To tip, or not to tip: that is the question.
Whether ’tis better in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outraged vendors,
Or simply to bite the bullet and shell out a sea of cash.
~ Parody of Hamlet’s Famous Soliloquy
Of all the etiquette topics that crop up in our lives tipping is one of the most frustrating and confusing. And we Americans seem to have created this tangled web. Many countries, such as Japan and Brazil, do not observe this custom; but it should be noted that some countries that do not observe tipping, per se, do build into their prices a gratuity. Likewise, tipping in the U.K. is not as widespread as in the U.S., although American tourists are apparently influencing tipping patterns there.
Tipping Accomplishes Two Goals
Like many etiquette topics, not all etiquette experts agree on wedding tipping. In my view, tipping accomplishes two very important goals: one, to reward service people — especially those who depend on tips to supplement their salaries — for good, excellent or exceptional service, and, two, to leave an individual or establishment with a good feeling about you. This becomes very important when planning a wedding, the most important occasion in a couple’s life, and often a once-in-a-lifetime event in which you want everything to go smoothly and as perfectly as possible.
You carefully choose your vendors — wedding planner, venue, caterer, photographer, musicians/D.J., florist, limo service, hairdressers, makeup artists, etc. — and work with them closely and respectfully throughout the planning stages and on the day of the wedding. You have established a good relationship with all of them. It’s even possible that you will refer future clients to them or wish to hire them for another personal or business event. In those cases you will want them to welcome your friends, relatives or associates with open arms and do a good job for them, as well, and you will want them to enthusiastically agree to work for you again in another capacity or refer you other vendors who can best serve your needs. That’s where thoughtful and sophisticated tipping can top off a good experience of working together.
The Tipping Formula
Wedding etiquette authorities’ advice might vary about whom and how much to tip; for example, it is generally a rule of thumb not to tip owners of a business. However, in a wedding context there could be exceptions. Therefore, you should be sure to include funds for gratuities in your wedding budget. If you can afford it and you are pleased with jobs performed beyond expectations, then go ahead and be generous to a fault. On the other hand, if you are watching your budget you need not go bankrupt by over-tipping.
The following examples are intended to provide a general guideline for sensible and fair tipping practices and are based on a standard New York suburban wedding; you should make the appropriate adjustments for your location, type of wedding and requirements:
- Wedding Planner – Wedding planners typically are sole proprietors or entrepreneurs that own their own businesses and, thus, it is not necessary to tip them. The wedding planner will have negotiated a contract for a fee that covers the services you will need — either on a full or part-time or day-of plan. That said, many wedding planners often go above and beyond contractual services — it’s just the nature of the job. There are so many details in planning a wedding and even for the most seasoned professional not everything can be foreseen. The professional and savvy wedding planner does not nickel and dime her clients but will extend herself, as necessary, to produce a successful event. Therefore, if your wedding planner goes above and beyond, performing services not in your contract, or performs beyond expectations, it is entirely appropriate to present a “bonus” of anywhere from $50 to several hundred dollars depending on the level of service provided. The wedding planner at her discretion can then provide a portion of the bonus to any staff she has employed for your wedding, or separately you may offer each of them a tip of $50 or more.
- Venue – The catering bill generally might not include gratuities for many of the staff that will be necessary to make your wedding celebration a memorable success, such as the coat room staff and parking attendants. Plan to tip the former $1-$2 per guest and the latter $1-$2 per car, and inform your venue contact or wedding planner to instruct the coat room and parking staff not to accept tips from the guests — you will have that covered.
- Caterer – Often the gratuity for the catering staff is included in the contract you sign; if it is not then plan to include a tip of 15-20% of the total bill that the caterer may split among the staff — headwaiter, servers, bartenders, bussers, chefs and bakers. The easiest way to do this is to add it to your payment and enclose a note of thanks and mention that you have added a tip.
