(Almost) Everything You Need To Know About Tipping Your Wedding Vendors

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Get Sh*t Done: (Almost) Everything You Need to Know About Tipping Your Wedding Vendors | A Practical Wedding (4)

One of the questions I’m asked most by clients is which of their wedding vendors they should tip and how much they should tip them. Tipping when it comes to weddings is most definitely optional (though hopefully vendors  are being paid a fair wage), but when asked, I generally suggest tipping the people working at your wedding who are employed by other people (proven they do a good job, obviously) and my guidelines are:

  • Musicians ($20–$60 each, depending on the size of the band)
  • Waitstaff and bartenders ($20–$60 each)
  • Custodians ($20–$40 each)
  • Limo/shuttle/other drivers ($20–$40 each)

Also, as a general note I suggest tipping in cash, as opposed to checks.

Now that said, if you feel that any of your vendors went above and beyond what you paid them to do (examples: your photographer stayed an extra hour to catch amazing dance floor pictures, your caterer scrambled and made it work when ten extra guests showed up unannounced, your DJ brought and lit an unexpected disco ball that made the party, your florist threw in an unexpected toss bouquet, etc.) tips are always appreciated. Most wedding vendors work super, super hard to make a very middle-class income (it’s a total myth that we’re raking it in.) But, when you’re paying someone several thousand dollars, tipping a restaurant-bill equivalent percentage can be obviously way over the top (20% of a dinner bill is one thing, 20% of a photography or planning bill is a totally different ballpark). If pressed for a number, I’d say a typical tip for a higher-priced vendor should be in the $100–$400 range. If cash doesn’t feel right, but you want to give one of your vendors a thank you gift, I think it’s totally fine to give some type of non-cash tip—a gift certificate to a restaurant in their area (make sure it’s for enough to cover dinner for two), a spa day, a manicure, or something else luxurious that they might not normally spring for themselves. Some of my favorite “tips” have been physical gifts that clients bought me thinking I would like them (jewelry, books, household accessories). I haven’t received a tip I didn’t love.

All of that said, I deal intimately with clients’ wedding budgets, and realize that sometimes there is just not any cash left over to monetarily tip everyone you’d like to. Because of this, and because I believe that a tip is a way of saying thank you to a service provider, I’m firmly of the school that the very best tip you can give any wedding vendor is a glowing review (on Yelp, Wedding Wire, or any other site they’re listed on,) a written testimonial for their website, or the offer to be a referral for future clients (or better yet, all three). Weddings by nature consist of non-repeat clients, and so we’re always working hard to keep bringing new ones in. Help with this is appreciated way more than you know. I also have yet to meet a wedding vendor who doesn’t love getting handwritten thank you notes from their clients—add them to your list of wedding-thank-you-cards-to-write and you will definitely make someone’s day.

Getting more personal for a second: Do I expect my clients to tip me? Of course not—I own my own business and set my own prices. Do I appreciate it when it happens? Of course—tips are a concrete way for clients to tell me that they really appreciated the work that I did for them (I also definitely appreciate it when clients tip my staff, because they work super hard, and often get less credit than I personally do.) I also have a personal policy of spending tip money on unnecessary expenditures, i.e., things I want but don’t need. So that money doesn’t go to advertising, or printer paper, or phone bills; it goes towards fun things—dinner at a nice restaurant, a plane ticket, cute but unnecessary shoes. And, I adore the thank you cards I get from clients so much that I display them in my office and home. When things get particularly stressful in the middle of high-season, rereading them is the best way I know to remind me why it is that I do what I do.

Photo by APW Sponsor Gabriel Harber

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  • I was literally just combing the internet for answers to this question yesterday! I had heard the “generally you don’t need to tip business owners” advice before, but since almost all of our vendors are owners of very small businesses I wanted to make sure this was the case in APW land as well as WIC land. Definitely easier to budget for the size of tips Elizabeth recommends than 20% of our entire vendor budget.

  • M.

    This is great! Bookmarked.

    I’d also say to check your contracts, as our caterer includes 18% of food and bev costs as gratutity for the staff they bring (which they estimate at 1 server per 20 guests, plus bartender). We won’t tip them more cash than that, but if our point person keeps being as awesome as he’s been, we will send some sort of small gift with his thank you note.

    It’s not a tip, per se, but we are flying in our photog across the country, and she’s posted on her Facebook looking for good coffee shops in the areas she visits. We got her a gift certificate to a great place by our venue — it’s going to be an early morning before our noon wedding, and we want to pre-thank her for being so awesome about respecting our privacy concerns with social media/blogs.

