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Ask Team Practical: Tipping Wedding Vendors


Ask Team Practical: Tipping Wedding Vendors | A Practical Wedding

Q: I was wondering what to do about tipping your vendors. I’ve heard a variety of things, from not tipping vendors who are self-employed to giving vendors gifts in lieu of a tip. What is considered practical and appropriate, and is there a generally accepted amount/percentage? Does this change depending on the type of vendor? What do I do if we have a package deal with the venue?

-Totally Iffy Providing Wedding Helpers Appreciation Tokens

TIPWHAT (thank you for that),

A: This is a dicey area we are about to venture into, so hold on to your hats. Add to that the fact that there is no way for us to give you universal rules that you can follow every time, and you get complicated. So here are the basics for weddings in The States, and remember to trust your own judgment.

Tipping Means Gratitude

Tipping is called a gratuity because it is exactly that—money that conveys your gratitude for a service rendered.  It would be nice if we could adhere to just that rule and only tip people who went above and beyond their jobs, but it’s not quite that simple. In most states, wage laws let business owners take advantage of  the social mores and lower their employees’ pay in order to compensate for their earned tips. The amount varies, but if you are being serviced by someone who is considered a “tipped worker” in one of those states, they are most likely making less than minimum wage because their employer knows you will tip them… and tip them, you should.

But how does this apply to weddings?  Well, that’s up to you.  Tipping in wedding land is optional and something that should be done for a job well done. If you’re going to tip, listen up. If you are not, go wander around for a bit and read the archives. (Seriously, when was the last time you read through the archives? There’s good stuff in there!)

Who To Tip

First, check your contracts. Some contracts will state that a mandatory gratuity is included in your fees. While it’s probably best not to get us started on the idea of mandatory gratuities (cough hidden fees cough), let’s just say that you can cross those people off your further-tipping list, unless they do something amazing that you feel deserves a little extra (like give you a kidney). This is also the time to consider people you might not think of tipping, like your officiant or day-of coordinator for your venue. Find out if a tip is appropriate; they may not be allowed to accept tips or it may need to be in the form of a donation to the organization they represent. Then go down your list of vendors and figure out who you’ll be tipping and how much you need to budget for.

I’m not throwing out exact dollar amounts or tipping percentages because budgets vary wildly. If you’re paying $10K for a caterer, chances are they are not expecting a 25% tip… but they might take a tip in the form of $40 to each of their bartenders. Also, don’t be afraid to ask your vendors directly what they expect. A little bluntness never hurt anyone.

How To Tip

Consider a modest tip to anyone you would consider tipping in an everyday situation: Servers, valets, bartenders, butlers. (What? Y’all don’t have wedding butlers?) You can divvy up the amount and give each person their own envelope, or you can give a set amount to the person in charge and request that they distribute it among their staff. If you are unsure, ask whomever is managing them how best to handle it. Give your tips in cash and consider (but don’t kill yourself over) including a small thank you note with it. Delegate someone to hand them out. (Fun fact! This is a traditional Best Man responsibility!) You also may want to have your this person check with you before they hand them out; if your baker shows up drunk with the wrong cake, chances are there isn’t much to thank her for.

Business Owners vs. Staff

The rule of thumb with business owners is that they don’t have to get tipped because they set their own rates. Meg put it this way, “The idea is that, as a business owner, you set a price that you expect to be paid, and you control the price (i.e., you should build in your own tip). People who don’t own a business are not setting their price, so it’s nice to give them a little extra.”  That being said, if you love them, feel free to tip them. A tip doesn’t have to be monetary, either. The self-employed caterer who made your wedding barbecue may not expect a tip, but the thank you note with a few shots of her work by your photographer for her portfolio will be welcomed.

The Best Tip: Referrals & Awesome Reviews

Know what your vendor will welcome even more than a tip?  Public praise. More business. A personal thank you. A cash tip that feels like it means something.

Consider sending them a thoughtful email that they can use in their testimonials, a review in a online forum like Yelp, keeping their business cards on hand to pass out to friends—all of these will be much more appreciated than a hundred bucks. But know that if you do decide to tip, you will most likely make someone’s day. We asked the APW vendors and it was agreed that while tips weren’t expected, they were always appreciated as something more than money. One vendor said,  “We got a $50 tip at the last wedding we did and it felt like we’d won a million dollars. It’s totally not about the money, it was about our clients acknowledging that we are service vendors and we work our asses off.” Oh. And consider sending a Thank You card with a handwritten note inside. Seriously. You’ll make their day.

Final sum up: there are no clear rules, so use your best judgement and go with your gut. And if you love your vendors tell them that (and tell you friends, too).

Let’s talk, Team Practical!  How did you handle tipping?  What is your game plan for tips on the day of your wedding?  What have you done in lieu of tips for your amazing vendors?

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  • Caroline

    I’d be interested in experiences in other countries as well…I’ve been living in Europe long enough to that I know the basics of tipping over here (no to drinks, yes to restaurants!), but I had no idea what was typically or expected for the wedding.

