A most likely controversial post on tipping

Posted on Apr 24, 2012

A most likely controversial post on tipping

I have a soft spot in my heart for those in the service industry, even before I became a part of it.  As a result I always tip REALLY well, and I’m pretty forgiving of people as a whole.  As in, the waitress would have to wipe her butt with my steak in front of me in order to affect her tip.  So when clients ask me about tipping, my advice is pretty short.  “If you think they deserve more than you paid them, give them a tip.”

I posted that on Twitter and was kind of taken aback at people begging me to elaborate.  Keep in mind I do NOT represent the wedding industry as a whole, or Miss Manners, and I’m weird and have my own ideas about this stuff.  That being said, here goes.

 The logistics of tipping

Who to tip

General rule of thumb, you tip who’s there on your wedding day.  There’s some thinking out there you don’t tip the business owner, and I agree/disagree with that.  Basically, is the business owner going to be there on your wedding day?  Big name caterers, venues, rental companies, obviously you wouldn’t tip the big boss there.  Small businesses don’t have a plethora of employees to send out, so it’s totally possible your photographer, planner, DJ, ice sculpture guy, are all business owners who are busting their butts for you.  If they’ve gone above and beyond, they deserve a tip just like the server who does this on weekends.

“But if they’re the business owner, they set their own pricing!”  This is true.  But honestly?  Many sole proprietor wedding vendors undercharge for themselves.  When you do the math and figure out how much you should be charging, it’s scary as hell, and you have to work up to it in degrees.  I paid some big shot business person to tell me to charge more, and I’m still not where they want me to be.  Not to mention, a tip is basically a monetary thank you.  Does someone not get that thank you just because their name is on the letterhead?

Some people say a referral is the best tip you can give a business owner, and much as word of mouth advertising is appreciated, I think it’s kind of lip service for vendors to say that.  Because, lets be honest, they aren’t going to turn down a gratuity if you offer it.  And if they did a good enough job to earn a tip in the first place, of course you’re going to be suggesting them to all your friends.

What to tip

This is definitely one of those do as I say, not as I do things.  I don’t think anyone should ever feel obligated to leave a tip just because someone showed up.  Let’s get all Dictionary.com on this.

Tip: A sum of money given to someone as a way of rewarding them for their services.

Reward: Make a gift of something to (someone) in recognition of their services, efforts, or achievements.

So, what are some of the things you should tip for?

  • Attentiveness – Are your servers refreshing drinks?  Is the DJ reading the room and adjusting the playlist accordingly?  Is your planner making sure you eat/keep hydrated?
  • Skill – Is your bartender nailing the obscure drink your uncle made up?  Is your food making you cry because your taste buds will never taste it’s equal again?  Do you want to bring out a lighter for your band?
  • Following Directions – Did the delivery guys show up on time?  Is the DJ following your “Do NOT play under penalty of death” list?  Is your planner helping with people herding like you asked?
  • General Demeanor – Are the vendors playing nice with each other?  Are guests complimenting you based on a specific vendor?  Is there a lot of smiling and happiness?
  • Above and Beyond – Did your florist run out and make two new arrangements for the tables you totally spaced on?  Did your photographer hang upside down from a tree to get you an amazing shot?  Have you referred to any of your vendors as a “life saver”?

ASFGA is a horrible anagram, but alas, these are some of the things to think about to consider if someone gets a reward.

Where/When to tip

Generally you want to handle tips with discretion.  You look like an ass if you’re waving around a handful of money and making a big show of it.  Think of it like a covert spy thing.  A nice shake of the hand, smile, say “Thank you”, and that’s it.  Don’t try to be cute about it by saying “Buy yourself something nice”.  That’s icky.

Most of my clients give me an envelope to tip vendors with, some have several smaller envelopes with pre-measured tips, others just have a quantity of cash and since I’ve been the one working with the vendors all day, my clients trust my judgment.  I can sneak the money over and not make a big deal of it at the end of the night, or whenever the vendors are packing up.

How to tip

I know some etiquette guides say to give a gift in lieu of cash.  My thought is unless you’ve gotten to know your vendor on a personal level and can give them something thoughtful you know they’ll love, just go with money.  Cash goes with everything, and as a vendor nothing is worse than getting a gift card to a restaurant you hate (or can’t eat at because of allergies), or receiving something that isn’t to your personal taste, then feeling guilt for not knowing what to do with it.

Does this sound bitchy?  More than likely, but its a waste of the client’s money to buy a gift card that won’t get used, or a vase that will never get displayed.  If you’re emailing with your photographer and they mention how they love chocolate, getting them chocolate is totally appropriate.  If you become close to your wedding planner, and see a statue on your honeymoon that reminds you of them, it’s totally fine to send it to them with a thank you note.