    I think anything above and beyond the set fee as a way of saying thank you is likely to be truly appreciated. :)

    • Jacky

      Since you brought up an 18% gratuity added to your bill– did your contract actually refer to it as “gratuity” or was it called something else? I’m wondering because my venue/caterer included an additional 18% in our contract, but it’s listed as a “service charge.” I initially assumed this meant gratuity, because I’m used to seeing 18% gratuity automatically added to restaurant bills for large parties… But now I’m wondering if this “service charge” is something else and they would have just called it “gratuity” if that’s what it was??

      I guess the best solution would be to just ask my venue/catering coordinator what the “service charge” is actually for. She’s been very upfront and honest with us so far.

      • M.

        Hi Jacky :) Ours is also called a service charge, but along with the docs with proposed menu, cost estimates, FAQ, etc, there was a letter of understanding they sent to know what to expect. It says, “The service staff at your event is part of a larger team that provides for your successful event. Our service fee of 18% of food and beverage is shared among all those who work on your event. This includes those essential folks that you will never see. We divide this amount equitably and our service staff is fairly compensated in this arrangement. Additional gratuity is not expected but can be added at your discretion.”

        Hope that helps! Of course, best to ask to be sure.

        • Jacky

          Thanks, that does help! The fact that other caterers call grautity a “service charge” reassures me that my initial assumption was probably correct, but I’ll still ask to make sure.

      • Stacie

        Yes, definitely ask your venue contact. Ours assured us that tipping was NOT expected or required- the 20% “service charge” was exactly that, not just an administrative fee (It was really good to hear that!).

        Having been a cater waiter myself, I can tell you that in most cases, they get paid a very decent wage, and do not rely on tips like your friendly diner waitperson does.

        • Jacky

          It’s good to know the waitstaff probably don’t rely on tips for their base compensation. I wish the same were true of the average “friendly diner waitperson,” as a surprising number of customers still assume a tip is optional.

          • CII

            In considering how much or little the waitstaff may be relying on the gratuity, you may want to think about whether your contract is a “catering contract,” or a “venue contract” where the venue is providing the food and drink.

            For example, our venue was a restaurant and it was staffed by the restaurant’s everyday chef and servers. The venue contract required 18% gratuity. We tipped 20-21% in cash because i) that’s what I would do if, for example, I paid for a dinner for a large group at a restaurant and received excellent service, and ii) they worked very hard and went above and beyond just setting out food and serving drinks to make everything seamless.

            If anything, I would emphasize Elizabeth’s point that, when it comes to gratuity, cash is king.

        • Laura C

          We’re in a weird position — our catering manager assured us this was all taken care of, but the contract specifically says that the labor charge is not to be read as a gratuity in wording clearly designed to get around a state law requiring all service charges/gratuities to go directly to workers. And this is something I really, really care about, so I’m still trying to get more info out of our catering manager, and if I’m in any doubt at all we’ll be tipping.

      • J

        For our caterer, there was a service charge (either 18% of 20%, I can’t remember), but it was NOT the gratuity. It was basically their overhead/profit margin. That is, their billed spelled out the specific cost of everything, and then tacked on a charge that went to the business. In that case, the caterer told us that $20 per employee working that night was an appropriate tip, so we used the contract to figure out how many people were working, and then had someone give him the full amount of the tip to distribute among his staff. Basically, I’m just agree that it makes sense to talk to your caterer and ask specifically what this means in your particular situation. I was happy with how comfortable and upfront our caterer was in chatting about this issue – it wasn’t awkward at all.

    • Oakland Sarah

      I was just looking into the difference between service charge and gratuity last night! What we found is that the basically are the same thing EXCEPT a service charge is taxable (depending on your state) and gratuity might not be?

      We’re just going to call our vendor and figure out what the TOTAL cost will be with BOTH tax and gratuity because it’s not clear to us.

  • Tania

    Tipping isn’t as ubiquitous in the UK as it is in the US, but it is still reasonably common. But I left my credit card with my father so that he could settle the bill at the end of our reception at a local pub, and, being from New Zealand, he paid zero tip! I was horrified! Not only had the venue been the most amazing venue ever, the staff had been absolutely brilliant and our total cost came in hundreds of pounds less than budget. So Monday morning after the wedding we went back down the pub and left the staff a great big cash tip. They totally deserved it!

    I also did a bit of a social media push for all my brilliant vendors after the wedding – firstly as a thank you, but also to hopefully help other people in my social networks in the middle of wedding planning!

  • C

    What about tips for my hair and makeup artist? I had planned on tipping 20% but should I be reconsidering?

    • one more sara

      ditto to wedding hair being so so confusing to tip. fun story, my dutch SILs got their hair done at an American salon for our wedding, and I told them how much to tip in Dutch bc it felt weird to debate the tip in front of the hair person. (We ended up doing about 10% bc the girls didn’t get charged through the salon, so they got 100% of the money we gave them)

    • Michaela

      Or what about tipping on your hair trial? My hair stylist charges nearly the same for a trial as the day-of services. Do I tip her 20% each time?

