How to Get the Most Bang For Your Buck From An Open Bar

Khubicek / Shutterstock

An open bar is a rare, beautiful thing. It is a chance to drink as much free alcohol as you wish, sipping continuously until you’ve reached your limit—or the bar closes. When an open bar presents itself, not only must you be prepared mentally, but you must also have a clear strategy in place.

Drinking five glasses of Two-Buck Chuck or round after round of light beer is a waste of an opportunity. Your goal should be to get the best free liquor you can get your hands on and to drink with purpose. Here are eight rules to drink by that will make your next open bar experience the bacchanal it should be.

Start with Water

Before you start your drinking marathon, make sure you hydrate. Order two seltzers with lemon (or lime, if that’s how you roll) and suck them down before consuming any alcohol.


Pad your stomach with snacks to help soak up your open bar experience. Eat as much as you can get your hands on while the appetizer trays are being passed around. The best snacks for drunk-prevention are battered and deep-fried morsels, or anything with protein. Sliders and deviled eggs are must grab items.

Investigate the Backbar

While you’re pre-gaming with seltzer water, take a quick peek behind the bar to see what’s in stock. If they’re not overwhelmed with the crowd, strike up a conversation with your bartender and ask if they have anything worthwhile stashed away. Depending on the event, there are occasionally top-shelf bottles like quality bourbons, scotch or amari (think Campari and Fernet) hiding just out of sight. After you inspect the spirits, take note of any reliable mixers on hand including tonic water, ginger beer and soda water.

Double Fist

Skip the wait in line and get two drinks at once. If your bartender bats an eye or tries to limit you, tell them that the drink is for your friend who just broke their leg and can’t get up to get their own drinks. If the bartender tries to look for said “friend” to confirm your story, tell him or her that your “friend” is just behind that tree or around the corner.

Keep Your Order Simple

At a 200-plus person event with an open bar, the last thing your bartender wants to do is make you any cocktail that’s even remotely time-intensive like a Manhattan or, god forbid, a Mojito. It is also possible that your bartender’s cocktailing abilities are somewhat questionable. Chances are the entire bar staff was hired by a catering service and are mostly out-of-work actors or college students disguised as barmen. So keep your orders to two- or three-ingredient drinks. If there’s a good gin available (like Tanqueray or Ford’s), order Gin & Tonics. If there’s Campari or Fernet, ask for either with soda water and a twist. Remember it’s best to start light and move toward a buzzed-but-still-functioning end.

Always Tip (Even if They Say Not To)

Even though the drinks are free and there’s a sign that clearly states “NO TIPPING,” it is always a best practice to tip your bartender. Introduce yourself (so they remember your face and the name behind it) and after you order your first two drinks, slip the bartender a $20. If you take care of your bartender, it is likely that he or she will take care of you. Not only will you be golden for the rest of the night, but you also might get access to any specialty bottles that are hiding in the back (just ask!).

Drink a Beer Between Cocktails

It is crucial to take a low-ABV break between spirit-forward cocktails. Opt for a lager or an IPA—nothing over 6%. You’ll maintain your stamina and cleanse your palate.

Save the Straight Spirits for Last

You’ve had your eyes on that scotch all night. The crowd is thinning and the bar is about to close—now’s your chance. Order one scotch (or bourbon) on the rocks with a splash of soda and one neat (for that “friend” of yours, remember?). These will be the last two drinks of your open bar extravaganza. Throw these down the hatch with vigor and enthusiasm. You survived to tell the tale of another open bar and your fallen, drunken comrades get to be the brunt of the jokes at the office tomorrow.