11/27 Broke-Ass Advice: Gratuity With Gratitude or Tips for Tipping Your Wedding Vendors

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If you’re reading this from the U.S., may I be the umpteenth person to wish you a Happy (belated) Thanksgiving! It’s a holiday tradition to express thanks at this time of year, and today I’d like to start by thanking you, BABs, for helping to grow this awesome community, and to the BAB staffers for inviting me to come hang out with y’all.

And if you’re not all thanked-out from the week (or maybe still in a food coma?), today’s post is also about gratitude — but not in the way you think! While many of you might grouse about the added expense of wedding gratuities, I’m going to challenge you to think about it in a different way.

What is Gratuity?

See, the word gratuity is just a really fancy way of saying “tips.” It’s not at all accidental that it shares a root with the word gratitude, since both are derived from the Latin word gratus, meaning “thankful.” WORD NERDS UNITE!

Gratuity, or tipping, therefore is ultimately a method for expressing gratitude or thanks for stellar service. That’s how it’s supposed to be anyway. Today gratuity gets a bad rap because of the way some vendors automatically add it onto a bill, making it less discretionary and more of a requirement. But there’s a good reason for that as well.

How Does Gratuity Work?

(Note: I’ll be talking about general tipping practices inside the U.S., but tipping traditions vary regionally, and recommended rates may be different in your area.) 

Gratuity is a funny thing in that it’s based more on cultural tradition, subjective interpretation of etiquette and individual perception than any clear-cut lines of distinction — and yet it’s still more or less standard practice. Unless gratuity is automatically applied (we’ll get to that in a minute), decisions about when, whether and how much to offer are totally up to you. (There’s no Tipping Police that I’m aware of; though you might catch a few dirty looks, that’s probably the worst of it.)

Let me state this again for the record: With a few exceptions, whether, when, and how much to tip your wedding vendors is totally up to you.

Gratuity is usually only applied to services where one or more people have provided labor, but it’s not standard to tip all types of service providers. Most of the time gratuity applies to the hospitality, travel, and personal care / beauty industries. In Wedding Land, this might include your venue, caterer, and/or bartender, as well as hairstylist, manicurist, makeup artist and limo driver, but may also apply to other types of service providers as well. With the exception of the providers I mentioned, though, most wedding vendors don’t expect a tip and will find it a pleasant surprise if offered.

Note, too, that a service charge is different, and usually covers administrative and miscellaneous expenses rather than gratuity for the wait staff. Your bill might include both a service charge and gratuity, so read the fine print, and ask if you’re not sure what a specific charge covers.

Mandatory Gratuity

I know I just said that gratuity was up to you, but in some cases it’s not. Food service providers like caterers and sometimes transportation services may add a mandatory gratuity fee onto your bill. (This is similar to the gratuity fee of 18%-20% that some restaurants automatically apply to large parties.) The amount varies, but may hover in the 15%-20% range, which means if your catering service bill is $8,000, you could really owe $9,600 at the end of the day. That number might come as a shock if you didn’t add gratuity into your budget calculations, but if you did, you can relax knowing you’re still on budget.

What to Do About Gratuity?

I hear ya. When you’re deep in the trenches of wedding planning the last thing you need is another unexpected, un-budgeted expense. Especially if it’s a sneaky one.

In short, there’s not much you can do about gratuity. If your venue or caterer (or any other vendor) adds a mandatory gratuity fee to your bill automatically, there’s not often a way around it, and I’d argue that it’s not where you should be trying to cut expenses anyway. Remember that true gratuity is an expression of thanks to all the people who are running around on your wedding day — so that you don’t have to — and you might find something in that to appreciate.

But there are two things for sure that you can do about gratuity, and both involve planning ahead! (Skip to the bottom of this post for another creative idea if you’re strapped for cash.) 

1. First, double check all of your contracts and ask questions to find out a) whether gratuity is expected, and b) whether gratuity is already included in the total quote, is added to the bill at the end, or is not included and therefore at your discretion.

2. Second, add a separate line for gratuity to every single category in your budget and only remove it when you’re sure it’s neither required nor necessary. Overkill? Maybe, but better safe than sorry. How to tell whether it’s necessary? Here’s a quick cheat sheet for tipping:

Who Should I Offer a Tip?

Tipping Decision Tree:

Does the vendor automatically apply a gratuity? If yes, pay it.

Did the vendor provide exceptional service? If yes, consider a tip. (Or at the very least a sincere thank you note — see the bottom of the post.)

Can you afford to offer even a modest tip to your vendors who went above and beyond? If yes, consider a tip.

If you’ve answered ‘No’ to one or more of the above, it’s perfectly fine not to tip your vendors.

Another general rule of thumb is that if the service provider is also the business owner, a tip is not necessary because the provider is able to set their own rates. Tipping for exceptional service is always good karma, though.

How Much to Tip?

Remember that with the exception of beauty, hospitality / food service, and transportation, tips are generally not required or expected. For other types of vendors, if your tip percentage is lower (or nil), it really is okay.

Bakers – 15% (at your discretion)

Beauty, Hair, Makeup Artists – 15%-20%

Caterers, Wait Staff, Bartenders – 15%-20% (usually included in contract)

Coat Check Attendants – $1 per guest (unless accepting tips from guests)

DJs – 15%-20% (at your discretion)

Florists – 15% (at your discretion)

Limo Drivers / Transportation – 15%-20%

Officiants – $75-$100+ for clergy or a donation to religious venue; civil officiants are usually not permitted to accept gratuities

Parking Attendants / Valet – $1-2 per car (unless accepting tips from guests)

Photographers / Videographers – 15% (at your discretion)

Wedding Planners / Coordinators – 10%-20% (at your discretion)

What If I Can’t Afford a Tip?

So what’s a broke-ass to do if she wants to recognize super vendors (or friend-ors), but doesn’t have the cash to shell out for non-mandatory tips on the wedding day? I’ll let you in on a little insider secret: Many wedding vendors will value a heartfelt review or testimonial equally as much as a modest tip … and referrals are worth their weight in gold.

If any of your vendors go above and beyond to make your day special (or even just meet your expectations, making your day just a little easier), shout it from the rooftops! Tell your friends and family, and make sure they let the vendor know you referred them. Not only will you be helping out your vendors, but you’ll be helping other couples to save time in their own vendor searches.

And if your vendor hasn’t reached out to offer review methods? Ask them! Let them know you’d like to write a review and find out their preferred methods for you to share your praise for their work. Not sure what to write? I’ve got you covered!

Vendor Review Mad Libs

If you’re stuck on what to write about your amazing wedding vendors, here’s some inspiration:

(Name of company) provided (exceptional / kickass / phenomenal / dreamy) (type of service) for my wedding in (month), (year). (Name of business owner or provider) (insert awesome thing they did to go above and beyond), and I highly recommend this company to engaged couples planning a wedding! 

Everyone appreciates an expression of gratitude when it comes from the heart. <3

Party on!

– Lisa 

Planning a wedding in Northeast Ohio? Here’s where you can find me for wedding planning assistance.

Lisa Paladin is the owner of Event Plan-It, a wedding planning and design company located in The Heart of It All. Lisa loves helping creative couples to plan EPIC weddings without any highway robbery, and believes there is no such thing as too much glitter. Or color. Or animal print. Lisa is a volunteer cat/kitten foster mom, a collector of neon things, an Argentine Malbec aficionado, a treehugger, a dabbler in all things crafty and a word nerd (despite excessive use of exclamation points and parenthetical statements). Follow Lisa on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest, or email Lisa at info (at) eventplanit (dot) com about your Cleveland wedding or The Walking Dead.