The Etiquette of Tipping


Post has gone through several revisions based on an ongoing conversation between E and I.

We’ve had a few emails from readers requesting advice on gratuities and gifts for vendors. We though we would answer these as best we can.

  • Tip labor.  This is the easiest way we have found to split who gets a tip and who doesn’t.  Don’t tip the catering company, tip the personnel they bring with them.  Tip the delivery driver, not the florist, etc.
  • If you choose to calculate the tip based on the total bill, subtract equipment rentals, sales tax, or service charges.
  • You should always give the total tip to the person you contracted with.  They will then distribute among assistants, waiters, bartenders, etc.
  • You should still tip the labor you are required to use by the venue.
  • If you are using people who are also guests (i.e. hair, makeup), you should absolutely get them a small gift of appreciation.
  • Always get a family member or coordinator to handle the tips.  Put each tip/check in a separate envelope.  You shouldn’t have to stop celebrating to tip vendors.
  • If the vendor doesn’t accept the tip, take their refusal at face value.
  • Tipping your day of coordinator is always nice, but they don’t expect it (see note below on self employed vendors).  If nothing else, send them a lovely gift basket and thank you card.
  • Always send a thank you card after the event to your vendors.

E and I are in a debate over tipping for self employed vendors.  She says no, I say yes.  She says its not necessary as the vendor has built their gratuity into their fee, I say its just nice.  We’re both saying the same thing, and we’re both right.  Key point: Tipping them is not necessary, but it’s not unwelcome.  It’s really up to each individual bride.  If your coordinator/baker/florist/caterer has gone above the call of duty, go ahead and tip.  You can also find many many ways to thank them without a cash gift.

The point of a wedding is to celebrate and share with your friends and family.  Being generous to those people who have worked the hardest for your special day is vital. For more detailed information, check out Liene‘s posts here. You can also find information on tipping etiquette at Martha Stewart.


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13 comments on “The Etiquette of Tipping

  1. Christine writes...

    What is the general rule if its a restaurant and they’ve already included an 18% gratuity in your bill — are you still expected to give something additional?

  2. I have to say, I’m a little surprised by this. If we were to tip our vendors (and we don’t have very many) 25%, that would make our budget 25% higher… which would mean we couldn’t afford to get married. We really like all of our vendors, or we wouldn’t have agreed to work with them, and are doing our very best to treat them all with care and respect. We are very aware that they work hard, we’re paying them well, and we’ll send them thank you notes. But, that said, we took their price quotes at face value. If they are saying it costs XX to cater the wedding, we’re assuming that’s the actual cost. It seems odd to me, and slightly manipulative, if vendors are quoting a price, but expecting an additional 25% (which is a lot!) For the record, all of our vendors are self employed (I can’t think of a vendor that wouldn’t be…) and of course we’ll give small tips to the small number of wait staff that are at the wedding, though we’ve been assured they are all paid very well, and do not excepect tips.

    Any further thoughts on this? I’m *really* surprised at the idea that you need to tip 25% on top of the fee… why aren’t vendors just charging the amount they expect? I’m a huge overtipper in resturants, for the record…

  3. pammietee writes...

    I have to agree with Meg, I am surprised and slightly apalled by this thinking. I am 2 months out from my wedding and, at this point, am getting tired of being quoted absurd amounts just because it’s for a wedding. I am paying my caterer *very well* and I would hope, as a business person, they have built in whatever costs are involved in catering my reception. That included work done prior to the event, like shopping and chopping and so forth. To “expect” an additional 25% is appalling and really makes me angry. I am having a band that is charging me 10x what they would charge to play in a club plus I’m paying $300 for a “fuel upcharge” when they are only 45 minutes away. I cannot, for the life of me, imagine why I would need to tip them on top of that. I am, like Meg, a very generous tipper and enjoy tipping well when merited. Honestly, had I read this 8 mths ago when I was just beginning planning it wouldn’t have fazed me. But, now, after growing tired of paying double, triple for something just because it’s a “wedding” I’m annoyed.

  4. elizabeth writes...

    @ Meg, @ pammietee:

    It is very likely that your caterer (or perhaps other vendors) have included this in your contract already under “service charge”. If they have then you are all set and tipping the waitstaff is all that’s left. :)

    Additionally, if they are self-employed then although tipping is a nice gesture and will certainly be appreciated, it is not required.

    hope this helps!


  5. pammietee writes...

    Thanks. I believe I am paying a service fee and I have full intentions to tip the waitstaff (as I used to be ‘waitstaff’). With the exceptions of a few, the rest will be getting thoughtful and sincere thank you notes.

  6. elizabeth writes...

    @ pammietee – then it sounds like you’re golden! and it’s so nice of you to write thank you notes, we are sure your vendors will really appreciate that – sincere thanks and future referrals are so valuable!

  7. So, to clarify, where would you feel that tipping is expected, other then waitstaff? For waitstaff (such as they are at our small wedding) we will of course not be tipping them 25% of the total bill, just enough to say ‘thanks for a job well done.’ Maybe it’s because we’re having a small simple wedding, but I can’t think who else I’d tip. Not our Rabbi, for example! I’m honestly a bit confused…

    Sorry, but like Pammietee, I’m frustrated. We’re working extra hard to keep costs down, spend our money responsibly, support local artists and vendors, and not get taken for the “It’s a wedding! Expect to pay double!” ride. I feel like the moment I get things under control, I hear something like “remember to tip 10%-25%” and I feel another wave of frustration. Vendors need to price in what they need to be paid. I don’t want to have to worry that I am under paying or not appreciating my vendors if I take them at their word. Somehow because we’re brides we are expected to pay in a more emotional and less rational way then we would on anything else. Do I tip my waiter or cab driver? Heck yes, I do. But do I tip a contractor doing a renovation? Um, no. I pay the bill presented in full, in a timely manner, with a word of thanks.

