Tipping Advice: Who to tip and how much

The question that I get most frequently from my clients, particularly towards the end of the planning process, is who to tip and how much.  This has always been a challenging dichotomy for me, because in the end I’m my clients’ adviser and they expect advice on all topics.  At the same time, the money they spend on something so subjective is not something I feel comfortable being up to my discretion.  It’s like if someone asked me what color scheme their wedding should be.  I’m happy to recommend some options and create vision boards to help with that decision, but ultimately, I can’t be the one to decide if their wedding is purple or yellow.  So I prefer to lay out the options of tipping, and allow my clients to decide who and how much, based on their comfort level with additional spending, and how they feel about their vendors’ performances.

First, it’s important to read your contracts and see if any tips are already included.  It is incredibly common for transportation companies (limos, buses, etc.) to automatically include a gratuity.  In these cases, you can still add more (in cash) at your discretion, but you can also just take your ride and know the driver is being well taken care of.

Second, there are a few people who EXPECT a tip, and the rest of the vendors appreciate a gratuity, but do not expect one.  Caterers often expect a tip, and I’ll touch on that later.  The other vendor who fully expects to receive a gratuity is your hair and makeup team.  I have a separate blog that goes into much more detail on this, but just be prepared to spend an additional 20% on hair and makeup services, just like you would at the salon.

All other vendors, as I mentioned, can be tipped on an elective basis, depending on merit.  I always say if a vendor exceeds your expectations or goes above and beyond their contractual duties, tipping is a great way to show your appreciation.  Examples of going above and beyond are:

The limo driver who walks with you and holds an umbrella over you while it’s raining outside.
The planner who had extra meetings with you and took phone calls late at night to ease your anxiety.
The florist who had a challenging load-in because the freight elevator was out of order.
The DJ who kept your dance floor packed all night and anticipated your needs when a guest requests a song that would be inappropriate for you.  (Like, the DJ who knew not to play “Bombs over Baghdad” for the groom who just returned from battle in Iraq.)
The caterer who managed to sort through dozens of dietary restrictions and still plate-up every course in a timely fashion.

Or maybe you just enjoyed the experience of working with a vendor more than you anticipated.  Or you know you were high maintenance for them, but they never made you feel that way. These vendors are all deserving of a little something extra.

Here is a detailed breakdown of everyone you COULD tip, and the appropriate amounts, in my personal opinion:

For private parties in a residence, tipping is always expected.  For events in a venue that is designed for catered events, tipping is elective but appreciated.  I don’t agree with percentages, in general, so I tend to advise against 20% of the food and beverage costs, or whatever the other websites recommend.  My reason for this is because I don’t think the staff should necessarily make more or less, depending on what brands of alcohol you choose to serve, or the fact that you have filet mignon on your menu instead of chicken.  Instead, flat rates per person is a good way to go:

Event Managers who work with you throughout the process, from proposal to tasting to execution of the event:  $200 each

Banquet Captain & Bridal Attendant: Whoever is running the crew, even after the event managers leave before the event is over, could be deserving of a little something extra.  $50-100 is appropriate.

Wait staff, bartenders, back of house staff: $30-$75/person is appropriate.  Remember, bartenders may also be receiving tips from guests, so you can take that into account as well.  (I never allow a bartender to keep a tip jar visible on the bar, but I think it’s fine to allow them to discretely accept cash and quickly stow it away. Tip jars make your guests feel obligated, and they are tacky!)

If the officiant is a friend or family member, chances are they are not charging for their services.  A cash gift or a thoughtful gift that you know they would appreciate is a great idea.  If they are affiliated with a church or other house of worship, a contribution to their congregation is appropriate.  Something in the value of $50-150 is ideal. This is also a generous amount for officiants you hire from outside a house of worship.

DJ’s: $50-150 for the DJ, and up to $50 for any assistants
Ceremony/Cocktail Musicians: $20/person
Band: $30-50/person, and a little something extra for the band leader or MC

$100-200 per shooter.  Please be mindful of how many shooters you have, and how many assistants are with them.  An assistant would be very pleased with a gratuity of $50. (This is someone who is not shooting.)

Your floral designer has a huge job!  They have to decipher what you want and translate that into your decor.  It’s tough to do, especially since most brides and grooms aren’t trained at communicating their creative thoughts… or maybe they don’t even have creative thoughts!  So a nice gift or $100 cash is a lovely gesture to say thank you.  They also have a whole crew of people working for them, and they are often setting up in difficult conditions such as hot weather, high winds, or challenging loading dock situations.  All while handling some of the most delicate things you’ll see on your wedding day.  They are often coming back late at night to collect rentals or take away your flowers, which means they are giving you their entire day, not just a few hours to bring everything on-site.  Consider tipping the crew $20-50 per person for a job well done.

Photo booth attendant:

Delivery People:
Cake, rentals, etc. $20/person

Hair and Makeup:
20% of the contracted services.  And if it’s not already included in their contract, please pick up the tab for their parking (valet, if available).

I hate giving advice on this one.  It’s like buying your parents a gift using the allowance they give you.  It just feels weird to tell someone how much they should tip you, even when they ask.
Any amount of cash is great, but a small gift is also appropriate.  I’ve been given gift certificates for massages, gifts for my baby (when I was working with clients while pregnant) and a nice dinner out.  Things like this say, “You deserve to relax!”  It shows that my clients know I worked hard for them.
And please don’t forget that I have an assistant with me, too! If I receive cash, I’m always sharing, because I couldn’t do my job without them.


How to go about tipping:

Budget for tipping from the start of the planning process.  It could add as much as 10% to your overall budget, so you don’t want to be surprised by that in the end.

My recommendation is to have envelopes prepared ahead of time for each vendor, marked on the outside with the vendor name.  You don’t want to be juggling money on a special day when you should be enjoying time with your guests. Your planner is happy to hand those out for you.

In general, if you have the means to show additional appreciation, please do.  For the elective gratuities, your vendors are charging the amount that they feel the services are worth, under very normal/foreseeable circumstances.  But if extra things pop up that your vendors handled beautifully, or if you just really appreciate everything they’ve done for you and the experience they’ve provided, please show them how grateful you are.