    (Or when I get my eyebrows waxed. If someone could answer that too, I would appreciated it, because I feel weird when I do and stingy when I don’t. Seriously, help a girl out.)

    • http://www.otheramusements.com Someone

      It’s not something I’d really considered as a UKer. I tip in restaurants if it was good. Sometimes food delivery people, like the pizza guy. The UK doesn’t have those rules where you can pay people less though and there is much less of a tipping culture.

      I hadn’t planned on giving out any tips, wedding wise.

    • Scribblemouse

      As a rough guide, as a UKer – yes to restaurants, no to eyebrow waxing. Yes to private hire taxis, no to hansen cabs (because they charge enough already, thankyouverymuch). Yes to hotel people who carry your suitcases up the stairs for you, no to people who wheel your airport trolley for you – without you asking – and expect £2 (it would have cost me £1 to unchain the damn airport trolley myself and I’d have got the £1 back afterwards, jerk). And you know what, my suitcase has wheels anyway, fuck that shit.

      That last one might be an Egyptian airport thing. Ahem.

      Anyway, for me, tipping mostly happens in restaurants, unless I’ve had a particularly bad service. I try to tip roughly 10% – or whatever change I have. I try to ask whether the tips go to the server in particular, or whether they’ve divvied up (because if I’m giving someone £5 for the lovely service on my £20 meal, I want them to have it, not split 10-ways so they get 50p).

  • http://www.craftybroads.com Cindy

    As a brand new vendor, I’d like to enthusiastically second the awesomeness of a great review and/or referrals! Way more important than a tip (though that, yes, is also like winning the lottery.)

  • http://domestocrat.wordpress.com Kim K.

    Such a great post!

    I love the Tipping As Gratitude guideline. I felt so weird about tipping our venue coordinator, like our relationship was bigger and more meaningful than an envelope of cash at the end of the night, but she was the real rock star of our wedding. She went above and beyond for us and without her, I honestly don’t know how it all would have worked out. We thought about getting her a gift or something but, in the end, I’m happy I wrote her a (very long) thank you note and included some cash.

    I also HUGELY believe in the notion that if you like your vendors, become walking advertisements for them. I have recommended our photographer, cake baker, venue, ring maker, and liquor provider to more people than I can count. And have actually gotten some of them additional business! Also, write reviews on Yelp! It was the first place I looked for vendor reviews, so after our wedding I wrote a ton of very lengthy ones myself.

    • http://www.blushcelebrations.com bec

      As a vendor, I love that you took the time to do that!! So I’m going to send you a big thank you on their behalf!

  • Jamie

    We tipped people who didn’t own their own business. And then we tipped people who had a bunch of hassle. For example, our reception didn’t have an elevator big enough for all of the DJs equipment, so we know he had to take a million trips in the regular sized elevator. So we tipped him because I’m sure that was a pain in his ass.

    We also tipped our catering manager in addition to the gratuity already on our bill because she set up all the centerpieces, card boxes, etc., so that we didn’t have to. She did a fantastic job and she saved us so much stress and worry so we tipped her.

    And then I tipped my hair people because I love them and they’ve been doing my hair for 8 million years and they rock. I also got them gas cards because they wedding was kind of a far drive for them. But I’ve known them forever, so it felt more like a gift.

    I think the guideline of tipping people who don’t own their own business is a good one. But if someone does own their own business, and they have just been so helpful, or awesome, or stress relieving, and you want to tip them, then tip them.

    After my wedding, I ventured into the world of The K**t and wrote recommendations for them all (they were that awesome, seriously). The guy who did my makeup already has three more wedding this fall, because I recommended him to a friend, who recommended him to a friend, or recommended him to another friend.

    • http://blametheweatherman.wordpress.com Melissa

      We tipped my hair & makeup stylist in referrals. She owns her own business, so I know she wasn’t hocking her pay to someone else. She was AMAZING – so we fed her the day of, kept a glass of champagne in her hand & added two extra weddings to her schedule. She called it fair.

  • http://engineerbaker.blogspot.com Caitlin

    Yipes – and here’s where I look incredibly gauche… I’m hoping there’s not a deadline or expiry date on those thank yous, right? I mean, I got all other thank you cards out except for photographer & dance studio (where they taught us our first dance). Our wedding was in November of 2010. It’s not too late, is it? (And to be fair, I wanted to have a picture of us dancing to send to the studio with the thank you, and that hasn’t come yet.)

    • http://happysighs.blogspot.com liz

      i sent a few thank you cards out on our first anniversary to people who were really helpful and let them know we were remembering our awesome wedding and how much they helped us and how thankful we still are a year later.

      • Shelly

        What a great idea Liz! I think I may do something like this

      • http://www.blushcelebrations.com bec

        Liz, that is brilliant! What an awesome way to make someone smile – to still be appreciating their work a YEAR later. Awesome!!

    • http://bunniesnbeagles.blogspot.com Ms. Bunny

      I don’t think it’s too late. I generally think it’s never to late to thank someone. I mean, at this point they are probably not expecting it at all, so a thank you card in the mail will make their day!

