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When bar service is offered to guests at an event free of charge, it is known as a “host bar.” This is in contrast with a cash or no-host bar, at which guests are expected to pay for their own drinks. Drinks can become quite expensive, especially for an event with a large group of people, which can make such a bar a dangerous proposition for the host, as he or she may end up spending a huge amount of money on guests.
The advantage of a host bar is that guests truly feel like they are guests, since they can order whatever they want without needing to pay for it. These bars are sometimes viewed as more classy than cash bars, and they make the environment less stressful for guests, since they do not need to worry about bringing cash to cover the price of drinks and tips. It may also be more convenient for a catering service, since the bartender can focus on making drinks without needing to collect payments from guests.
The primary disadvantage is that it can be very expensive for the host, especially if premium drinks and cocktails are served. Guests may also tend to overindulge, because the cost of drinks does not encourage them to slow down. As a result, guests may be more likely to become intoxicated, which can lead to social and legal issues.
Some hosts try to strike a balance between the host bar and the cash bar. For example, guests may be allowed to order a set number of drinks for free, after which they will have to pay. Vouchers for free drinks may be handed out to guests as they arrive to facilitate this. Other hosts may simply make it clear than only a set number of drinks will be served per guest to limit alcohol consumption. A host may also decide to offer beer, wine, and non-alcoholic drinks for free, while hard alcohol and cocktails would need to be paid for by the guests.
An invitation to a wedding, reception, dinner, or other catered event at which alcohol will be served may include a note to inform guests about whether the bar is hosted or not. Events like gallery openings, film premiers, and opening nights of performances may offer champagne or wine to guests free of charge, with the cost of the alcohol being bundled into the cost of the ticket, or with a corporate sponsor footing the bill.