      • One More Sara

        I think this is one of those instances where it really matters what kind of hair stylist you have. Did you go to a salon during regular hours? Was it an on-site stylist? Does he/she own the business? My hair trial I think I tipped 15% (honestly, bc it was more expensive than I expected and I literally gave her all the cash in my wallet) bc she was working for a salon at that point. Day-of we tipped 10ish% bc the salon let all the transactions go under the table (checks were written directly to the stylists, and all cash went straight into their pockets) (the owner has been cutting my hair since my first haircut, so I don’t know if this stuff is standard, or if she was giving us a little special treatment)

    • Emmy

      I had both my trial and day-of hair done at a salon and tipped the same amount I do on all salon/spa services: 20%.

      • CII

        I also tipped my standard 18-20% for hair. My wedding hairstylist is my regular hairstylist. The way I viewed it, it didn’t really matter to her why I was asking her to do my hair — I just was. She was kind enough to do the trial when I was scheduled for a cut and color, and then she just charged a little more than she would for a cut and color ordinarily (but less than if I had came in a third time for a trial)

  • C

    Another C! Well-timed post, I was just wondering about this. Our catering contract also includes 15% gratuity on top of the service charges, which as Elizabeth points out adds up to a really significant amount. It’s a small business that I’m happy to support, but I was wondering if this was normal, especially since each server is being billed to us at $28/hour (even assuming the caterers are keeping a cut, hopefully the servers make a decent wage out of that). Helpful to hear other’s experiences with the built in gratuity.

    • the other C

      We have built-in gratuity as well at my venue, including a surcharge for the bartender. I’m not planning on tipping above that. I do think it’s industry standard, though…all the places I looked at had an extra charge for tax and gratuity.

    • Lauren

      If the servers are union workers, then it is often required under their union contract. That could be the case with your caterer, as it is with mine.

    • ElisabethJoanne

      Catering contracts were all over the place when I reviewed them. Some had one final number for our estimated head count; some had a per-person cost that included almost everything; some charged separately for each tablecloth and glass and plate of food; and some did combinations of these presentations. Definitely the most frustrating spread sheets of wedding planning were those comparing catering bids.

      As others are posting, 15% gratuity on top of service charges is something I saw from some, but not all, of the caterers we talked to. I’d say it was more likely the longer the caterer had been in business.

  • Stacie

    I understand that we’re not required to tip a small business owner if they’re providing the services, but what about any other staff that that vendor brings, like a second photographer?

    • Stacie, when I get a tip from a client I split it equally with my second shooter. I think a lot of photographers work this way and if they don’t then they’re probably jerks lol

      • Stacie

        But if my main photographer is the business owner, I’m not “supposed” to tip them. So in that case the second shooter gets…?

        • Teresa

          I think we tipped our second shooter $75

        • copper

          My photog also is the business owner, and if I remember correctly (husband wound up making up the final envelopes so I couldn’t swear by it) we made up a tip envelope specifically labeled “2nd shooter.”

  • scw

    I have a question as a guest. I always tip the bartenders at a wedding, even when I know they’ll get a nice tip from the newlyweds. my boyfriend and I survive on tips, so I am probably going to continue doing this no matter what the answer is but… do other people do this? is this expected?

    • Amy March

      I don’t tip the bartender, coat check assistant, or valet at a wedding because I expect a) the bride and groom will have and b) that the happy couple would not want me handing anyone cash on their day- I know I wouldn’t! But I’m one of those crazies who doesn’t usually even have cash on hand at a wedding, so take that with a grain of salt.

    • Kat R

      My rule with that is that if there is an obvious way to tip I do it. Some weddings I’ve been to have a tip jar at the bar, and in that case I usually put something in early in the night because I know we’ll probably be using several times. I’d rather give a cool, friendly bartender extra tip than worry about doing the wrong thing – especially since usually at weddings I’m not even paying for the drinks anyway. But if there’s no jar/no place on my receipt etc… I assume it’s covered.

      • scw

        thanks for the responses! I guess, now that I think about it, I’ve only been to weddings with a tip jar at the bar.

        that’s my rule, too, Kat R, and I also put in money early for the rest of the night. let’s be honest, it is never a bad idea to make friends with the bartender (even if the drinks are free already)!

      • Karen

        I think this is the way to do it — if there is a tip jar, put a tip in.

        At our wedding, my husband and I specifically put in the contract that there was to be NO tip jar because we were tipping the bartenders at the end of the night and I really didn’t want my guests to spend money. That was our personal preference. Unfortunately, they put one out anyway and my maid of honor had to speak with them about it, which was frustrating.