      • http://bettencourtchase.blogspot.com Helen

        I second that. IT IS NEV ER TOO LATE. Also, snail mail is awesome.

  • http://onwardfulltilt.blogspot.com/ Caitlin

    We sent thank you notes to our vendors with photos of their work and included their names and site links as much as we could, but we did tip the caterer. Well, we tipped her staff. Lucy, (here we go public praise!) of L.M. Townsend Catering in Cooperstown runs her own business but my husband, who worked as a catering waiter all through college, was pretty adamant that we tip the staff. I had no idea how much was expected (I needed this post last August!) so I just asked Lucy. I had a few envelopes and cash ready at the wedding and just asked her what she thought. She assured me that her staff (which also included the bar tender) was well-taken care of but that a $25 tip per person was what they usually received (this is upstate New York for reference). She reiterated that it wasn’t necessary, so I don’t think it was expected or mandatory, but these people made the party so amazing (we actually hugged a few of them when we left, that kind of amazing) so we set aside $25 for the 9 staff who were working the wedding and gave it to Lucy.

    Long winded response here, but the extra $200 was so well received and appreciated, it felt worth it. And when in doubt I think it’s fine to ask a trusted vendor what they think, I was so happy that Lucy was honest with me.

  • Torie

    I’m UK based so like the first two commenters would say that tipping here isn’t big in wedding land.

    I’m also a vendor and for me a thank you and a recommendation are worth so much more than a cash tip – I just did a wedding where the bride texted me from the wedding party to say how much she loved her cake and then asked if she could provide a testimonial for my website.

    That text was worth a million dollars to me, knowing your work is appreciated really is priceless and if you want to say thank you then you will go down on the ‘best clients ever’ list (what no one else has a list?)

    • Fiorentina

      Thanks for weighing in. As a USian going to be married in the UK, I have been rather worried about committing some tipping faux pas – tipping when it’s not appropriate, or failing to when it is. It’s a relief to learn that it is not expected but appreciated, and given our budget I’d much prefer to give great vendors excellent testimonials or recommendations than cash I don’t have!

  • Anonymous

    We tipped our musician because he spent a lot of extra time with us helping to pick songs, give tips, etc. (My husband and I are not music people). For the other vendors (florist, decorator, baker, country club event coordinator), we are writing thank-you notes and including prints from our professional photographer of their work. All of our vendors also owned their businesses except for the country club coordinator.

  • carrie

    I did include a tip with my thank you card for my self-employed photographer because he has an assistant who worked all day with him. I almost didn’t give anything because of the self-employed “rule” but ultimately I’m glad I decided to because the assistant worked his butt off.

    • Amy

      Ditto – we didn’t tip our photographer who owned her own business (though we wrote her a thank you note and online reviews) BUT we did tip her assistant in cash. The assistant was awesome and wound up getting some excellent shots while she was doing formals and things so we wanted to recognize his work too.

      • http://arduousblog.blogspot.com ruchi

        I was thinking about this too, about how the second shooter isn’t a business owner … I just wonder, was it awkward tipping the assistant and not the main photographer? How did your main photographers react?

        • Amy

          Our photographer actually (very politely) mentioned that it was customary to tip her assistant since he wasn’t paid much by her and was doing this for experience.
          She seemed to much prefer having written recommendations on multiple sites (kn*t, wedding wire, etc.).

  • http://happysighs.blogspot.com liz

    can i please have that sequined dress?

    we did as alyssa suggested and just bluntly asked whenever there was gray area. especially at things like food tastings. you’re getting a buttload of free food to taste- do you tip the servers/bartenders? some places yes, others don’t allow it.

    • http://blametheweatherman.wordpress.com Melissa

      I’d like to have one as well, please. Then we can join together in matching sequiny APWness and do the Charleston at weddings across the globe. Classy female wedding crashers. Opa!

      • meg

        Yay!

    • Irene

      Did anyone else read:
      So please pat your own head, and tell it not to explode
      (while possibly rubbing your tummy).
      …and look at the picture and giggle because it looks like the sequined dress girl is getting her tummy rubbed?

  • http://nickandnoragettingmarried.wordpress.com Annie

    So glad to see this post! I was really stressing about how much to tip my wedding butler. ;) Although the idea of a wedding butler made me think we could pull off some hilarious Jeeves & Wooster-y adventures on the wedding day…

    Seriously though, extremely helpful (and hilarious) post. I especially like the point about tipping people whom you’d tip in everyday situations. That little bit extra can be a nice gesture to people who are a little less present but still working hard to make your event pleasant. And I definitely plan on writing good reviews about everyone we work with who does a good job. (So far that’s everyone we’re working with, but knock on wood. My bridesmaid told me that at her sister’s wedding, the DJ got drunk and refused to play anything but country music.)

  • http://blametheweatherman.wordpress.com Melissa

    Our venue provided the food, bartender, & a full staff of ear-pieced servers who handled everything from directing traffic to finding my missing daughter (she ended up dragging a coworker to the restroom building for an extended potty break… they found out 20 minutes later). We didn’t tip our band in monetary things. But we did provide extra spots for their wives/girlfriends should they want to bring them, plenty of food available so they weren’t “hiding in a corner, sneaking wheat thins”, and added a bottle of Jack for the band behind the bar. For them, it was enough because we considered them and their families on our day.

