You’re out to dinner with a few friends. The restaurant has some lovely, fresh flowers on the table. There is a pianist banging out a jazzy cover of your favorite Beatles song. Your table splits a couple appetizers and a nice bottle of wine (JK… two bottles). Your best friend orders the sea bass, but you know better and get the filet. You can barely contain your excitement when the flourless chocolate cake is delivered to the table. After 3 hours of dining delight, the server drops off the bill – a modest $240 for the amount of food you ate! Without hesitation, you tack on that extra 20% gratuity because that’s just what you do when you’ve had a great time!
Now, imagine taking 100 friends out to dinner and imagine the logistics that your hired staff coordinate to wine, dine, and entertain 100 of your closest friends and family for 5 hours. And imagine that your wedding costs (I’m picking an average number here) $25,000. Does it seem reasonable/rational/realistic to drop an extra 20% (or five grand) on top of THAT bill?
But you get my point. Wedding receptions are – for illustrative purposes – just gigantic dinner parties. And there are many vendors who work hard to make this particular dinner party truly exceptional. In most cases, though, you’re not just slipping your credit card into the check folder at the end of the night and doing quick tableside math to figure out how much extra cash should be dolled out to the servers, busses, bartenders, dishwashers, pianists, maitre’d, coat check, et cetera. So then how in God’s name do you figure out who to tip?
I’ve struggled answering this very question for my clients over the years. So the logical thing to do was ask the vendors outright! Here is what they had to say on the subject:
From a caterer: “We… do expect to be tipped, and so we actually put a gratuity on our contract… The proprietors of a business should not receive a tip, although they can certainly accept it if it’s offered.”
From another caterer: “We recommend $5 per server per hour.”
From a baker: “We don’t expect tips… The client has already paid for delivery and set-up. We get lots of nice thank you cards from couples, and that is very much appreciated.”
From a photographer: “I don’t actually expect to receive tips. I also don’t expect them for my employees, I make sure we get appropriately paid in the price.”
From a different photographer: “Tips are never expected… however, I feel that it would be appropriate more for my staff/team [than for] me, or at least for the 2nd/3rd shooters, videographers and photo booth operators. I now tell clients to consider tipping if you felt we went above and beyond.”
From a DJ: “I never take the lack of a tip to mean dissatisfaction… Ideally, my DJs should be tipped… because they don’t make as much per gig as I [the propietor] do. But I know that’s not the case. I don’t have the impression that my clients make a distinction between the owner and the staff DJs.”
From another DJ: “Who doesn’t love a tip?! that said, we make it a point to charge what we’re worth and we don’t ever expect a tip. its just a lovely surprise if one comes our way.”
From a bandleader: “Our band frequently receives tips from our clients after performances, but we never request a gratuity, and it certainly is not expected. We are always very grateful to receive any offering of appreciation!
From a makeup artist: “I don’t expect to be tipped, because I’m the owner of my business. However, I think it’s nice for my staff artists… they don’t necessarily expect it, and I tell them not to, but it’s appreciated.”
From a hairstylist: “We never ‘expect’ is but it is always really appreciated when the client does. I would always rather my workers get a tip before me just because they are making less than I am, however because we are traveling to them and bringing that experience to their door in addition to helping day of planning and months of emails most brides usually tip me as well. I always say if someone is performing a service for you that you couldn’t otherwise do yourself, and ONLY if you are happy with that service it is greatly appreciated and makes a big difference in our day if you tip even a small amount.”
From a string quartet: “It’s completely up to the client and we would not be offended if there is no tip… Having said all that, I do think a tip would be appropriate if, for instance, the client received either a special deal or free upgrade or discount on our rates.”
From a florist: “I think it is a nice gesture to give each floral staff member $20 or so at the end of the night… so few people tip the florist anymore. When I first started in the biz, we always got tips at the end of the night (and very generous ones) but that’s really died out over the past 6-7 years.”
From a different florist: “Since we’re usually not around at the end of the event, we often aren’t taken into consideration… One thing that I mourn more than not receiving tips, is the lack of handwritten thank you notes we receive.”
From a transportation vendor: “Anything I quote is always inclusive so you don’t have anything further from me.”
Confused yet? It would seem that opinions on whether or not a vendor should be tipped varies widely, even among vendors from the same category!
So, how then to break it down? I’d like to offer some simple guidelines:
1) Gratuities are, by nature of their name, “gratuitous.” They are an addition to the agreed upon terms of the contract. With respect to my vendor friends, if anyone EXPECTS a gratuity, they should put it in their contract or communicate to you in advance of the wedding. If it consistantly remains a problem for them, they should raise their rates.
2) Having said that, I would always say gratuities are appropriate for ANY vendor you feel went above and beyond.
3) How much to tip if you do decide to? (with special thanks to Sheryl Garman, my wedding planning teacher and early career mentor who shared some of this wisdom with me!)
Catering: The important thing here is to bring a wad of cash relative to size of the catering staff and keep it in smaller bills. Ask your catering manager how many staff will be at the wedding. If, for instance, you have 1 captain, 2 chefs, 2 bartenders, 1 dishwasher, and 8 servers, that is 14 people. If you bring $500, that averages around $35 per person. I would suggest bringing it in $20s, $10s, and $5s, handing the whole envelope to the captain, and letting them dole it out as they see fit.
Catering Manager: $50-100
Photographer, Videographer: $50-100
Second Shooter (photo, video): $40-50
Music: DJs, $25-50, Bands/Quartets, $20-25 per band member
Officiant: For religious leaders, consider making a donation to their church. For secular officiants, $50ish
Florist: Typically they will have a staff of 2-3 people on set up for events, so if you were to bring $20+/- per person for them, that would work.
Transportation: $10 per hour, per vehicle
Hair/Makeup: 15%-20% of the total bill
Parking attendants/valet and coatroom: This one is tricky, because I see guests often tip these people themselves (even though it’s a wedding and they haven’t paid for anything else all night). Here I would recommend bringing some extra cash and, if you notice your guests are NOT tipping then I would throw them $1+/- per car/guest.
Miscellaneous: There are many delivery people, assistants, and additional vendors and staff that you may encounter throughout the wedding day. If you are feeling especially generous and pleased with their service, you should carry around an envelope with some spare $10s and $20s to slip to people you may not have considered.
Wedding Consultant: At your discretion of course
An important note about everything above: These are mostly my suggestions and opinions, but being true to yourself and your budget is equally important. I work with many couples on a tight budget. Never worry about offending a vendor if you can only give a small tip or legitimately do not have the money for a gratuity. As others have mentioned (and I will repeat) a nice thank you card, a glowing review on The Knot and/or WeddingWire, and referring us to your engaged friends are all worth their weight in gratuity gold!
Vendors – feel free to sound off in the comments! I know no blog post on this subject will be entirely comprehensive because of the huge range of opinions out there, but I want to hear from you!