What Is A No-Host Bar?

Posted on 08 Oct 2015 02:47

A no-host bar, also known as an "A la Carte Bar, or "Cash Bar" (also spelled nohost) refers to bar service at a hosted social event, such as a company party, banquet, or wedding, where guests have to pay for their own alcoholic drinks. A no-host bar is used as opposed to a "hosted bar," which is most often called an open bar, where the drinks are paid for by the host. The term no-host bar is industry jargon from the catering and banquet event profession.

Why is a No-Host Bar Used?

A hosted (open) bar can become extremely expensive, not to mention cause some guests to over-consume alcohol. For this reason, many hosts may prefer to pay for dinner and even for non-alcoholic drinks, but leave it up to guests to pay for any alcohol that they choose to consume. There are reasons that hosts may choose to do this besides the expense. For example, certain guests may take advantage of an open bar and then become drunk and disruptive. If a guest became severely intoxicated and then injured themselves or others, the event host may fear being held legally responsible, similar to how a bar owner or bartender may be responsible for a patron who leaves the bar drunk and then causes injury to someone.

Is It Rude to Offer a No-Host Bar?

Still, the most common question that most people will ask is "what kind of host expects me to pay for my own drinks?" Indeed, some hosts even choose to have "No Host Bar and Menu" or a "No Host Dinner." Is it rude to not supply the alcohol to your guests?

The answer probably depends on the function. Most people will understand why their company does not want to get them liquored up at the annual Christmas party, and so chooses to limit the amount of alcohol they give out for free.

On the other hand, an "elegant wedding" may be considered a bit less than elegant if everything, including alcoholic drinks, is not included.
Yet, some weddings provide wine with dinner, and then have a no-host bar afterwards. In this case, no alcohol at all, except for the traditional Champagne toast (called the Champagne skate)1 might be considered less rude than having alcohol but expecting guest to pay cash for it. Many people consider inviting guests to your wedding much like inviting them to your home. Would you charge a guest in your home for a glass of wine?

Besides the event itself and its function, whether a no-host bar is acceptable may depend on what you consider crucial for good hosting. Not everybody deems alcohol to be an absolute requirement for a "good party." Some folks may say it is simply an indulgence and if you want it, you should be willing to pay for it. But alcohol in some form is an expected part of entertaining guests, especially at large-scale events where guests may have traveled from far away and have taken time away from work, etc.


An open-bar at an employee Christmas party can
be a little too inviting for some employers. Good thing
these guys are so tame!
Image © CandyBox ImagesImage Credit

Alternatives to a No-Host Bar

Regardless of whether people like it or not, no-host bars are likely to be encountered quite often. Big banquet events cost a lot of money. For example, a reception venue that provides bar service may charge, as a flat fee, ten to fifteen dollars per person, for only beer and wine.

For this reason, there are other options besides a no-host bar. One option is to only serve wine, beer, and perhaps some type of pre-mixed punch drink. This can limit the expense, and also cut down on the amount of alcohol consumed. As well, wine, beer, and other beverages can be hosted, and "hard liquor" can be served on a cash-only basis.

Another option is to serve (or "host") alcoholic beverages for the first hour or so, after which the guest begin to pay for any additional drinks. This is a popular option and you will often attend events where there is an "open bar" for the first hour only, which then becomes a cash bar. Similarly, guest may get their first few drinks for free, perhaps through a ticket or "coupon" system, and then have to pay for any further drink orders.

If you received an invitation that says "No-Host Bar" on it, or something similar, now you know to bring cash with you! However, if you are planning an event, keep in mind that many people do not understand such jargon, and "Cash Bar" may be a better option to use. Most people will understand what this means.

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