The Pros And Cons Of Splurging On A Professional Bartender For Your Event, According To A Wedding Caterer

To hire a professional bartender or do it yourself, that is the question ... one that I, as a former wedding and wine-tasting caterer, can answer many times over. During my time in professional event services, I bore witness to a whole lot of libation-related shenanigans; I saw professional bartenders and amateurs alike, and even open bars offering unfettered access to alcoholic beverages. And though each event any given person hosts is bound to be wholly unique and entirely different, I've noticed that one of the most important factors for determining the success of a soirée is the staff behind the bar.

While a wide-open bar can invite a certain degree of informal chaos to an event, having a professional bartender can absolutely make or break the vibes, ambiance, and mood of a venue. Whether it's keeping the alcohol content at optimal levels for enjoyment or being able to make that obscure drink from a social media phase seven years ago, bartenders offer incredibly invaluable services.

But, naturally, where there are pros, there are usually cons, and hiring a professional bartender is no exception — especially when it comes to weighing the cost versus profit of bringing a professional bartender on for your event. Hopefully, this list of the possible pros and cons of splurging on a professional bartender, based on my half-decade of experience working in the wine-tasting and wedding catering industry, can help make your event planning path that much clearer.

Pro: Expect fewer mistakes from professional bartenders

A pro for hiring a professional bartender is that they are a professional who comes with a professional skillset and a professional mindset. This is a person who has made it their business, quite literally, to sling drinks better, faster, and more consistently than you or I could dream to — and, more importantly, a professional bartender makes fewer mistakes while doing it.

During my years watching professional and not-so-professional bartenders at work, I saw instances demonstrating how awry an event can go when you have an amateur behind the bar. One time, a friend of a friend got behind the bar and opened all the wine we had ... only to accidentally get bits of cork and foil in all of the bottles. Another time, an amateur bartender split and curdled all the dairy-based cocktails; half the menu. And, in a classic non-professional bartending blunder, an enthusiastic individual tossed and lost a very expensive bottle of liquor.

Guests can expect more order and decorum with a real bartender behind the scenes. This is especially true since professional bartenders are full of exclusive trade secrets — they're trained to ensure the beverages are made correctly, can help prevent ingredient waste, and can predict and prevent a million other incidents that amateurs wouldn't even notice until it's too late. If you have an upcoming event where mistakes behind the bar are not what you want to see, it's worth splurging on someone who slings drinks professionally.

Con: Bartenders are more expensive

When it comes to the cons of hiring a professional bartender, the first and most obvious is the cost. After all, bringing in a professional to tend the bar at your event naturally means you have to pay a professional fee for their services. And, depending on the kind of shindig, soirée, or otherwise one plans on hosting, the cost can either balance out or vastly outweigh the benefits.

Though the cost of hiring a professional bartender differs vastly for reasons such as geography, level of skill, the actual services rendered, and supply costs, the average hourly pay for professional bartenders is somewhere between $30 to $60 (not including tips). Now that may not sound like an awful lot of money, but most events are more than an hour or two long, and it can all add up quite quickly to become one big, expensive con.

Although bartenders can save you money in many ways, they can also lose more than you gain. Keep in mind, however, that the expense of a professional bartender is only a con if the event in question is the kind that can handle not having hired a cocktail-slinging captain to stand at the helm. And, hey, if shelling out for a professional bartender sounds too expensive, you could always save some cash by featuring a booze menu curated around these cost-effective yet delicious two-ingredient cocktails.

Pro: Tact is an art form for bartenders

Professional bartenders wear a whole lot of hats. In the movies and other forms of media, bartenders are portrayed as therapists, pep-talkers, hype-masters, and crowd controllers. Not only are they all that and a bag of chips, but they're also inspired culinary creators who dream up delicious cocktails with deft, skilled hands while simultaneously keeping the queue for liquor from descending from more or less of a straight line into an amorphous blob of thirsty patrons milling in a senseless half-circle around the bar. But of all the amazing skillsets professional bartenders bring to the table, tact is perhaps the biggest perk they provide.

It is no secret that the social scene in and around the bar can make or break any event, big or small, lavish or laidback. So, if you're worried about your boozy bash going off without a hitch, especially when it comes to tactfully containing the more inebriated guests or those who are sober and simply a touch taciturn, a professional bartender is the perfect boon to keep one's mind on enjoying themselves rather than reigning in others. This peace of mind can only be granted because bartenders know, on a career level of mastery, how to divert, redirect, and essentially handle any situation (expected or otherwise) with a certain degree of tact most amateurs lack. And that tact means peace of mind, which is the biggest pro there is.

Con: Bartenders will cut you off

One con to hiring a professional bartender for your event is that they can and will cut off guests if the situation necessitates it. And though contracts obviously vary per person and situation, the decision to cut off access to the bar is more or less at the individual bartender's discretion in many scenarios. Whether the bar shutdown is due to the late hour, perhaps some rowdy behavior from an individual with grabby hands, or a group gathering with a touch too much enthusiasm, there is a non-zero chance of a professional bartender closing out and cutting the libation station down.

In my five years of wedding and wine-tasting catering, I only saw this happen a handful of times, but that's a handful more times than I've seen during dinner parties with friends, family, and otherwise non-professionally tended-to events. So, if the function in question calls for a more hands-off approach toward slinging drinks, then hiring a bartender could be the wrong call and thus more of a con than a pro. After all, some people don't want to invite a built-in buzzkill when an open bar among buddies can be so much more chill. Ultimately, it's up to the host's discretion to determine whether the pros and cons of the bar being professionally cut off is more of a boon or a detriment to the event — and that depends on what kind of event you personally prefer.

