6 Types of Labor Charges for the Bar

Courtesy Flickr Dave DugdaleSometimes labor charges are included in the beverage charges, but often they are not. In most cases, the meeting planner will have to pay extra charges for bartenders, bar backs, cocktail servers, cashiers, security, and corkage. These charges are negotiable, depending on the value of the business generated for the caterer. If a cash bar sells over $1,000.00 in liquor during a reception, the bartender charge may be waived if negotiated in advance. But unless yours is a very lucrative group, the caterer will pass on the labor charges to you.

  1. Bartenders. Usually the caterer has a policy that all beverage functions will need a minimum number of bartenders, or a minimum number of bartender hours, depending on the size of the group. One portable bar with one bartender per every 100 attendees is standard procedure. If all attendees are arriving at once, or if there is concern about them standing in long lines, one portable bar and one bartender for every 50 to 75 guests should be used. The total charge may be based on a sliding scale. For instance, if two bartenders are scheduled, the meeting planner may have to pay something like $125.00 apiece for the first hour, $75.00 apiece for the second hour and so forth.
  2. Bar backs. Typically, for every two bartenders, there is a "bar back" who helps replenish ice, glassware, liquor, etc. Normally, there is no separate charge for bar backs;  unless the group event is super large, the bar back will usually be taking care of other bars throughout the property. 
  3. Cocktail servers. They can cost as much as bartenders, so it’s a luxury that can strain your budget. They may be unnecessary if you plan to have two or three portable bars set up throughout the function room and let the attendees get their own drinks. On the other hand, if you have servers circulating the room with trays of poured wine or champagne, this will keep wine drinkers from clogging bar traffic and slowing down the beer and spirits service. You may also reduce consumption of alcoholic beverages if you pass some of it. Like butlered hors d’ oeuvres, it’s a trade-off between product cost and labor cost.
  4. Cashiers. Some caterers require a separate cashier, if for no other reason than to keep the lines moving. The meeting planner may save this labor charge if he or she is allowed to buy drink tickets in advance and resell or give them to the attendees; local liquor laws, though, may prohibit resales. Furthermore, if you try to add a little markup to the drink tickets’ original price, there will be some unhappy people; however, you may be able to support that strategy if you are using the additional money to defray other costs, using it to enhance the money collected for a charity function, etc.
  5. Security. Depending on the type of property you are using for the event, you may be able to get by with the facility’s in-house, licensed security team. This team typically patrols the entire property, so if you want anything more you will have to pay for it yourself. The caterer can usually arrange for extra security at your event; it isn’t always necessary for you to hire an outside firm yourself. But, there will be a cost.
  6. Corkage. This is a charge placed on beverage alcohols that were purchased elsewhere by the client and brought into a catered event or a restaurant. It represents compensation to the food and beverage operation for opening the items and serving them. It is a necessary charge for at least two reasons; one, the caterer has to make up for the sales revenue lost by not selling the products -- the more alcoholic beverages the caterer sells, the more profit made. And two, if the caterer charges something, then his or her insurance will cover liquor liability -- a bonus for the typical meeting planner who does not carry that sort of insurance. If the liquor laws allow, and if the caterer is willing, you may have the option of bringing in your own alcoholic beverages. This is typically done with wines, especially unique wines that only you can procure. It is also common if you have lined up a liquor distributor as a sponsor, who agrees to supply free wine for one of the meals or receptions held during the convention or meeting.

To learn more about beverage functions, read With a Bevy of Bevvies to Choose from, Which Beverage Function Is Right for You?

Photo: Dave Dugdale

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