    My mom tipped the staff at the venue (bless her). She asked what was normal, and the coordinators said something like “Oh, don’t give them more than $20 each.” My mom is a notoriously amazing tipper and tried to leave them $40. The coordinator actually gave her the money back… dropping the tip down to $30 each. Then one of the girls brought us $80 back in our cottage before the wedding, saying it was the remaining extra tip.

    Alyssa is right, it really depends. It’s always good to ask, or at the very least consider all of the people who are working to make the day what it is/will be. We had an amazing staff of people everywhere we turned – but we also knew it would be chaos once the wedding started. So I tried to make a point to thank each one of them before everything started and they were all offered extra cake.

    Our band was originally going to play sets, but because of what we did for them (wives, food, special drinks reserved), they played the entire time. Our photographer edited extra photos as a thank you for including them in every part of the wedding. The venue staff (while renowned for their service) really went above and beyond to handle anything that came our way and were so grateful to our parents.

    In the end, I don’t think it’s about the AMOUNT but the INTENT behind it.

  • http://whenhoyametsaxa.blogspot.com/ Kathleen

    I loved my photographer – loved him, loved him, loved him. Both he and the second shooter were great to work with, fun, enjoyable, and really made our wedding day great. But . . . during our engagement, he was rather unresponsive almost whenever I tried to get in touch with him, and I ended up being slightly underwhelmed by our photographs. I WANT to write him gushing reviews, but couldn’t exactly do so honestly. Writing an honest review (“we loved him but . . .”) would be taken as a negative, which I don’t want to do to him. Do I just avoid reviews altogether?

    • meg

      Yes, I would. Giving him a half positive review sucks for him… and giving dishonest review sucks for everyone else.

      • http://www.3upadventures.com Beth

        I totally get where you’re coming from but shouldn’t someone let him know that he could do better on the communication part? I’m not sure I’d want to touch the underwhelming photos but communication isn’t hard to work on.

  • http://landlockedlove.blogspot.com Kelly

    I freaking love you guys. As a girl who spent many, many years waiting tables I’m a bit insane about tips and tend to over-tip constantly. When I glanced at our wedding budget last night and realized we hadn’t built-in money for tips, I had a complete meltdown. The Mister, however, is not totally on board with tipping unless well-deserved. I think he was trying to persuade me of a lot of the things that you mention in this post, Alyssa, but all I could hear through my hysteria was “I’m a Grinch; screw ‘em all!” Things seem so much saner here at APW in the clear light of day. I’m sending this link to my guy along with an apology for the Great Tip Meltdown of 2011.

  • laura

    Our venue is a package deal, and they have a policy of charging 20% gratuity automatically – that’s fine, I guess (seems a bit much for buffet? But they’re setting up and bartending and all, so makes sense), but are we (and the guests getting drinks) expected to tip in cash, also? It’s not as if we can let everyone know that gratuity is covered. I don’t mean to cheap out, but I’m a big believer in gratuity is gratitude, so I kind of dislike that I’m being charged a flat rate before we’ve even been served; I don’t really want people feeling obligated to give even more!

    • http://happysighs.blogspot.com liz

      unfortunately, when it comes to food in america- gratuity isn’t ALWAYS “gratitude.” your typical server (yes, even a banquet server) is paid around $2 an hour. so when a 20% gratuity is factored in HERE, it just serves as the rest of a servers paycheck- not as a “bonus” for a job well done.

    • Kate

      Yeah, I’m wondering the same thing. I’m planning on tipping our bartenders 20% at the end of the night, and I’ve seen in some wedding guides that you can put up a little placard at the bar that says “No tips, please.” I like this idea from the perspective of guest convenience- I don’t want them to feel like they have to go digging in their purses for ones, and I don’t want them to feel like they’re being cheapos for not tipping. On the other hand, part of me is like “you’re going to begrudge the bartenders a measly few bucks?” But after all the venue contracts I’ve reviewed, I’m much more aware now that in many cases, a gratuity is included in the fee for a hosted bar. So anyway, I still don’t know exactly what I’ll end up doing.

      • Kathryn

        Kate, for what it’s worth, I don’t think it would even cross my mind to tip a bartender at someone else’s wedding; I think I’d just assume that the person hosting would take care of that. It might be different if it were a cash bar, in which case money is already changing hands…

        This is just to say, don’t worry too much about what your guests will think. They’re going to be happy to be at a fun party, celebrating your marriage. Sure, a few might leave tips for the bartender, but they’re probably not the ones who are going to begrudge it. The rest will likely be oblivious (see: me).

      • http://www.twitter.com/eskaybe eskaybe

        Our vendor for bartending didn’t include gratituity in the contract/fee, so I arranged to have a large cash tip for one of our best men to hand over toward the end of the night. However, because I failed to communicate that plan directly to the vendor in advance, they set up a tip jar on the bar. Eek! I was embarassed and wished I’d have talked about it with the vendor in advance.