  • I love Elizabeth’s posts and I totally agree with everything she said from a planner’s perspective. My general rule I give to clients:
    If it is someone who you would tip in the non-wedding world (ie hair stylist, limo driver) you should tip them as you normally would. The strictly wedding-world vendors don’t expect a tip (planner, photographer). But of course, tips were meant to reward people who go above and beyond so anything extra will be VERY appreciated.

  • Such great tips always wondered how much would be an effective amount to tip vendors. Thanks for sharing.

  • Karen

    Here is a question: if you plan on giving tips, and put them in envelopes and have someone handling the tips so you don’t have to worry about it…what happens when the service is terrible?

    The driver of our shuttle got lost many times (despite it being a 3 mile trip) along with other issues, but I only heard about it after the fact. I doubt anyone is going to bother the bride with issues about the shuttle while in the midst of the wedding. However, by the time I had heard about all of it, he had already been tipped.

    Ditto for the bartenders. We had several specific requests of them, none of which were followed. The amount they were being paid already had an 18% gratuity on it, but I added a cash tip because I knew that 18% of their pay for the night wasn’t that much and they’d make more if guests were tipping (which I didn’t want). Again, by the time I found out about the issues with them, tips had been doled out.

    • I generally distribute tips to other vendors for my clients (most coordinators do) along with day of payments, and people often put tips in unsealed envelopes with the understanding that if someone has done a less than great job I’ll take the tips out and give them back to the couple (because I will know about everyone’s performance, although I always do my best to keeping the clients from finding out about less-than-stellar situations until later.)


    We just got married a few weeks ago and for those people that went above and beyond to make my life easier throughout the process I gave Starbucks gift cards and in some cases more personal gifts. I also did handwritten thank yous and am planning to send some of the professional pictures to them (for the florist – some pictures of me with my bouquet, for my hair stylist some of the pictures that highlight the work she did, etc).

    I wasn’t around when our florist delivered everything – is it typical to tip the florist on delivery? I know no one did at the time so I’m considering giving her some money but I wasn’t sure.

  • As a wedding professional and someone who has been married, I think waiting till after the wedding is over and tipping based on your experience is a really good idea. When I got married, I gave all of my vendors tips and a small gift on the day of, and I totally have vendors I wish I hadn’t done that with (and ones I would have tipped more if it was post-wedding!). I also think a small gift (I get a lot of scarves! which I love!) or a gift certificate is really nice, too. A couple gave me a gift certificate to a really nice yarn shop since they knew I knit, and most recently, a couple gave me a gift certificate to a baby store since I am pregnant. It was so thoughtful and nice! Not that cash is bad or unwelcome.

    • I agree with this generally, although I’d say the flipside of the argument is that I know people who years after their wedding are in the “we really wanted to tip some vendors, but by the time we got back from our honeymoon the wedding felt so behind us that we never really got around to it… I also should really still write them yelp reviews…” boat.

  • ElisabethJoanne

    I know it was really clear when we booked our limo that we did not need to tip the limo driver. The limo company might have even discouraged it. But I think that was just the company we used, not every company we looked at.

  • Rachelle

    I’m wondering how common it is to tip the vendors that don’t “expect” a tip, i.e. photographer, florist, etc? Maybe they don’t expect it but do feel miffed when people don’t tip because 75% of their clients do. Anyone want to anonymously share an estimated percentage and whether it’s usually cash or a gift? I would love to give everyone involved something extra, but the budget is just so tight!

    • I’ll weigh in non-anonymously – I’d say about 2/3 of my clients tip/give a thank you gift (which is really the same thing, in my opinion.) That said, I’m never bothered when people don’t! And I really, really do love thank you cards/yelp reviews as much as any amount of money/size of gift – to me it’s really more about feeling appreciated/knowing in a concrete way that they were happy working with me than anything else.

  • Marina

    In terms of a live band, is a tip customary if the band was booked directly through the band leader (as opposed to through an agent)?

  • Great advice! Thank you notes are definitely my favorite tips :-) I always suggest couples tip assistants of wedding planner, photographer, etc if they can. Assistants work SO hard!

  • Emily

    I’m not stingy or in any way opposed to rewarding good work, but the idea of handing out $20’s like they’re Halloween candy to the “trick or treaters” of my wedding vendors makes my head spin!

    • well, usually you’re giving a stack of envelopes with people’s names/roles written on them to someone else and having them distribute them for you, not actually passing out bare cash :)

      • Emily

        Even so, the notion that on top of all the other good money I’m paying for various tasks, that I may want to spend even more in appreciation kind of boggles my mind. The expenses just never seem to end, a little over 9 months out and still nailing down the priorities!

  • Denae Brennan

    “…the very best tip you can give any wedding vendor is a glowing review…” AMEN! Client testimonials are SO important in this business. Great post!

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