No Host Bar vs. Hosted Bar: Pros and Cons

By Beth Buehler  

The topic of who is paying for drinks at the bar is a conversation that happens for every meeting or event, unless it’s a business or social occasion that doesn’t involve alcohol of course. At various conferences and events I attend for work, many times Colorado wine, beer and spirits are donated so these beverages and sometimes a signature drink are available to attendees at no cost, while they must purchase other drink choices. I also like the ticket approach, as it still provides a free drink or two but controls the organizer’s budget. 

At our reader’s choice awards celebration and Hall of Fame induction for Colorado Meetings + Events held each March as the kickoff to Colorado Meetings Week, we utilize partnerships and sponsorships to have a hosted bar throughout the evening from 6 – 8:30 p.m.

A hosted bar at the annual Colorado Meetings + Events Best of celebration is made possible through sponsorships and partners. Photo by Allée Photography.

These are just a few examples, so I connected with Alicia Hein to learn more about the topic of “No Host Bar vs. Hosted Bar: Pros and Cons” as she has worked as a national sales manager and convention services manager at Crested Butte Mountain Resort and catering sales manager for weddings at Keystone Resort.

Destination Colorado: What is the best way to walk through the no host bar/hosted bar topic with a client? 

Alicia Hein: I like to start by discussing how the event fits into the overall program for the group. If it’s a first-time event or an isolated reception, then the client or meeting planner has more flexibility with the format of the bar.

In my work as national sales manager for Crested Butte Mountain Resort, I’m often working with clients who are bringing an annual conference to our resort where attendees come year after year, and the welcome reception or evening receptions are cornerstones of the conference experience providing networking and a chance to catch up with colleagues they don’t see often. In those cases I recommend keeping the bar format the same to meet the expectations of the guests.

I’ve had other conference groups that like to mix things up a bit from year to year, and we can use the bar format to meet budgetary guidelines, help meet food and beverage minimums negotiated with our resort or encourage attendance for a program before or after the event.

A toast at Butte 66 overlooking the slopes at Crested Butte Mountain Resort. Courtesy CBMR/Trent Bona.

DC: Are hosted bars more common than no host bars or vice versa? Or is it different for corporate vs. social events?

AH: I don’t know that either is more popular. I think it depends mostly on the group’s budget and also the type of event. In my experience as a catering sales manager handling weddings at Keystone, I found that most of my brides wanted to provide a hosted bar and did so as long as their budgets allowed. Often their guests were traveling in from all over the country and so they wanted to relieve some of the financial burden of getting to the destination by hosting the bar (and entire celebration) once their guests arrived.

DC: What are some things that need to be considered with a hosted bar?

AH: Definitely the client’s budget as hosted bar tabs can run the gamut depending on the type and length of the event and number of people attending. Clients also need to consider transportation after the event if guests are traveling back to their hotels or elsewhere. A responsible host will provide a shuttle for the event or hold the event near complimentary transportation options, as people typically consume more drinks if there’s a hosted bar.

An aprés ski meet-up at Crested Butte Mountain Resort’s Umbrella Bar could be a hosted or no host bar.  Just make sure it is a short timeframe for participants to ski or board back safely. Courtesy CBMR/Nathan Bilow.

DC: How about a no host bar?

AH: Depending on the type of event, it can be helpful to let guests know ahead of time so that they can come prepared with appropriate payment. Most venues take credit cards, but if the event is held in a remote location the only option may be cash, which less people carry these days. If you’re a meeting planner adding a new event to your program, say a late afternoon/evening poster session, a cash bar beforehand is probably going to mean that less people will attend both events. Offering a selection of food at the reception can offset this, but hosting the bar (or part of it) would be more beneficial in getting people to attend.

DC: What is a good middle ground between the two?

AH: Usually this comes up due to a client’s budgetary constraints. I’m a big fan of customizing the bar to host beer and wine but have liquor drinks be paid for by the guest. This format increases event attendance and provides options for guests while controlling the overall client’s budget.

DC: What is a good way to help control costs for a hosted bar?

AH: If a conference group has a strict budget, they will often provide attendees with a certain number of drink tickets to control costs and guests pay for any drinks above and beyond the tickets. Another option is to host the bar up to a certain time and then switch to a non-hosted bar, but this doesn’t work well for all events and can actually create a “rush” on the bar right before the format switches to non-hosted, which doesn’t necessarily help with your budget.  

If a meeting planner has sponsorship opportunities available for a conference, I always suggest including bar sponsorship as an option. This can be an easy way to offset a conference budgetary constraint while allowing a vendor to engage in a social way with your guests.

Free beverages provided by trade show vendors can be a helpful way to provide a closing reception like this one at the Meetings Industry Council of Colorado Educational Conference and Trade Show. Photo by All Digital Photo and Video.

DC: Do venues have differing requirements for hosted and no host bars? 

AH: Yes, but most of this work is done internally on the venue end, say having a cash box on hand or credit card machine available for a no host bar or having more beverage and staffing available for a hosted bar. I think the key here as a client or meeting planner is detailing specifics of the bar format and payment with your venue host ahead of time so that everyone is on the same page.  If as a client you are concerned about the bar tab for a hosted bar, I like to be aware of that up front and communicate it to our staff.  Overall, we want you and your guests to want to come back to our resort or refer us to others and we increase our chances of that happening by managing to your expectations for the event.

DC: How can bars at events (hosted or no host) be made unique vs. the same old approach?

AH: I think this comes down more to what’s available at the bar than the format. Clients looking to make an event unique will often work with our conference services team to customize a signature drink for the event or request that local products are served.  Here in Crested Butte our requests are usually for locally produced Montanya rum or Irwin Brewing Company beer as a way to anchor the wedding or conference experience to our town. As someone in the industry I love checking out the amazing signature drink ideas provided by Colorado Meetings + Events in their email newsletters and magazines. The drink recipes are usually provided by professional mixologists and provide me with the building blocks to spin off something similar for events here.

Beth Buehler is editor of Colorado Meetings + Events and Mountain Meetings magazines, has helped plan numerous meetings and events, and enjoys exploring Colorado in all seasons.