Pro: Professionals make better drinks

One pro to consider when deciding whether or not to shell out the cash for a professional bartender is the awesome drinks these people bring to the table. Wherever you are, a professional bartender absolutely amps up the taste, texture, and aesthetic of the drinks through the very virtue of their career-honed experience. But with the internet bringing globalized access to mixed drink recipes, techniques, and general cocktail-making mastery to our literal fingertips, it's almost too easy to lose sight of the fact that a hobbyist and a professional bartender do not operate at the same base level of skill.

As an event server, I noticed this strange trend of dismissiveness toward professional bartenders, almost as though making a few good drinks at home meant the same thing as professionally serving up thousands of different drinks to hundreds of people at a bustling event venue. To put it simply, a person who assumes they can tend a bar because they make a mean cocktail sounds like someone who thinks that doing their own taxes is the same as being an accountant.

Professional bartenders and the delicious repertoire of drinks and expertise they bring make them certified pros rather than cons in just about any event catering scenario. Especially when serving up boozy beverages to a crowd of 10, 20, 50, 100, 250, or even 500-plus people. And maybe while they're there, you can ask a professional bartender about the best drink they can make.

Con: Lack of creative liberty

A con to consider when it comes to choosing your bartender is the pro of bartending professionalism versus a lack of laissez-faire attitude at the libation station. In other words, having a bartender means you can't just hop behind the bar and make whatever you want. Formal bartenders are excellent at what they do, especially with on-demand drinks like Long Island iced teas, martinis, or cosmos, but sometimes all a party person wants is to get behind a bar and have fun. If the event is informal enough to sacrifice professionalism for the perks of having full creative freedom to make yourself some off-the-wall cocktails, then it may be worth foregoing a professional bartender.

So, if you, your event, or your guests land within the category of those who enjoy experimenting and letting your creativity shine out through those cocktails, then professional bartenders will only cramp your style. Just make sure to buy the best and most basic cocktail ingredients bartenders keep if you skip out on hiring a master of the cocktail craft in lieu of avenues of personal creativity.

Pro: Professionals make more varied drinks (on and off-menu)

One pro that really puts the pro in professional bartending is the sheer variety of beverages these career cocktail-makers can shake up on demand without a recipe in sight. The reason for this is simple: The job of a professional bartender is to be as good as they possibly can be at taking orders, making drinks, learning some they don't know, and maybe even developing new and delicious mixes in their free time.

Professional bartenders, as a simple fact of life, have a whole lot more libations in their lexicon than the average event guest or amateur bartender. So, if your event calls for a bartender who can bust out all the well-known beverages like cosmos and old fashions alongside lesser-known, far less popular cocktails like a gin fizz or even an Aviator, then professional bartenders are worth busting the bank. After all, variety (or lack thereof) is an important factor for determining how your guests will get buzzed. And who knows, the bartender you hire may even be able to make some of these amazing drinks that Tasting Table staff were dazzled by.

Con: A professional bartender can be overly formal

Pros and cons are, by their very nature, rather subjective. In the same way that a nation experiencing a drought would most likely appreciate some rain, an area suffering from severe floods would most likely consider more rain far less desirable on the day-to-day. The same principle applies to some instances of professional bartending since even the most skilled and professional wedding, wine tasting, and event servicing bartenders in the world are still wildly out of place, and a definite con, in a more informal venue. Showing up to a wedding with a professional bar is one thing; showing up to a children's birthday party with a bartender is another thing entirely. One makes sense, the other makes a whole lot of questions.

See, some events are meant to be more formal and some are not, and by including a professional bartender, the hosts are declaring a certain degree of decorum or station that could be discordant with the actual intention or vibe of whatever the occasion. So, before deciding that a professional bartender is a pro in any situation, consider whether or not they actually add to the ambiance or if, perhaps, their presence detracts instead.

Pro: Professionals help keep events tidy

One aspect of professional bartending and catering that is often overlooked is the additional clean-up all those extra hands can add, the amalgamation of which, without a doubt, makes or breaks an aesthetic. When I first began catering weddings and other events, one of the aspects I found most surprising was just how effective a dozen hands and a half-dozen bodies can be in clearing a room. With a group of four, we could easily clear the glassware from tables seating 300 guests in less than 10 minutes. And that's not even mentioning the little bits of litter all the servers and bartenders remove through the course of an event that would otherwise spread and multiply.

A professional bartending presence at your event can help to ensure that the wine, water, and cocktail glasses do not amalgamate in odd piles and towers around the bar and in far corners of the event venue. Hiring someone who makes bartending their business ensures that you won't see all these various odds and ends, straws and discarded ice, and little paper umbrellas scattered across the tables, floor, and garden decor like some sort of frat party. And even worse? Without an expert bartender, well, let's just say that things can get pretty messy really fast, and it'll always be the hosts who are left to pick up their home or the event venue at the end of the night or, if you're lucky, come morning.

Con: Professional bartenders are complete strangers at the event

At events like weddings or larger celebrations, ignoring or accepting the presence of somebody that you do not know is pretty easy. After all, with 300 people milling in and out of any given venue, it's hard to keep track of all the faces and places we may know them from. But this lack of insular intimacy that larger events allow means that smaller, more intimate events may actually suffer from the presence of a bartender. Consider a close gathering of the twelve people who matter the most to you in this world, getting together for the first time in years to celebrate that lasting friendship in style. And now imagine that same scenario, but with the lovely if outlying presence of some bartender who simply won't blend in no matter how professional they are or how hard they may try.

While many larger events with more guests and activity may very well benefit from the additional crowd control and professional presence of a bartender behind the counter, this same situation easily turns into a detriment in more modest or intimate occasions. This is an especially notable con to keep in mind since some bartenders apparently play favorites with customers.