        I think that it is fine to not address tips at all – no need for a “no tips” sign at the bar – and a few guests may choose to slip the bartender some cash if they are particularly good. I think in the absence of a tip jar, most guests won’t think to tip. You could also tell the bartender that you intend to cover any gratituity, and ask that they refuse offers of tips from guests. That way you don’t need a sign on the bar advertising the policy, but guests who think to tip will be told that tip has been taken care of.

        Lessons from how I wished I’d dealt with things!

      • Celeste

        I used to work in event catering, bartending for weddings and corporate events. The general rule was to NEVER put out a tip jar. Our company actually had a policy against that for private parties and events. At weddings, the bride and groom would generally give tips to be doled out by the event manager, which ranged quite a bit. Corporate events however, we were almost never tipped (which sucks) – or maybe the hosts tipped but we never saw the money (some caterers, especially for big events, can be a bit shady about that). We were also usually paid a good hourly wage though, over minimum wage. However, we were always allowed to take tips “under the counter” so to speak. My problem with that is that under the counter tips are almost never shared with the barbacks and other service providers (and having barbacked and bussed, they really deserve it).

  • KD

    Also, if you do want to tip your catering vendor (and it’s not included), don’t tip on the total amount. The total includes tax, rentals, staffing costs, etc. Just tip a % on the food/beverage total if you don’t split it up as a per staff member amt.

    • meg

      This is brillant advice, everyone, and makes tipping a caterer seem more managable. Because as mentioned above, most of us are not going to be able to pull off a 20% tip on 10K or more (which is often your total bill).

      • http://www.midcitysaturdays.com Amy

        That’s a really good point. My total catering bill was about $8K. I was wringing my hands trying to decide how to tip. I ended up tipping 10% on the total, and my coordinator gave the catering coordinator an envelope of cash that night. My catering coordinator later wrote me to say that she gave the money to the eight catering staff people, and the $100 each completely made their night and was very generous. Here I was worrying it wasn’t enough.

  • Darcy

    If there is a mandatory gratuity be sure to check 2 things:
    1) the percentage should be calculated on the PRE-tax total
    2) the tip is not included when calculating the tax

    I had one quote where the venue was going to charge tax on the gratuity until I pointed out it violated provincial law. She blamed it on how the excel spreadsheet worked. I was tempted to leap across the desk, fix their excel sheet and then charge them. I didn’t use them as a vendor and I wonder how many other weddings are getting charged extra.

    • http://outsidetheblock.wordpress.com/ Kim

      YES! I live in a province with HST, and I’m amazed how many people, despite their complaining about the new structure of the tax, pay so little attention to HOW tip and tax charges are being applied. On something like a catering bill, it can make a huge freaking difference.

      • Amy

        This is true in certain US states as well – in NY it is illegal to be charged tax on the total if that total includes your gratuity. Its worth doing a quick google search to check your location’s laws!

        • Carly S

          Another example– my parents are members at the CC where we’re having our reception, so we get a 10% discount on food. In our initial quote they were taxing us and THEN taking out the 10%, so basically we were being taxed on money that we didn’t actually owe. Check, double check, and then check again!!

      • Sarah

        Yikers, this is a really good point- I’m getting married in an HST province, I’m going to clarify this with my caterer for sure.

    • Kim

      I think it was the opposite for us in Cali – if the gratuity is part of the bill (the distinction was gratuity vs. an optional tip), we had to pay tax on it. My husband wanted to ask our caterer to take the gratuity off the bill and have us give it as tip so that we wouldn’t get taxed on it, but eventually we decided potential tax fraud was not a good way to start a marriage.

  • Sarah

    All in all, I think this is good advice, but I have a few extra comments “from the inside.” I used to work as a catering server, and that “mandatory gratuity” made up the entirety of my salary (well, split up amongst the staff, and at my company we had a set wage rather than a wage that varied depending on the number of people working that evening). Bartenders got that amount AND the tips people would leave in the little bowl on the bar. I’ve never quite understood why.

    We didn’t expect, nor did we really “need” tips, although I was working as a caterer for my second job and all of the money was a bonus — some people “on the ground” really do need that extra money. But anyway, we got paid acceptably. Every once in a while, a father would hand out $20s to our manager, who would give them to the staff members. That was always awesome, but entirely unusual and never expected. I imagine some places operate differently.

    I would add my own caution about giving “gifts” to people like catering servers — who, since no one’s said it yet, work quite hard in often extremely trying conditions (that quaint outside wedding you’re having in Virginia in August? That comes with a purgatory-esque “back dungeon” where 10 servers, 2 chefs, and a few assorted dish washers pour boiling water into chafing dishes, frantically stack dirty dishes into crates, and plate out 150 heavy dishes with a pork chop, slop of mashed potatoes, sprinkle of parsley, and handful of baby carrots. And, oh yeah, sometimes have to deal with rude guests… and I saw a fellow server get barfed on once). Gifts that are cute or novelty-esque would not be something a server would usually like. I’m not trying to shame people here — after all, you ARE paying servers a healthy amount of money to work in that environment — but I am trying to add a slightly different perspective.