- Officiant – Religious officiants usually are not tipped; if s/he charges a fee plan to make an additional donation of $100-$200 to his or her house of worship. If your personal clergy person officiates and does not charge a fee, make a donation of $100-$500 to your house of worship. Civil service employees such as judges usually are not allowed to accept tips and a flat fee is simply charged, but check with your local authorities about this as laws and practices might vary. An Ethical Culture Society leader or officiant charges both a service and application fee; if you feel the leader performed exceptionally well, a donation to the Society would be a nice gesture. If you arrange for a friend to officiate, the friend will have to apply for or renew a license and make the same arrangements as any other officiant, but instead of a tip a gift for his or her time and effort is in order, and offer to pay any travel and accommodation expenses.
- Set-up Crew (if separate from venue or site rental) – $10-$20 per person.
- Musicians / Disc Jockeys – Independent bands and DJs that handle their own bookings usually pocket 100% of the payment they charge so they are not expecting an additional tip. If you acquire your band or DJ through a booking agent, depending on how pleased you are with their performances you should tip at least $25 per band member–including the vocalist if one is provided. Tip the DJ at least $100, depending on how pleased you are with his or her performance, and especially if your DJ doubles as your MC.
- Master/Mistress of Ceremonies – If the DJ does not also act as MC, the wedding couple typically will ask a friend or family member to do the honors; in that case arrange to compensate the friend with a generous gift — theatre tickets, gift card to a nice restaurant or other special gift.
- Photographers and Videographers – Similar to musicians and DJs, if the photographer or videographer is an independent artist there is no need to tip. But, again, if your photo/video professionals go above and beyond, then a bonus is appropriate. If you acquire your professionals through an agency, then tips ranging from $50-$200 per photographer or videographer are appropriate.
- Florist – Again, there is no need to tip the florist, but you might want to tip the delivery person if someone other than the owner(s) delivers and arranges the flowers.
- Transportation Company(ies) – Check your contract to see if the company has already charged a 15-20% gratuity; if not, you should plan to provide a cash gratuity to the driver(s) in that range.
- Hairdressers, Makeup Artists, Manicurists & Masseuses – It is fine to tip these professionals the same percentage as you would normally, which is 15-20%. Typically, these professionals will charge more for a wedding gig and will expect their travel expenses to be covered if they are coming to the wedding hotel the day before or day of the wedding. In the case of hair, makeup or nail emergencies a gratuity of 30% is appropriate.
Some tips may be added to the final bill from the vendor, as in the case of the caterer. But most other tips should be made in cash and placed in marked envelopes accordingly. Usually the best man is in charge of settling all bills and handing out tips on behalf of the wedding couple toward the end of the reception; but the father of the groom, the bride’s honor attendant or another trusted individual may be designated to perform these tasks and keep track of everything. The wedding couple should record all tips and bonuses on their wedding budget spreadsheet and provide the best man or other designee with a copy of the list of tips and bonuses along with the various marked and stuffed envelopes.
If the wedding planner is to be presented with a bonus, the wedding couple should do the honors, as she or he is likely the most valuable vendor, having overseen much of the planning and working the longest and closest with the couple. It is also acceptable to thank the wedding planner before departing and promise to be in touch after the honeymoon. Then a heartfelt thank-you note with an enclosed check may be mailed shortly after returning from your trip or within a few weeks after the wedding. If you wish to present cash instead of a check you should pay a personal visit to your wedding planner to make the presentation.
It is also an important and valuable gesture to provide both word of mouth and on-line complimentary reviews on the vendors who served you so well. This not only is a professional gift to the vendors but it imparts priceless information to others who are planning their weddings. Some popular consumer review sites include Yelp, Google My Business, Angie’s List and Trip Advisor; and don’t forget your own website and Facebook page.
Taking a Break
As my daughter’s wedding (one of the reason’s I started blogging on wedding etiquette last year!) is coming up in less than two weeks, I will be taking a break from The Three E’s for two weeks. But I’ll return on Tuesday, October 25, with a couple of entries on our Presidential election. Following that I plan to wrap up The Wedding Series with a few more entries (but reserve the right to return to the topic occasionally!), including a guest blog or two from my newlywed daughter (who has guest blogged on this site previously on job-search topics).
Please join me then!
Until next time,