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Wedding Tip Etiquette: A Guide To Tipping

The Tipping Point: Who and How Much Should You Tip?

No matter what your wedding budget, sooner or later you'll be writing a lot of big checks to pay for everything. The contracted price is pretty self-explanatory. But when it A girl with questions around her head comes down to the day of the wedding...

How much do you tip?

A tip is supposed to be voluntary. However, just as it has become customary to tip your restaurant server, it has also become customary to tip many of your wedding service professionals.

You want to make sure your wait staff is tipped adequately. If you receive outstanding service, your tip should reflect that. But who gets tipped and how much?

The short answer: it all depends.

I turned to Margaret Brower, Banquet Manager of the Grandview in Poughkeepsie, NY and a newlywed herself, for help navigating the confusing world of wedding tip etiquette.

Many of the tip guidelines suggest tipping based on your guest list, such as tipping $2-5 per person. Unfortunately, this just isn't a good rule of thumb because catering halls structure their fees differently. It's easy to end up under or over tipping by mistake.

According to Margaret, catering halls usually charge one of two ways: a house service charge or a gratuity.

WARNING: Please check with your venue regarding all the details of pricing and before you follow the advice in this article. Pricing and gratuity structure varies by location. The best thing to do is ASK.

House Service Charge vs. Gratuity

A "house service charge" is used when your caterer presents a realistic bottom line price rather than an itemized bill for each service. Everything is included in the quoted price and then the house service charge is added to cover all setup fees. However, this house service charge DOES NOT include a gratuity, which means none of the money goes to the staff.

If your venue charges a house service charge, they likely pay a higher wage to their staff. However, it is also customary to tip them.

Other wedding venues add a "gratuity" or "service charge" to your bill. The percentage is generally 15-20%. This gratuity DOES go to your wait staff.

However, you will probably still want to tip your maitre'd and your head server. In the Hudson Valley, $100-300 for your maitre'd and $25-75 for your head server is a reasonable range.

Ask These Questions Before Tipping Your Caterer

  • How are the bartenders paid? Is a tip included?
  • Is a tip included in the house service fee? Do both wait staff and bartenders receive it?
  • Is a tip included in the gratuity? Do both wait staff and bartenders receive it?

Plastic cup tip jar filled with dollar billsTraditional Tipping Guidelines (adapted from Mindy Weiss' The Wedding Book)

Bartenders: 10 percent of the total liquor bill

Bathroom attendants: $1 - $2 per guest

Catering manager: $200+

Coat check attendants: $1 - $2 per guest

Hairstylist: 15 - 20 percent

Limo or bus drivers: 15 percent

Maitre d' or headwaiter: 1 - 3 percent of food and beverage fees

Makeup artist: 15 - 20 percent

Music: 15-20 percent or $15-25 per musician

Photographer or videographer: If you're paying a flat fee with no overtime, $100

Valet or parking attendants: $1 - $2 per car; 15 percent for valet parking

Waiters: $20 and up each (distributed by the catering manager or maitre d')

Wedding planner: 15 percent

Generally, couples do not tip service providers who are also the owner of the company. However, a tip is a way to express your gratitude for going above and beyond. If your wedding vendors truly delivered excellent service from start to finish, a tip is a great way to thank them.

The Logistics of Paying

Believe me, you won't want to be doing the math to figure tipping percentages, pulling out cash and writing checks on your wedding night.

Please, please delegate this responsibility to someone you trust. You may even make arrangements with your catering hall to pay the tip beforehand to make it even easier.


Generally, a house service fee does not include a tip for the staff while a gratuity fee does.

Even if your gratuity covers the fee, you'll still want to tip your maitre'd, head server and make sure your bartenders are included.

If you aren't sure about what is included in your fee, ASK. This is the best way to make sure everyone has been taken care of. Keep asking until you understand exactly what is included, who gets paid and how.

Try not to ask: "How much should I tip you?" Believe it or not, many catering managers are a little uncomfortable answering this question. Of course, they want a tip! But they don't want to seem greedy by suggesting a number.

A good rule of thumb is to tip generously for service that goes above and beyond. If you're happy, let it show!

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