Open Bars, also known as a hosted bar, are the most popular and least expensive type of bar. The bride and groom pay for all the liquor and alcohol either in advance (giving a limit to the supply) or post- party.
Cash Bars, also known as a no-host bar. Similar to a nightclub, the guest pays for their own drinks. This is sometimes seen in bad taste or as tacky because you're asking your guests to pay for something at your party but it may also force the guest to limit their alcohol intake- resulting in less drinking and driving afterwards. *Signature drinks are traditionally free with this option*
DIY Bars are just that, do it yourself. You provide basic liquor from a wholesaler- vodka, gin, rum, bourbon, and scotch, a basic red and white wine, one or two popular beers. Also include a few popular mixes- orange and cranberry juices, coke, ginger ale, and tonic. Check with your local liquor store, most will take back unopened bottles. Remember, it's better to have too much and return leftovers after the wedding than to have to little and to make an emergency run/s for more. As a DIY you will also need to provide a bartender- check with your venue for license requirements, assorted glasses, bar towels, swizzle sticks, cocktail napkins, ice buckets, lemons and limes. You may also need consent from the reception venue to provide your own liquor.
Alternative Bars*Cash Bar with Tickets: the host provides tickets for guests to have a limited number of free drinks and anything beyond that is on the guests' tab.
*Serve one or two signature drinks- which are traditionally served during the cocktail or dinner hour- if you have more than one you could choose do one drink during cocktail hour and another during your dinner hour.
Limited Bars have a limit on the alcohol selection. Typically, it's just a selection of wine and alcoholic punch.
Other Things to Be Aware Of
*Look into Party Alcohol Insurance. PAI covers the hosts for any damage to the property and in case of drinking related incident lawsuits. The host is required to provide one sober supervisor per 50 people- a bartender fits this bill.
*General etiquette says if there is a dinner hour, the bar is closed. So if you're having a 5 hour reception, the bar is open for 4 hours- unless you set a different time to close the bar.