How Much Do You Tip?
First of all, get your tip money ready – in cash – in advance. This is not something you want to deal with the day of the wedding. Secondly, check your contracts – some gratuities are factored into the quote (cetering and limo services are two that likely have 15-20 percent figured in from the get-go). If you accidentally double tip, well, I guess that’s good karma points, but it’s not necessary. Don’t be embarrassed to ask if you’re unsure whether or not it’s included. Better to have it sorted out now than later.
Put someone incredibly trustworthy in charge. Hand him or her clearly labeled envelopes that contain the cash gratuities for each vendor. There may be a few you’d like to take care of in person, but otherwise it’s smart to put someone else on tipping detail.
Here’s a general guideline, though I’m sure there are other schools of thought.
Wedding planner: This is completely optional and best delivered in person or by mail after the wedding. Did he or she go above and beyond? Handle any big problems? Talk with you on the phone for an hour every day for the entire week leading up to the wedding? Hold back from strangling you with table linens when you couldn’t decide between eggplant and plum for a solid 30 minutes? Politely listen to all of your mother’s ideas and requests and find a tactful way to deny each and every one of them? If you feel like you should, then hand him or her a gift (like a bottle of wine) or send a thank-you note with a gift card or check once you're back from honeymoon bliss.
Officiant: If your ceremony is affiliated with a religious building (church, synagogue, etc.), then you’re often expected to make a donation. Are they also charging you a fee for the space? If yes, then lower the donation. If you’re using a nondenominational officiant, no tip is expected – he or she is charging you for the time.
Hair/Makeup Stylist: Absolutely tip the stylists. Full disclosure, my mom runs a salon and has been in the business for a very long time. A tip of 15-20 percent is standard and expected. Chances are the salon is catering to you and only you for a good chunk of the day – those tips will be appreciated. If you know any hair stylists, then you know that bridal parties are likely their least favorite clients. Sorry, but it’s the hard truth. They probably all have horror stories from the bridal hair trenches. For every nightmare bride, bridesmaid or mother-of-the-bride there are probably 20 normal parties, but those temper tantrum-throwing few have ruined it for us all. If you’re one of the cliché upholders and someone has a meltdown requiring a hair or makeup re-do (I’ve seen it happen), then double that tip and hand the stylist a mimosa. They are not getting paid enough to deal with that level of drama.
Ceremony Musicians: $10-$20 per musician is pretty standard.
Caterers/Reception Staff: This is one where you should check the contract first. Typically your bill is paid in advance, meaning that the total is already known and an automatic percentage for gratuity was added. If it’s not included, then absolutely ask ahead of time what the staff number will be and tip on a per-person basis. $20-$25 for bartenders and waitstaff, $1 per guest if there’s a coat check and $1 per guest for valet.
Reception DJ or Musicians: Another contract check. If no gratuity is included, then plan on $20-$25 per band member or $50-$150 for a DJ depending on how long they performed.
Wedding Transportation: Often the gratuity is included here as well, but if it isn’t, then go with 15-20 percent of the total fee.
Photographer: If he or she owns the studio, then it’s not expected. Otherwise, it’s your call – $50-$200 completely depending on your situation.
Clearly all of these things can depend on the level of service. When people go above and beyond for you, it’s nice to recognize that they saved the day or helped make it extra special in some way. Just because gratuities aren’t expected in some situations doesn’t mean that you can’t tip – there are no etiquette police waiting to arrest you for tipping when no tip was required.