It’s Wedding Season again, which means lots of upcoming meetings with clients for us and other wedding industry professionals, and plenty of help and advice to be given. One question that we get asked very often as wedding planners is, how much should I tip each of my vendors? And even, should I tip this vendor?
This is a great question but can be very complex to answer. Often times we have given our opinion that we have based on what's written in the “etiquette guides” yet tried to balance it out what we have more commonly seen, whilst taking into account what the vendor is charging, what the contract says and checking for any built-in fees.
What you want to do first is check your contracts. Some vendors may already have gratuity built in such as the caterer (usually 15-22%) or the shuttle or limo driver. Read through carefully to avoid unnecessary double tipping.
The Knot had an interesting note about not needing to tip owners of businesses. “If your photographer owns the studio, there’s no need to tip him. The same goes for bands not booked through an agency and the beauty-shop owner who does your hair.” To us, this seems a bit odd. Most wedding businesses in the Seattle area are run by owner-operators who work hard and wouldn’t mind feeling the love too.
Just remember that tipping is not obligatory; tip those vendors that offer exceptional service. Thank you notes are always a nice added touch! For a breakdown of each vendor, read on:
Wedding Planner: Optional
According to the Knot about 50% of couples tip their planner. If you do tip, Real Simple suggests 15% of the fee or a personal gift. With a $4k planning fee that could be a hefty tip of $600. Trust us, that is not required. If you want to do cash, likely closer to 10% or slightly less would work. Speaking frankly, as planners ourselves, we never expect a tip but are always honored when we do receive one. A few times we have gotten gifts from valued clients such as glassy babies or our favorite make-up. It was totally unexpected but we were thrilled and felt appreciated. What really touches us the most are indeed thank you cards or huge hugs and words of thanks. The gratitude is what keeps us going in this business and it is the feeling that leaves us buzzed at the end of a fabulous wedding event.
Hair & Make-Up Stylists: Typically Expected
Usually, between 15-20% works best here and maybe a little extra if they went above and beyond or had to deal with your picky mother-in-law, etc. We asked Hannah Bush, owner of Urbanista Weddings Makeup and Hair how often they get tips from clients, she said “We never expect gratuity, but it's always a wonderful surprise when we receive them! About 80% of our clients tip and about 5% give us a little gift. It is usually a bag of snacks and candies.” The best gift she has ever received? Homemade plum jam and Kahlua! She also added that “ I feel that if a Vendor does a great job or goes above and beyond what is expected, monetary gifts are obviously very appreciated, but the best gift is a good review on a popular reviewing site.”
Delivery or Set-Up Staff: Typically Expected
This would include people like the cake delivery person, florist set up team, ice sculpture crew, special rental set up team etc. This can depend on the size of the crew but typically $10-20 a person is good. If it is just one person doing a lot of work (like a florist) you can even go bigger, like $50+ (if you want!) You can prepare for the multiple tips by having labeled envelopes ready to hand out. Assign the task of handing out to your planner or Best Man.
Ceremony Officiant: Depends (and I’ll explain why!)
If your officiant is tied to a church or synagogue, you would most likely be expected to make a donation to the organization. According to the Knot, “If you're a member you'll probably want to give a larger amount than if you're not. However, if you're getting married there and they're charging you to use the space, feel free to give a smaller amount.” Often a donation of about $500 (give or take) to the church is expected, with an optional $50-200 to the officiant. However, if you are not affiliated with a church, no donation would be required but the $50-100 tip is still appreciated. If your best friend from childhood, Joe Beaujangles is marrying you, he may be offended if you offer him a tip. When you hire one of your peoples, opt for a personal gift instead.
Ceremony Musicians: Optional
If you’ve set up a great team of musicians that helped you pull off that perfect score to your wedding, consider giving them a little monetary reward to thank them for their musical talent. And as stated from The Knot, “However, you probably don't have to tip the solo church organist who was required to play.” The standard is about $15-20 per musician and can be given after the ceremony is over.
Wedding Reception Band or DJ: Optional
Music is such a huge part of your reception! If your band or DJ does an amazing job setting the tone (pun intended) of your event, you may want to consider a tip, although it’s not required. DJ Craig Slater of Bugsie Productions reported receiving a tip about 75% of the time. His advice on the subject to couples is “It’s important to know that you are not obligated to give any DJ gratuity. If you're giving someone a tip to perform on your wedding day any amount of gratuity is appreciated. Most people ask if they do tip a DJ how much should we tip? My best answer is it’s completely up to you, on average our tips range from $50-$100.” DJ Tony Schwartz stated that “ I would say roughly 20-25% of the time I would receive a gratuity or gift from my clients. 50% of the time I receive a thank you card. And 100% of the time, I receive a heartfelt thank you hug at the end of the night. To the brides and grooms reading this, if you opt to generously give, a gift will always be more meaningful than a gratuity every single time.”
Wedding Photographer & Videographer: Optional
Photographers Stefan & Audrey (owners of their self-titled photography business) stated that they receive a gratuity or gift every 15 or so weddings, so not too often. They went on to say “Thank you cards/notes are more than enough though and we receive those fairly often! Cue the cheese. But honestly, friendship. We've met some awesome people and some authentic friendships have come from it.” Photographer Courtney Bowlden also mentioned thank you cards or words of thanks were greatly appreciated and that getting tips weren’t too common, maybe once or twice a year, and when asked what the best gift she has received, she replied “I got a cute scarf from a bride and it was totally unexpected. I was so blown away by her thoughtfulness.” So there you have it, a lovely gift or thanks is preferred at a minimum, but if you would like to tip, $50-$200 each is the standard.
This one is fairly straightforward. This is often built into your contract so check there first. If it is not, the usual 15-20% tip is expected. Just like taking a taxi! When to tip? At the end of the night or after the last ride. If you have shuttles or buses running you can give it to the Bus Captain to split among drivers or if it's a simple getaway car, you can give this duty to the Best Man or the Groom can do it upon exiting the car as a final option.
Wedding Reception Staff/Catering: Required/Expected
Okay, here it is, the big one. First of all, a service fee is almost always built into the contract, so again, check there first. If you are unsure what the service fee covers, feel free to ask your catering manager. If there happens to not be a service fee or gratuity built into your contract then plan to tip about 15-20% of the food and beverage labor fee, NOT the cost of the actual food and drink. This confuses some couples as you may be used to looking at your food and beverage total like going to a restaurant. But no, you aren’t expected to tip $3-4 k extra on that $20k total catering bill. Seattle company City Catering has an 18% gratuity line on their contract however it has a note stating “An 18% gratuity line has been included with this proposal for budgeting purposes. Gratuities for our servers are left to your discretion.” For giving out gratuity, you are more than welcome to break the amount out for each staff member (again look at the contract to see how many staff is expected), but the easiest way to do it is to give an envelope to the Banquet Manager and specify it is to be split among the staff. Feel free of course to include a note of thanks inside and an indication of a certain amount going to the Banquet Caption or Bartender etc. with the rest being split among the waitstaff.
So there you have it! That is our guide to tipping your wedding vendors. Just do what feels right to you, and remember, a big THANK YOU goes a long way!