  8. elizabeth writes...

    @Meg no need to be sorry!

    to clarify, my rules on tipping are this:

    1) always, without question, tip your waitstaff and other people who serve you, such as your delivery drivers, bartenders, any manual labor (set-up, take-down), hairdressers, coat checkers, valets, chauffeurs, etc, unless gratuity has been specifically negotiated and included in your contract.

    2) if a vendor is self-employed (this includes most florists, photographers, bands, videographers, coordinators), i would assume that they have built gratuity and all of their other needed items into their fees. if they do an above-the-call-of-duty job, i would definitely consider a small token of my appreciation, be it monetary or non-monetary. and certainly i would give referrals and glowing reviews!

  9. Ahhh…. well, as a small wedding, we have no one in the tipping catagory, other then a very few servers. That’s what family and friends are for!

  10. This is a great discussion to read. I’m 1 month from our wedding and I’m struggling with these same questions… my situation is as follows:

    All food/drinks/rentals are provided by our venue, which is a small hotel with an excellent restaurant. We are already being charged 18% gratuity as part of our final bill. I would assume this 18% goes to pay the waitstaff/bartenders who are all employees of the hotel/restaurant, because who else would it go to? And for the record, 18% of our total is a frickin’ lot of money.

    Our vendors (florist, photographer, coordinator, band, hair and makeup) are all independent owner/operators. We are also paying our vendors well, exactly what they’ve asked, with little negotiation and personally I don’t find it reasonable to be expected to tip on top of their contracted fee. We will thank them all profusely, go out of our way to make their jobs as easy as possible, and recommend their work highly (provided they do a good job!) and this should be more important that a few hundred dollars the night of the event.

    The places I would find it reasonable would be for instance the valets in front of the hotel, and the staff that come with our photobooth. They don’t own the company and are likely hourly employees. And I think it’s nice to give a little gift to vendors/people you’ve worked particularly closely with.

    ANYWAY. Thanks for all the good advice. I think that this is an instance where there are multiple right answers. But I love that there is a place where it can be discussed!

  11. Michelle writes...

    I have to agree with Meg & Kristina.

    I just recently had a wedding and was extremely frustrated when our coordinator gave us advise on tipping vendors.

    UGH!!! We felt guilted into giving our vendors a gratuity (won’t say exact amount but it was in the four digits) because of these ridiculous expectations they have on us. In all honesty, I can think of a LOT of things I would have preferred to use that money for & there were only two vendors that actually went above & beyond and deserved a tip.

    Weddings are SOOOO expensive & we paid top dollar for ALL our vendors.

    It was in our contract agreement that we pay a 20% gratuity/service fee at our venue so we knew the costs up front, agreed to it, & budgeted for it. We obviously had no problem with this because it was our choice to sign/commit ourselves to the contract terms. In addition, our venue didn’t expect us to provide meals for all the staff that assisted us.

    However, I ABSOLUTELY think it’s absurd and manipulative for vendors to expect us to pay a 10%-25% gratuity and, in most cases, also provide a meal when neither of these terms are specified in their contract. We signed a contractual agreement with our vendors. We agreed to pay a specific dollar amount for a specific scope of work.

    So why then, I must question, do vendors expect us to pay more for something that they’re already expected to do.

    If we turned the tables and brides/grooms EXPECTED vendors to provide 10-25% more service (flowers, lighting, linens, hair styling, make-up, hours of work, etc..) than what we paid for, vendors would seriously think WE were crazy out of our minds.

    So again, I must question, why should it be different for us? Why should they EXPECT us to give them a gratuity & provide a meal when it’s not stated in their contract.

    With all that said, I think there’s only solution for brides/grooms. I think we need to be VERY upfront about our feelings on the expectations of tipping BEFORE we sign the contracts.

    If I were to do it all over, I would definitely tell our vendors we have no intentions of paying or providing more than what is stated in the contract…….And in this scenario, if the vendors truly went above & beyond their contract, I would highly recommend them to ALL our friends/family and shower them with praise. I would also feel inclined to give a gift and a sincere thank you from my heart. In this case, I think the vendor would also feel much more grateful for anything extra they received and really feel proud of the good job they did.

  12. Where did the 25% come from? When I got married (3 weeks ago now) we tipped token amounts to the people that really went above and beyond, but I don’t think there were as high as 25% of the total. For example, we gave our photographer (who owns his own business) $50, which was maybe 3% of his bill – to cover things like gas money, parking, and just an added “thanks” which goes a long way.

    To Kristina-LovelyMorning – our venue also included a 20% service charge for all waitstaff/bartenders, so we gave the manager of the restaurant $75 for helping put everything together and negotiate us to a better price through the previous 6 months, and $50 to the head waiter who literally followed us around all night with a tray of champagne. A little goes a long way…. As a cost-saving alternative, I would also suggest writing a thank you note to each vendor, especially if they own their own business and need positive recommendations/reviews to put on their websites and attract new people.

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