at least one water per alcoholic beverage

If you're having a good time, it probably means you're out on the dance floor and/or mingling with guests. When it comes to an open bar situation, it can be easy to forget that you need to stay hydrated — drinking water also helps to slow your booze pace. Pacing ensures you see the end of the night and don't have any big regrets in the morning. Taking in water, especially if you are showing off those electric dance moves, can be one of the smartest (and easiest) ways to enjoy the evening responsibly. 

Drink at least one water per alcoholic beverage to avoid a hangover or feeling impaired. Facts: It's an excellent way to moderate an entire evening of boozing, which can also be super dehydrating. And the more dehydrated you are the more things can quickly go wrong. If there isn't a pitcher of water at your table, the bartender will be more than happy to pour you a glass. 

Have fun

Open bars are meant for celebrations, and it's important to show the hosts just how much fun all their efforts produced. The best way you can express your appreciation is by having a great time! Whoever planned the event — wedding, birthday, or corporate — it's no joke that it cost a lot of money, time, and planning.

No one wants to see a downer at an open bar. Show good etiquette by tossing aside any negative behavior — you also might want to really check your alcohol intake if you're in a "mood," because it could exacerbate those feelings. If you enjoy yourself, your good vibes will become infectious to those around you.

And definitely make sure to thank your hosts on the way out — or even during the event — to show your appreciation. If you're an extrovert, making a toast in their honor is an excellent way to show how grateful you are.