The Tipping Point

Our wedding professionals tackle readers’ questions on the taboo topic of tipping.
The tipping experts

Elizabeth Bailey, Elizabeth Bailey Weddings 
Rachel Hoffberger, Plan It Perfect
Alexa McCulloch, Union3 Event Productions
Diana Venditto, Eventi Floral & Events
Emily Villarreal, Boutique Events

Q: I’m starting to plan for my wedding. What percentage of my budget should I allocate for tips? —T.S.
A. Conservatively, Alexa McCulloch suggests allocating somewhere between five to seven percent as a good safety net since you won’t tip everyone involved in the wedding. “If this is something you are particularly worried about, ask your wedding planner to add gratuity into the budget,” she says, noting that most budgets won’t include tips due to their extremely subjective nature.

Q: My seamstress did an above-and-beyond job tailoring and steaming my dress. I want to show my appreciation. Any suggestions? —M.O.
A. Emily Villarreal suggests giving a monetary gift, as it provides the most flexibility for your vendor, along with a thoughtful thank-you note with photos of you in your dress for her portfolio. (And of course a glowing referral online.) Diana Venditto agrees, “At the end of the day, a nicely written note and a gift card to her favorite fabric store is always nice.”

Q: My daughter is getting married soon and I’ve been wondering—will any of our vendors have the tip already included in their contract fee? —N.H.
A. Tip is usually included with transportation. But if you find yourself with outstanding transportation service, McCulloch says you are always welcome to tip more than what was included in the contract. “An extra $20 to $40 to each driver at the end of the night. . . . they will really appreciate it.”

Q: I hate to be that bride, but what if the worst-case scenario occurs and I’m not happy with my vendor services? Am I still obligated to tip? —Z.G.
A. Tips should be reserved for “people who go above and beyond expectations,” says Elizabeth Bailey. Villarreal agrees, “Adjust your tip amount based on the type of service you receive.” And Rachel Hoffberger also reminds her clients to not underestimate the power of a stellar recommendation. “A positive review is the best gift you can give someone because it is a gift that has residuals.”

Q: I’m confused. Is it customary to tip the catering waitstaff in addition to the banquet manager? Who should be given the bulk of the tip? —J.R.
A. It can be confusing. But there is really no wrong answer. To ensure that each staff member is properly thanked for his or her contribution, Bailey discusses gratuities with her clients in advance and says they are based on the overall catering contract and the individual contribution of each staff member. Typically, catering/serving/kitchen staff members receive anywhere from $50 to $100 each with the banquet manager getting $150 to $250. If you don’t want to be in charge of that many envelopes, McCulloch advocates giving one lump sum of between five and 10 percent of the total catering bill—cash preferred in small bills—to the catering manager at the end of the evening. The manager will know the different contracted wages of the managers, servers, chefs, etc., and can distribute appropriately.

Q: I contracted an eight-piece band to play at my wedding. Should the group get one tip, or do I tip each person? —G.G.
A. Villarreal recommends a bulk tip for the bandleader, who, like the banquet manager, will be responsible for dividing tips among band members. In giving a lump sum, Villarreal explains, everyone on the entertainment vendor team will be covered: sound technicians, managers, band members, etc. Figure anywhere between $20 and $50 per person, or calculate the bulk tip from up to 10 percent of the overall contract.


Elizabeth Bailey notes that a tip is always welcome, but what she loves the most is a great review. “It’s gold to us,” she says.


Q: Should I tip my wedding planner? She’s been working so hard and I feel like I want to show my appreciation. —L.G.
A. “As a wedding planner, that’s a tough one to answer,” says Venditto. “Of course a tip is appreciated but never expected. It just depends on how close you get to your planner and how happy you are with his/her services and if you feel they went above and beyond.” All our wedding experts agree that a gratuity is not mandatory, but McCulloch says a suggested tip amount for a planner would be somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 percent of his or her fee. Villarreal suggests around $200 to $500, but of course that’s very dependent on the level of service and the comfort of the client. Bailey notes that a tip is always welcome, but what she loves the most is a great review. “It’s gold to us,” she says.

Q: What if my vendor owns his or her own business? Do I still need to add gratuity to his or her services? —R.A.
A. Since most vendors in the wedding industry are small businesses, “they will appreciate the gratuity even more,” says Villarreal. “Small business owners are hit harder from a tax perspective,” McCulloch explains. “Between 30 to 40 percent of every contract goes directly to Uncle Sam.” Add to that payments to staff, and owners oftentimes are not earning anywhere close to the initial service fee of the contract. Hoffberger sums up, “If you like their services, then absolutely tip.”

Q: What are the big no-no’s when it comes to tipping? —D.L.
A: Cringe-worthy behavior includes bartenders who leave out unsanctioned tip jars. Not only is that a “big N-O, it’s downright tacky,” says Bailey. The jar implies “that the guests are obligated to do it, which is totally inappropriate,” agrees Hoffberger. Second to the tip jar: dolling out gratuities based on too many glasses of champagne. “I’ve seen tipsy parents just handing cash to individuals and then not giving it to other people who are part of the same crew,” says Venditto, “which makes things pretty awkward for everyone.”

Q: Will my vendors expect their tips before my wedding? I am worried I will be too busy on the big day to remember. —W.D.

A. Our experts suggest setting aside envelopes ahead of your wedding—think a week in advance, if possible—to ensure that you do not forget any vendor in the excitement of the day. “Ask your wedding planner to distribute the gratuities on your behalf at the event so you don’t have to worry about it at all,” says McCulloch. If you don’t have a wedding planner, ask a trusted family member or friend to hand out the tips. Planning gratuities ahead of time helps ease the stress of forgetting, but it also means “you aren’t tipping out of emotion,” Bailey says. “You don’t want to be throwing money around while on a high from the wedding and then regret it.” And if you forget to tip, or if you decide you want to tip someone who wasn’t originally included in the list—go for it. “Tips are never expected in advance of the wedding,” says Venditto. “If you forget, a tip after the fact with a note about a special memory of the day would be a nice gesture and more meaningful than just an envelope with the gratuity in it the night of.”

We compiled all of our tips for tipping in this easy-to-use reference chart. Download the Tipping Guide PDF.

Should I?
How Much?
5-10% bulk tip to the bandleader who will divide tips among band members. For a DJ, 10-15%, or between $50-150
At the end of the event
5-10% of the total catering bill in small bills to the catering manager
At the end of the night
Varies. Monetary gift, thank-you note, a gift card, and/or a stellar review
If/when you decide the time is right
If you have hired your officiant, around 10% gratuity is appropriate. If you have been asked to make a donation in lieu of a fee, consider a donation of between $200-450
After the ceremony
Yes (especially for stellar service)
Dependent on the client’s comfort level: monetary gift of 10% of the planner’s fee, a thank-you note, gift card, and/or a stellar review
At the end of the evening or delivered the week after the wedding
Check your contract-this one is most likely included
An extra $20-40 is okay for exceptional service
After the last ride
Venue Staff
Valet: sometimes this tip is included in the contract; if not, consider tipping $1 per car. Restroom attendants: $20-40 total. Coat check: $20-40 total or $1 per guest
At the end of the evening

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