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What is a Host Bar?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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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.

DelightedCooking is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a DelightedCooking researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

By nextcorrea — On Oct 27, 2012

I am planning a wedding and we were planning on having an open bar but when we got an estimate from the catering company we were shocked at the price.

It looks like we are going to be able to offer free beer but if people want to order anything else they will have to pay cash. I think that is a good compromise, right?

By vigilant — On Oct 26, 2012

I know that everyone loves an open bar, but anyone that has spent much time around one understands that they have to set limits. It is kind of like an all you can eat buffet. When you are given unlimited access you tend to overindulge. When people can drink as much as they want and not watch their cash dwindle away they tend to get pretty sauced.

By lightning88 — On Aug 28, 2010

On certain nights, bars will sometimes throw a special and act as a host bar for a set number of drinks. I know a lot of bars do this on ladies night, but you have to ask the bartender, because sometimes they don't advertise it.

You'd be surprised how many free drinks you can score though, if you ask around.


By googlefanz — On Aug 28, 2010

Does anybody know if there's a way to rent a host bar in downtown Asheville?

I want to throw a party for my 21st, and my parents are giving me a pretty generous budget -- is there a way to rent out a bar and use it as a host bar, or how exactly does this work?

Any advice would be appreciated!

By Charlie89 — On Aug 28, 2010

Having a host bar at hour wedding is a great way to double the cost of the your reception.

As the article says, it's a really good idea to put a limit on the number of drinks your guests can order for free, or else you're going to end up with a bunch of very drunk guests and a huge bill to pay once you get back from your honeymoon -- learned that one the really hard way.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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