    What servers DO like getting to take the leftovers home… leftover cake, leftover flowers, leftover dinner food. That leftover food almost invariably goes into the doggy bags of your servers. Leftover flowers absolutely made my evening when I got to take them home. Leftover cake, which is very common, was usually given to my soon-to-be husband when I got home. So yeah. That’s my advice. Be nice to your servers, if you’re not sure how to deal with a half-filled bottle of wine or a few extra bunches of flowers give them to your waitstaff, and don’t jump immediately to the idea of trying to box up the leftovers and take them to the homeless, because your servers worked hard for you and are happy to take that food off your hands.

    My two cents.

    • http://happysighs.blogspot.com liz

      mixing drinks is considered a “skill” while carrying trays is not (i know, i know… dealing with cranky customers and serving as a liason between table and kitchen IS a skill…). this is why banquet bartenders have their little bowl and in many restaurants, servers “tip out” the bartender from their own tips.

      • Sarah

        I totally agree! The cultural perception that carrying trays is not a skill drives me crazy — especiallllly at weddings where they only serve beer and wine (opening a bottle of wine is a skill? yeah, I guess… but servers are usually the ones opening the champagne, which is more challenging). Plus, those trays way a ton. Plus, your servers are usually in charge of setting the tables, placing and folding napkins, lighting tea lights, cleaning, setting up and removing any buffet food — keeping a buffet stocked and hot is hard — and cutting the cake. And I cannot count the # of times waitress friends of mine were undertipped on days they didn’t wear makeup or weren’t as perky. Grr.

    • meg

      Indeed. The APW argument, however, is that the people staffing the event should just charge what it costs to pay the servers a living wage, and not do the “mandatory gratuity” nonsense. Paying servers isn’t a fun extra, and a “mandatory gratuity” is just a way to make it seem like it is, under quote the bill, and then slap you with a surprise fee. So I don’t think servers should be paid less, I just don’t think it should be added on like it’s an extra.

      And again, we were recommending gifts for business owners, and people you worked with personally, and tips for staffers (servers fall into that category).

      And heck yes, let them take the leftovers home.

      • Sarah

        Totally agree. I’m very pro-transparency, which is very much lacking for many catering companies and hotels. And on that, I worked at a hotel as well for a different catering job, and it was standard to charge for extra that was never used — like, completely standard to add on a few extra bottles of champagne that were never opened. Evil. I’d recommend trying to pay up front and get everything itemized from the start (including “mandatory gratuity” which I agree is ridiculous phrasing). And then you know for sure that your servers are not getting paid pennies, and that those extra niceties you may or may not give out are really for a job well done, and not just because you feel obliged to pay them extra or because you’re not sure where their $ is coming from.

      • http://lowbrowevents.com Ang

        As someone who calls venues/caterers all the time, I can not exactly! this enough. It is heartbreaking to tell clients that “Yes I know your entire budget is $15,000, and I KNOW that this place promised that they could do your wedding for $10,000, but that’s before tax and mandatory gratuity, so there’s an extra $3,000.”

        Dude, that’s a whole photographer!

        Not to mention, if the service sucked, then you don’t want to pay any sort of gratuity, mandatory or otherwise, and it will only bring up resentment that you’re being “forced to tip”, for someone that you don’t think deserves it. If the vendor was upfront with “The cost starts at $13,000.”, you wouldn’t have those problems.

  • lisa

    Putting on my “other hat,” I am an ordained minister in a fantastic progressive denomination. I am the first to advocate that you pay your officiant the expected fees. Officiating a wedding requires much preparation, stress and time. Understanding that clergy often undercharge for all that they put into events, a gift is also welcome.

    But please do not call it a tip. We believe that we are doing something sacred and deeply important, and to tip for something like that feels dismissive.

    • carolineemb

      We also did not consider it a tip, but we made a donation to our officiant’s discretionary fund at our synagogue. The check for this donation was given to him on the wedding day.

      We tipped the custodian at our venue. He worked tirelessly — with all of the different vendors, and on the physical plant itself — for about 12 hours on the day of the event, and he was worth every penny.

      (Yes, we tipped others, too, but these were the ones that haven’t been mentioned as much.)

    • meg

      And that’s why we pointed out that, especially with officiants, you inquire about the rules. Tipping our Rabbi wasn’t an option, but we gave to her discretionary fund as a thank you.

    • Julia

      This is very helpful. Thanks!

  • SpaceElephant

    We made sure my husband had a bunch of cash in his wallet, and I’m glad we did. Besides the usual tips ($30 per server/bartender went to the catering staff in cash w a thank you note, $20 for the guy who delivered ALL the pizzas for the rehearsal dinner, $20 for the guy who delivered the flowers), we hadn’t really realized that there would be a guy there from the venue for the ENTIRE weekend pretty much who was SO helpful (the way it was described to us was he was just a babysitter for the building that we wouldn’t be interacting with), so having cash meant we were able to slip him $40 and some leftovers easily.

