Bellying up to Your Reception

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Most wedding receptions involve a bar as part of the fun. It can be the most anticipated and the most dreaded part of the festivities. It’s also hands-down the best generator of post-wedding stories, which explains that last sentence. Here are a few pointers to help make sure your guests have plenty of the kind of fun that involves uninhibited laughing and dancing and hardly any of the kind that involves blowing chow into the centerpieces.

Playing your cards right
Check in with your caterer or bartender about the state or local laws about carding. Many of your guests may not think to bring ID to the wedding, in which case many a bartender may be unable to legally serve them. Ask how he or she usually handles the situation and use that as a guideline.

It’s also a good idea to think about the under-21s in the crowd. While lots of parents think that a wedding is an OK time to allow a 16-year-old to try a glass of wine, it’s not cool to put the bartender or wait staff in that position: Depending on the state, many bar managers will have to fire the offending waiter or bartender right off the floor or risk losing their license. Now there’s a wedding memory to cherish.

Make sure the bar staff and wait staff have a point person to talk to (Not you or the groom. You’ll be busy.) for tough situations, and make sure that person knows they need an easy out for politely refusing service to the underage.

Besides, if Cousin Clarissa’s parents really want her to have a glass of bubbly, they can always fetch it from the bar themselves.

Mixing it up
Make sure the bartender will have plenty of mixers on hand, whether or not you’re serving people mixed drinks. A good store of mixers allows for a good selection of nonalcoholic options, and will ensure that the bartender doesn’t have to refuse to give Great-Aunt Doris a straight cranberry juice because he needs to save it for the Cosmos.

And if you are serving cocktails, a good selection of mixers allows people who don’t drink – or who are just trying to slow down for a bit – to look like they’re drinking even when they aren’t. Trust me, this is useful. No matter how enlightened your friends and family are, there is at least one guy at every wedding reception who can’t stand to see someone just drinking a Coke. No matter how many times the target explains that they’re a Mormon or on antibiotics or a cyborg who absolutely cannot risk the short-circuiting, the C’mon Have A Drink Guy will not let up.

I don’t know if those guys are issued at the licensing office or what, but rest assured that they will be there. So you can either doom your non-drinking guests to an evening of “Why aren’t you drinking? It’s a wedding! Have a drink! Just one. Just a beer. Just one. Why not? Why aren’t you drinking?” or you can give them enough mixing options to order virgin cocktails or something that looks cocktailish. Then the C’mon Have A Drink Guy can occupy himself with telling the band about his request, of which he can remember neither the name nor the melody.

Getting customized
With some advance notice, your bartender should be able to create a signature cocktail for your reception. You can name it the You and Him or something ridiculous and funny or something romantic and schmoopy or whatever you want. It’s yours. It’s an easy way to put your own spin on your wedding with something you’d be spending the money on anyway.

Getting silly on a budget
Cash bars are definitely not cool at a reception – most of your guests will be surprised by it, and many won’t have brought cash with them.

If you want to keep your alcohol costs down, offer an open bar with just wine, beer, and one mixed drink option. An old-fashioned cocktail can be retro fun, or, again, you can offer a custom cocktail. Just make sure the ingredient list doesn’t include the top-shelf stuff.

Going teetotal
If, because of personal or religious views, you’d prefer not to serve alcohol at your reception, that’s perfectly understandable… But your guests who don’t know that about you may be surprised. Many people assume that alcohol will be offered at the reception whether the bride and groom drink or not. Your guests won’t die after a dry evening, but it is polite to let them know what to expect. Plus, it saves you from having to having to keep answering questions about where the bar isn’t. You don’t have to put it in the invitations or anything – just mention it to your friends. You can also have your best man, maid of honor, and parents help you discreetly spread the word.

Going overboard
As you may have been thinking earlier in this article, C’mon Have A Drink Guy sometimes turns into I Went Ahead and Had a Bunch on Your Behalf Guy later in the reception. Or sometimes it’s another guy or girl entirely. Either way, if you were planning on saving the centerpieces and not having face marks in your anniversary cake, a little planning ahead can be a big help.

First off, your bartender can be a huge help. Any experienced bartender is already sick of dealing with drunk people and will be more than happy to work with you on a plan to keep from creating them. This is another good reason to have someone be a point person with the bar staff or caterer – make sure that if the bartender feels the need to cut someone off, he or she has backup.

If you know that a friend or relative is likely to be a problem, you may want to have another guest keep a little bit of an eye out and make sure that coffee, water, or distracting conversation is in heavy rotation.

If worse comes to worst, you can either put together an impromptu Brute Squad of your largest friends and relatives to gently lead your too-much-fun guest up to his hotel room or let it go and have your own fun in another part of the room. Your drunk guest’s behavior reflects on him or her, not you.

But definitely have your videographer get a clip. If your guest is going to entertain your whole reception, he might as well entertain YouTube too.