Wedding Tipping Etiquette
. . . a way of saying "thank you" for especially good service

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By the time we are adults, most of us have learned the etiquette of tipping, having applied it in our everyday lives. Tipping is a practice which originally was intended To Insure Prompt Service (TIPS), and as a way of increasing your odds of getting quality service. Today, most of us have come to expect good service as a given and, even though we often don't get the service we feel entitled to, tipping has remained a social norm, nevertheless. People in service businesses have come to expect a tip. Whether it's a wait person, a bellhop or your hair stylist, tips are "counted" in the monies they earn.

Richard Erikson chef-owner of Blue Mountain Bistro Catering Company has catered many weddings. He explains that "the issue of tipping is one in which many people find that doing what's right is confusing." He pointed out that "with weddings, most caterers follow the European custom where a service charge is added to the bill and a tip or gratuity is added by the customer on top of it." Richard added that "the caterer may point out that he and his staff are personally responsible for the client's happiness at their special event, and if the client is pleased with the service, it is customary to add a tip/gratuity on top of the bill." He emphasized that "in order to avoid any misunderstandings, it's important for the client to understand what and how much he or she is paying." He recommended that "every catering client should get an itemized bill, in advance of the affair, which includes an explanation of service charges, tipping and gratuity policies."

Tipping as wedding protocol is, however, a bit more complicated and has some of its own rules. As with other services we receive, tipping is based on the level of care that exceeds our expectation of what a service provider offers. The amounts stated here are suggested guidelines. It is still appropriate to follow your own feelings in making a decision about how much to tip.

This underscores the need for you, the customer, to thoroughly read the contract and to ask questions. Most caterers add the gratuity of 18% to 20% right onto the bill. That gratuity is sometimes called a service fee or service charge. It is an extra line on the bill in addition to food and bar. Wording differs from caterer to caterer, so customers need to be sure that they understand the bill in general and, in particular, they need to know much of the service charge the wait persons and other staff who are actually getting paid.

Most caterers say that customers are not expected to tip "on top," but point out that many people choose to do so. It is the caterer's responsibility to make it clear to customers, up front, in what way the staff is taken care of and if anything additional is required.

It is really important for you to be open and forthcoming with your caterer, catering manager or restaurant owner. Ask if they have a policy and, if so, what it is. Gratuities relating to food services are often automatically included in the bill, so make sure to read your contract carefully. The gratuity may be calculated based on the number of guests or on the total amount of the bill and usually is paid for prior to the reception. The customary amount is between 15% and 20%. If, at the reception, the food services person goes out of his or her way for you and your guests, you might add a tip of $1-$2 per guest, after the reception. Tipping a hostess, maitre D' or captain would fall between 1% and 2%.

Waiters and waitresses are usually tipped between 15% and 20% of the food bill, assuming such tips are not already included in the bill. If, during the reception, a particular server has made an effort "above and beyond," you may, of course, choose to give that individual an additional tip.

Bartenders are also tipped between 15% and 20%, based on the bar bill. An additional 10% above the gratuity is not uncommon. What is most important with reference to the bar is that it be made absolutely clear that the bartender may not accept tips from your guests. A sign placed at the bar that says "No Tipping Please," should cover that contingency.

The concept of tipping is that it should be based on service and should be up to the client's discretion. It's customary that people tip after a wedding and that that their tips are based on the quality of the service they have received. More often than not gratuities are divided amongst the entire staff, not just the server, with pooled tips an unofficial policy.

The industry-wide standard is to add a 15%-20% gratuity to the catering bill. The service provider may point out to clients that if the service they receive is exceptional, additional tips would be appreciated. Some service providers exclude gratuities from the bill to their clients, thereby leaving tips entirely to the discretion of the client. Such a policy does not exclude staff from receiving gratuities. Sometimes when service is exceptional a client will tip more than the usual 15% to18% and service personnel will actually benefit from such a policy!

Restroom, coat check, valet person and parking attendants are ordinarily prepaid and usually tipped between $1 and $2 per coat or car. The calculation may also be based on a per guest tip in the range of fifty cents. It may well be to your advantage to arrange a flat fee prior to your event.

Limousine drivers are usually tipped between 15% and 20% of the bill. Once again, should you feel you were given special service, you have the option of adding to the standard tip amount. It should again be emphasized that you need to read your contract carefully, so you don't double tip.

Musicians, including DJs, may be tipped if their performance is exceptional. The amount of the tip is in the range of $25 per band member or, in the case of a DJ, 15% of their total bill. The tip (in essence, the fee) for church organists and church musicians are usually included in the rental fee for the church. Where this is not the case, a gratuity in the range of between $35 and $50 is appropriate. If the organist and/or musicians/soloist are close friends of the couple or of the family, the average gratuity is $75.

Florists, photographers and bakers are not ordinarily tipped, nor do they expect to be. A flat fee is paid, in advance, for their services. Again, if service is extraordinary, a tip in the range of 15% is appropriate.

Years ago, wedding etiquette said that an officiant was never to be tipped, but the reality today is that's not what happens. Officiants may not accept a fee or a tip, but most are comfortable accepting a donation for their organization. The average "gratuity" starts at $75, more if travel time is involved or if you feel so inclined. Most couples rarely feel comfortable giving less than a hundred dollars for the wedding officiant. It's appropriate for the donation to be given to the best man before the ceremony. Following the proceedings, it is appropriate for him to give the "fee" to the officiant.

A civil officiant (e.g., judge, Justice of the Peace, City Clerk, etc.) is not allowed to accept a tip or donation for a wedding ceremony performed during court / office hours. After hours, they may accept a "donation" (gratuity) of up to $75, but this may vary according to local law. To make sure you are within the legal guidelines of your locale, check with your officiant for specifics.

Make sure that you plan to include tips in your budget, because, depending on the size of your affair, tipping costs can become quite substantial, easily increasing your costs by hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

Plan ahead by selecting a designated tipper, your wedding consultant, best man, or anyone with whom you are comfortable to handle this task. Prior to the wedding, talk to him or her about your views on tipping and explain what parameters to follow on the day of the wedding.

It appears that although tipping is said to be optional, it has become fairly obvious that it is almost always expected. Even the amount of tips, although again presumably optional and at your discretion, seem to be "set." Use the information you have about averages, as well as your personal feelings. Keep in mind that above all service comes first and a tip is a concrete way to thank people based on the level of service they provide and to recognize those who went out of their way to ensure your day was as memorable as it can be.

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