    We didn’t tip people who owned their own business beyond their fees (photog, hair person, musician), though I AM planning on sending my photog a gift of some sort (gift card?) if the pictures turn out AMAZING, since we got a good deal from her.

  • Noemi

    I know that my father, as a minister, never really told people what to ‘pay’ him unless asked. It was not mandatory, but it was expected, for the minister to be paid or a donation given to the church. Sometimes, my dad was just given a centerpiece to take home, other times he was given leftover food to take home, and very often (in the case of our own church members) the entire family would be invited to the wedding. Anything was extremely appreciated by my dad and our family, and I am sure your officiant would feel the same way.

  • http://www.laughterinthelou.com Emma

    Just a note about non-monetary ways to thank folks. I just submitted my wedding graduate post (ack!) to APW and my photographer took it as a huge thank you when I asked him for permission to do so. Publicity and linking can be very valuable! He also then asked if I wouldn’t mind submitting to another local blog that could help him get local clients, which I am happy to do. Opening up the conversation of “Where can I sing your praises?” is often quite meaningful for folks and asking is easy. You never know whether they prefer Yelp, their Facebook page, a blog, etc. Asking is okay!

  • http://www.twitter.com/eskaybe eskaybe

    We got a great deal on our bartender, who provided the bartending staff, alcohol, mixers, and glasses, and set aside a good deal of cash to tip them the night of the wedding. We assumed that would cover the tipping of the bartenders (although I did imagine a few uncles in particular would at least attempt to slip cash their way). However, when we showed up at the reception mid-way through the cocktail hour, we found a tip jar out on the bar, and I was terribly embarrassed. This may be accepted at some weddings, especially if it is a cash bar, but it just wasn’t what I wanted for mine, and I had set aside the cash to tip myself.

    Lesson here being that communicating directly with vendors about tips is a good thing – if I had indicated in advance that I planned to cover the tip myself, they wouldn’t have set out their tip jar.

    Our catering contract included the gratuity. They did such a great job, though, that we wrote a nice thank you note and brought back treats from our honeymoon for the chef and the catering manager (chicory coffee and beignets from New Orleans!). We sent our photographer a thank you note and included a gift certificate to a nice local restaurant. We also gave the band a cash tip that night, which was spelled out in advance by the band’s manager.

  • http://www.jolismariages.com/ Anne

    In Europe as the 2 first commenters said, tipping is not really a rule (I only tip in restaurants, and only if the service and food were great) so I didn’t tip anyone on my wedding day. I’d thought of tipping my hairdresser if I was happy with the result (because it wasn’t expensive and I was a bit afraid)… which I was, but as she finally charged me a bit more than we’d agreed on (something like 10€) well I finally didn’t.

    On the other hand, even though I thanked my photographer by email, I didn’t send her a thank you note (or any other vendor) and I feel a bit bad as I know it feels great (been photographing a few weddings and they all sent me thank you cards…).
    I talked about the vendors I was really happy with (like my venue) a lot on forum and such though, and blogged about them.

  • http://www.craigathenawedding.blogspot.com athena

    What about tipping friendors? My photographer is a friend (albeit not a super close one) and not only is she amazing but she’s giving us an insanely good deal on our photos. We have asked her to shoot our ceremony and the formal shots and then come to the reception as a guest- I already give her insanely good reviews and rave about her to everyone, but I feel like I should do something more. Should I just give her a little thank you gift and a note? Or should I give her a tip plus a note? She is really giving us a phenomenal deal.

    • http://happysighs.blogspot.com liz

      i had one or two friends offer to do things for cheap/free. i felt funny giving them a money-gift, bc i felt that i would defeat the purpose if i gave them what their service was worth, but also that i wouldn’t accurately demonstrate how much their help was appreciated if i tipped less. does that make sense? cue: thoughtful gift. demonstrates appreciation without ascribing a monetary value.

      • http://www.craigathenawedding.blogspot.com athena

        We are doing personal, thoughtful thank you gifts and notes for all of our friends doing stuff for the wedding. But we ARE paying the photog for her work….but I will find something little with a card to show her we appreciate her generosity and work- good call, Liz!

  • Moz

    My experience as a vendor in Australia is that tipping is not expected or required. The best thing a client can do for me is refer me to others and I’ve only had to advertise twice in more than 10 years of singing at weddings. Most vendors I speak to in other fields say the same thing.

    I agree with Meg about small businesses and vendors in that respect, i.e., they set their own price.

    The one exception to this rule might be makeup and hair.

    When I worked weddings as a waitress (something I did hundreds of times as well) tipping was not worked into our scale of pay at all. Tipping is much more of a tribute to good service here and it never happened once that we received tips at weddings. To be honest, this isn’t surprising and you don’t go into serving weddings here expecting tips, at least not in the venues I have worked. The one exception to this might be if you were having an order off the menu small reception in a restaurant.

