There are two ways that caterers or venues with onsite beverage service can do bar service–either a package or on consumption. Then there are a few insider secrets to ask about — specialty cocktails or partial beverages on consumption.
Beverage Package/Open Bar
A beverage package or an open bar is a fixed cost per adult for the duration of the party for unlimited alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverage consumption. Beverage packages can vary wildly from just including beer and wine to top-shelf alcohol. It nearly always also includes non-alcoholic beverages like soda, juice, and water. It is worth asking if there is a less expensive price for an afternoon vs. evening party since guests tend to drink less during the daytime.
Beverages on Consumption
An affordable way to offer some hard liquor, but not have a full, open bar is to have a few specialty cocktails available in addition to beer and wine. This is a fun option to select something that fits with the theme (a dacquari for a tropical theme) or color palette (pink decor with a pink drink!) or come up with a creative name.
Partial Beverages on Consumption
If you think the vast majority of your guests will stick to beer and wine, with only a few taking advantage of hard liquor, ask about partial beverages on consumption. Note that most venues are not set up to handle this, but some restaurant venues are. If the bar that your guests will drink from is a permanent fixture (ie, not being set up and taken down for your event only), you may be able to take advantage of this option.
Since your kids are obviously not going to be drinking alcohol, there is usually a soda bar price. This may be included in your price for the kid’s meal or it may not. Be sure to check, so you aren’t surprised later!