A word about catering

Catering is the main vendor everyone worries about tipping, and they make it as confusing as humanly possible.  So, for helpful clarification, I present the following:

  • Service Charge – Depending on the company, this is a line item for around 20% of the total of service.  (About what you’d pay for a tip.)  Caterers are quick to point out this is NOT a tip, but a cost of their doing business.  Things like office supplies, equipment, insurance certificates, etc.   My personal thought is, it’s stupid.  Those things are flat fees, not percentage based.  A business should have their food cost (plus profit), labor costs (plus profit), and general overhead should either be factored into those, or put in as a flat fee line item.  I’m not against vendors making a profit (dur), but I think it should be fair and up front.
  • Included Gratuity – Some catering outfits charge a non-negotiable 18-20% gratuity and add it to your bill.  BUT it doesn’t always go to the servers, the bar staff etc.  It might just go to the chef, or the onsite manager.  I have issues with this too, because to start with, I HATE the idea of a forced gratuity.  If they suck (and I’ve worked with sucky caterers), they don’t deserve a tip.  So demanding one isn’t really a tip, it’s a line item snuck by to tack on more money after the initial estimate.  It’s a dick move.  I also have an issue with not paying the entire staff out of that gratuity.  Lets say your catering bill is $5,000 (We’re just working with round numbers here, I’m NOT saying that’s what your budget needs to be.  I’m just lazy.), 18% of that is $900.  You’re telling me you can’t split $900 between a chef, their assistant, the onsite manager and 6 servers?  That’s $100 for each of them, a pretty nice pat on the ass for all the hard work.  But no, only the chef, assistant and manager get that tip, the servers have to be separate, more money out of your pocket.  That’s screwed up and I don’t like it.

So what’s the conclusion?  Ask potential caterers how they handle tipping, before you even hire them.  Ask if you can get the service charge as a flat fee item.  If they do forced gratuity, ask if there is a performance guarantee to go with it.  (If they’re guaranteed a tip, you should be guaranteed a good experience)  See who your tip will go to.  My opinion is the people who serve you are the people who should be tipped.  That means the people who are there on your wedding day.  If someone has been obscenely helpful to you, even if they aren’t there on the day of, feel free to tip them.

A short list of vendors and tipping

Because this is already obscenely long.

  • DJ/Entertainment – Keep in ASFGA in mind here.  But bottom line, are they keeping you and your guests entertained and happy?
  • Photographer/Videographer – Poor photographers get judged on their final product, which usually comes way after the wedding buzz is over.  But do you think the photos are worth more than you paid?  Did your photographer capture not only your favorite moments, but ones you missed?  Then tip them.
  • Bartender – Stay away from a tip jar.  If people want to tip them, they will.  Consider how your bartender’s service is, are they keeping everyone happy, how are they handling people who might be over served?
  • Delivery/Set up Peoples – Did they show up on time?  Did they have everything they needed?  Were they professional? (I love me some blue collar working men,  but draw the line at plumber’s crack and smoking in the damn venue.  Seriously…)
  • Florist – Usually you don’t tip your florist.  But if they really went above and beyond for you, if they really stand out for something, then go ahead and tip them.
  • Hair/Makeup Stylists – Stylists especially, I refer to the “Do they deserve more than you paid?” thing because I’ve seen stylists charge $150 to come to the site, do a fantastic job, and hang out all day to do touch ups.  I’ve also seen stylists charge $400 to make you come in, have you wait, do a sloppy job, and send you out the door.  All I’m saying is tip accordingly.
  • Seamstress – Most people don’t tip a seamstress/tailor, but if they did a phenomenal job, gave you a great deal, did a rush repair/alteration, then it would be nice if you tipped them.
  • Officiant – I’ve found religious officiants usually get offended when you offer to tip them (secular ones, not so much).  In those cases saying “We can’t thank you enough for helping with our ceremony, we would love to give you a gift to show our appreciation, would that be alright?”  You’re opening the door, and it gives them an opportunity to accept, to decline gracefully, or to direct you.  “Seeing you start married life together was enough f0r me, but I’m sure the church’s soup kitchen would appreciate a donation.”
  • Transportation -  If it’s just you and your new spouse getting picked up and driven half a mile down the road, unless the driver is amazing, I probably wouldn’t tip them.  On the other hand, if you have shuttle drivers that are making multiple trips throughout the day, who are waiting outside for hours, dealing with drunk people who think it’s a party bus, then more than likely they deserve a tip.

In case of Too Long; Didn’t Read, everyone is eligible for a tip, its just a question of if you think they deserve one.

3 comments on “A most likely controversial post on tipping

  1. Kinzie on said:

    Love this. And we’re overtippers at restaurants too, when the service is amazing. But maybe because I’ve worked so much in the service industry, and know how part of your job is to work hard and do well and put a smile on your face, if someone isn’t good, I tip the minimum 15%.

    So, in the case of photographers/videographers, do you usually tip after, once you’ve seen the product they give you?

    Ang, thank you for putting a bit of your brain out here for little confused planners of weddings like me. :)

    • I would say it depends on the situation. If your photographer is crazy amazing on the day of, you can give them something then, and then later when you get your pics. Or if you’re kind of overwhelmed with having to tip everyone on your wedding day, feel free to wait. Or if you know you’re going to totally space tipping them when you get the pictures, then tip them on the day of. How’s that for vague and non-committal?

      I feel bad because it’s like I’m saying, “GIVE EVERYONE ALL YOUR MONEYS!”, but the truth is, you don’t have to tip everyone, and not all your vendors are going to deserve a tip. Some are going to just do an adequate job, and that’s fine, you’ve paid them for their service. I really think we need to get back to a system where people work for tips instead of just expecting them.

      • Kinzie on said:

        Oh, that’s totally fair. I mean, I pretty much anticipate that Beagle will be bending over backwards to get the perfect shot. He’s just that good.

        And yes, I agree that we should get back to a culture of tipping for *good* service- but as it is, so many people are such bad tippers that I often feel like I should make up for them, and maybe the reason my server is so grumpy is that they just got a $1 tip at their previous table. Or: how about servers be paid a livable wage before tips like they do in Europe, so that tips are purely for service that excels. UGHHHHHH AMERICA.

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