  • http://bettencourtchase.blogspot.com Helen

    Hm. I suppose I have thoughts on this from the married people side of things as well as the vendor side. Looking back on our wedding, I just now realized that we didn’t actually really HAVE any vendors: our officiant was a minister from my father’s church, our photographers were friends (who are actually professional photographers but were doing it as a gift to us) and we made EVERYTHING ELSE: food, decorations, iPod playlist, flower arrangements, favors, etc. Our officiant told us directly that she didn’t want to be paid, so we thought giving her a cash gift would be weird. Instead, we bought her a silk scarf that we knew she would like. As for our photographers, we didn’t pay or tip them with money either- instead, we gave them (yes, seriously) an ice cream maker! It was something they had talked about wanting, so it seemed like a good thing. As for the family and friends that helped with wedding-y stuff, we wrote them all thank you letters, which I think is something everyone should do.

    As a photographer, I’ve never been tipped for shooting a wedding, and wouldn’t ever expect it. If we were tipped, it would be really exciting- once we were tipped $10 on a photoshoot, and it was, as the vendor in the post described, like winning a million bucks. I do agree, though, that referrals/links/good reviews are the best gift you can give your small-business-owning vendors.

    We didn’t have a bartender or servers, but I would definitely have tipped them if we had. Even if it was only $20, I have had enough friends work in the service industry to know that those people work hard.

  • Karen

    This has actually been haunting me since our wedding almost 2 years ago. A catering company provided the servers and I know that what we paid for each server/bartender. It was a fair rate and included in our bill. Also included was a “service charge” that was a percentage of our multi-thousand dollar bill, which my husband said was the gratuity. But at the wedding, someone from the cooking staff approached me (just after cutting the cake!) and asked/reminded me about their tip. I was offended by the inappropriateness of the timing and also believed that they were more than compensated by us. Was I wrong? I often think about this with an icky feeling of shame – was I wrong not to give them more money?

    • http://happysighs.blogspot.com liz

      if you saw what was paid for each server and it worked out to be AT LEAST minimum hourly wage, you’re fine. like alyssa said, gratuity is for stellar service. and like i said, the only time “gratuity” becomes mandatory is in those times when your serving staff is depending on that tip for the bulk of their paycheck (like in restaurants, or some catering halls).

      im astonished by their lack of tact. honestly. if i HAD planned a tip, that would’ve made me reconsider giving it.

      • http://bettencourtchase.blogspot.com Helen

        I agree. Minimum wage > “acceptable server wage.”

        Also, I worked for a while backstage at a theatre where we were sometimes (even often) tipped by the traveling actors, but asking for a tip would have been 100000% tacky and would have gotten any of us fired on the spot.

    • Sarah

      Wow, awful. You should NOT feel bad — I’d say it’s by and large the norm for no additional tipping of catering-related things to occur outside of the budget drawn up for you — anything extra on top of the thousands you’re paying is completely optional and I personally think should only be done in cases of extreme awesome. AND, anyone who asks one of the people getting married for $ at their own wedding especially especially especially before it’s even over (and, that shouldn’t even matter) is completely out of line.
      No more haunting.

  • http://www.Eclectic-Unions.com Jessie Blum

    As a wedding professional, the best tip I ever got was from a couple who sent me a gift certificate to a yarn store, because they knew I loved to knit. The thoughtfulness and care that went into choosing the gift said so much to me, and I was so grateful (plus, I got to buy some beautiful yarn!).

  • Amy March

    What about guests tipping at weddings? I never tip at the bar (because it’s always been open, I don’t usually bring my purse to the bar, and I assume the couple is taking care of it) but always tip the coat check and valet. Is this normal?

    • LaurenF

      Yes, you’re doing fine. There is no reason you should have to tip the bartender at a wedding. It’s your hosts’ job to make sure everyone is paid accordingly.

  • A-L

    We hired servers for our wedding, and we paid them very well. But since the gratuity thing was so ingrained for us by the wedding-sphere, we bought restaurant.com gift certificates for them. We got discounted ones (70 or 80% off coupons are regularly available) so we were able to pay $2-3 for each $25 gift certificate. We used these for the gratuities of the servers, ceremony musicians, and DJ (who got a couple certificates). It helped to show appreciation while keeping us on our teeny-tiny budget.

  • Bethie

    I just came back from a friend’s wedding this past weekend, and although it was open bar during the cocktail hour, tip jars were out and everyone felt obligated to tip the bartenders – and there I was, assuming that if it was open bar, then the gratuity was already included. A friend of mine (who was there) is a bartender and he couldn’t believe I would consider not tipping them. At a bar or restaurant, I would ABSOLUTELY tip the bartender, but to me it felt odd to tip with an open bar. I did end up tipping, but now I definitely need to check my catering contract so that I know what’s what.

  • http://www.mywedding.com/queerhinduvintage Jenni

    This is very helpful!

  • Kathy H

    More of a question—- If the caterer is charging $25.00 per hour for each server (3) and has added an extra hour into the fee, the servers will be earning $150 each. They did not include an extra gratuity in this fee but at $25 per hour, do you think a gratuity should also be paid?

    This is a buffet and the room is being set up prior to the wedding.

    Bartender was hired separately.

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