Bar Codes

Understanding how liquor tabs are tallied

Cash bar, open bar, corkage fees. When it comes to liquor pricing options for events, the only thing more complicated  might be having to craft a caviar menu on a Cheerios budget. The type of liquor license, the size of the venue and in which of the 50 states the venue is located all can affect what the charges will be at the bar. 
   " Cash bar. A tab is kept for every drink ordered, and the planner pays tax and service on the total. This is the best option for small events, where guests are not big drinkers.
   " Corkage fee. This typically is required when the event sponsor provides the dinner wine, rather than if it is purchased directly from the venue. Some venues charge a flat rate for every bottle opened and served, which includes the cost of washing, drying and handling the glassware, as well as the acts of opening and serving. Typically, the fee does not include tax or service charges. Others use their own in-house equation, and prices can vary.
   For a recent corporate event at Cipriani 42nd Street in New York City, for example, the champagne provided by a sponsor was $20 pricier than Cipriani’s in-house stock. Using a formula based on the differential between the cost of outside vs. in-house wine, the venue charged a corkage fee of $10 per bottle, along with tax and service charges. “Corkage is complicated,” admits Katie Kannapell, Cipriani’s banquet manager. “People often think corkage is cheaper, but you have to ask what is included and then compare it to what the venue serves. Very often you are not saving anything.”
   " Open bar. The venue charges a flat rate per person, based on the number of guests, quality of liquor being served and hours the bar remains open. Be sure to ask if the rate includes tax and tip. Is it more economical than paying per drink? “You have to know your guests,” says Lori Pecor, director of catering for the Woodlands Club in Falmouth, Maine. “Older people tend to drink more martinis and hard liquor. Younger people drink more beer and wine.”