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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I usually agree with your advice, but you missed the boat when you sided with the woman who thought it was improper to have a cash bar at a wedding reception.

Serving liquor has become a liability even if you serve it to a guest in your home. If the guest leaves your home and is arrested or has an accident, is the guest blamed? No, the person who provided the alcohol is at fault. A nasty lawsuit can result, not to mention personal injury should an accident occur.

Did the woman feel she was entitled to free liquor because she sent an "appropriate gift" from one of the "best stores"? Attending the wedding, being part of the celebration and attending the reception wasn't enough? Does free liquor make the event more meaningful? I think not.

Unfortunately, people invariably drink more when the drinks are free. Paying for each drink is a reminder of how many drinks they have had. A cash bar at a wedding reception is indeed proper. Guests who must have alcoholic beverages can pay for them and bear the responsibility. -- TIMES HAVE CHANGED, CAPE CORAL, FLA.

DEAR TIMES HAVE CHANGED: Ouch! I was soundly clobbered for having agreed that a cash bar at a wedding reception was improper. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: You told a reader that a cash bar at a wedding reception was not proper. You are out of touch -- it IS proper. The key word is LIABILITY. An open bar may lead to overindulgence. Overindulgence may lead to automobile or other accidents. If the bar is free, the liability may be that of the host. If the wedding guests are charged for their drinks, it not only tends to slow them down, but puts the responsibility on the bar/restaurant/establishment.

Please do not use my name. My husband is a retired attorney and he refuses to acknowledge my law degree by osmosis. Sign me ... M. FROM OREGON

DEAR ABBY: In the great state of Minnesota where lawsuits are running rampant, a cash bar is the only way to go.

The hotel or restaurant has the necessary insurance to cover any liabilities. If YOU provide the liquor, YOU are liable for anyone leaving drunk and killing themselves or others.

Have you ever seen what happens when free liquor is provided? People drink three times as much as they would if they had to pay for it.

A good idea is to provide alcohol-free champagne and toast the couple; then let the guests buy their own drinks.

The last wedding reception we went to had a free keg of beer. When the keg was empty, they played "Taps." Tacky? Yes. Funny? Very. -- JEANNE GRATES, PLYMOUTH, MINN.

DEAR ABBY: "Confused in Connecticut" implied that she gave wedding gifts in exchange for unlimited free drinks.

Abby, I could have been the bride at that wedding, so I hope you will air my side of the story.

I wanted my reception to be held at some out-of-the-way place that was absolutely "dry" -- not because of my religious beliefs, but because I was horrified to think what could happen if my family had unlimited free booze. However, my mother insisted on having the reception at her favorite restaurant.

The manager tried to persuade me to have an open bar plus a champagne fountain, but I convinced him that it would not be a good idea by relating a few horror stories about my cousin's wedding. Unfortunately, I couldn't do anything about the main bar upstairs. At least the distance of the main bar from the reception and the expense of paying for their own drinks kept the lid on things.

I suppose I could have eloped, but I took the risk because I really wanted a wedding. My mother had looked forward to planning it, and my future husband and his parents expected one. I just didn't want my reception to involve a lot of police officers and emergency room doctors.

Please don't use my name. Sign me ... WANTED TO RIDE IN A LIMO, NOT A PADDY WAGON

For everything you need to know about wedding planning, order "How to Have a Lovely Wedding." Send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, Wedding Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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