Being a wedding planner in Santa Barbara, we are certainly known for being one of the more expensive destination cities. Our almost year round 70 degree weather, stunning mountain ranges, beautiful beaches, green and expansive vineyards, great shopping, and amazing food. Who wouldn't want to get married here?! Santa Barbara was recently voted the #1 destination wedding city in the world! It has always been in the top 5, but this year it has topped the charts.
I am constantly asked by my brides and grooms what vendors they should be tipping and how much they should tip. There is such inconsistency when searching online about tipping, that its no wonder that our clients are completely confused. The last thing that any couple wants, is to give a well deserved tip to their vendor thinking that they are doing a nice thing, only to learn that really, it was almost an insult by it being so much less than what is standard. Well standard in Santa Barbara that is... Don't get me wrong, it is always welcomed to receive any amount of tip as it shows that your hard work is appreciated. I wanted to get to the bottom of this dilemma and so I decided to go to, well, the vendors! Read more about the standard rules I found out there and what some of my fellow vendors had to say about them.
Remember, tipping should be included when discussing your overall budget. It can add up quickly to being hundreds if not thousands of dollars you never thought to include in your bottom line. So if you have a specific budget that is not flexible - don't forget about the gratuities!
The general rules of thumb that I found:
1) Don't tip business owners, only tip their employees (however, you can/should tip an owner when the service exceeds expectations).
*My only issue with this, is that most people in Santa Barbara are self employed and they deserve tips too, especially when they have gone above and beyond their contracted duties.
2) Tip vendors who offer exceptional service; thank-you notes are always appreciated.
3) Assign the responsibility to a trusted deputy such as your wedding planner, a parent, or the best man.
* I always ask that my clients hand off their gratuities in clearly marked envelopes the day prior at the wedding rehearsal so they have one less thing to remember, or forget, on their wedding day!
Wedding planners won't likely expect anything; however, if yours did a great job you can always offer a token of your appreciation. Approximately 50 percent of couples do tip their planners - typically higher end weddings.
The Standard: Up to $500, or a nice gift
When to Tip: The bride should hand off the envelope at the end of the reception, or, she should send a thank-you note with a check after the honeymoon.
*Fellow planners and I have received none, up to $1,000, and everything in between. It completely depends on the client.
Hair and Makeup Artists
This is one area where a gratuity is definitely expected. Tip between 15 - 20 percent just as you would in a hair salon, and consider giving a little extra if there's a crisis, like one of your bridesmaids has a meltdown over her updo and it requires a redo at the last minute. Or you have a drop in and your vendors are scrambling to get everyone done in a shorter amount of time.
The Standard: 15-25 percent, depending upon the quality of service
When to Tip: At the end of your service
*Experienced planners will tell you to always tip at least 20% of the service fee to your hair and makeup artists. It should never be a question of quality because you should always have a trial done prior to your wedding so that you are confident in your stylists ability combined with your vision. You will have already discussed and practiced exactly what you want for your wedding so there are no surprises! Giving a little extra when a crisis arises is always a nice gesture.
Wedding Delivery and Set-up Staff
Slip a few dollars to anyone delivering important items to the site (wedding cake, flowers, or sound system). And if a lot of gear needs to be brought in and set up (tents, chairs, or port-a-potties), the workers deserve a tip too.
The Standard: $5 - $10 per person
When to Tip: Drop off cash envelopes the day before the wedding to the catering manager so the person accepting deliveries can turn the tip.
*This one definitely threw me for a loop. I have never really tipped any of my delivery staff because generally there is a delivery fee or labor fee that my client has paid specifically for this. I spoke with one of our local rental companies to see what their thoughts were. Most of their delivery and setup staff do not get tipped unless they have gone above and beyond their job description. For example, I needed some "muscle" to move some large urns a client brought for the altar decor and there was no way that I, or any of my staff could do it. I asked the guys if they would mind helping and we gave them each a $10 tip for each time they moved them. It may not be standard, but they certainly appreciate it when they get one. These guys are setting up events on uneven terrain and in extreme weather sometimes- 100+ degrees! I like to buy pizza or sandwiches for all of the crew on those long days of setup and I always have fresh bottled water for everyone. Another thing to keep in mind is that it is not always the same crew during setup as it is during strike. So if there is a particular person, or group of people that you want to make sure are given a little extra for doing an outstanding job, get their names! When an owner of a business gets a phone call from a happy client about a particular employee or receives a written thank you note with a little something in it for that staff, it makes everyones day and boosts moral as well as their pockets!
Wedding Ceremony Officiant
If your officiant is affiliated with a church or synagogue, you're often expected to make a donation to that institution. If you're a member you'll probably want to give a larger amount than if you're not. However, if you're getting married there and they're charging you to use the space, feel free to give a smaller amount. If you're using a nondenominational officiant, no tip is required because they will charge you for their time.
Protocol: Expected (depending on officiant)
The Standard: Donate $500+ to the church or synagogue, or, for a nondenominational officiant, an optional tip of $50 - $100
When to Tip: Most ceremony fees are required prior to the wedding.
*I always suggest a 15-20% tip of the service amount for my non-denominational officiants, however it is not expected. I think that this should be a case by case scenario based on how invloved your officiant was during the planning of your ceremony. I hand officiants the marked envelope that my clients gave to me the day prior at the rehearsal just after the ceremony.
Wedding Ceremony Musicians
If you worked with a mini orchestra to come up with the perfect score for your service (and they pulled it off flawlessly), consider showing some monetary thanks for their talent. However, you probably don't have to tip the solo church organist who was required to play.
The Standard: $15 - $20 per musician
When to Tip: At the end of the ceremony.
*Our musicians generally receive a 15-20% gratuity based off of their total fee that is then divided evenly amongst the musicians. I always suggest giving them cash of smaller bills so that it is easier to divide between them. They are usually given their gratuity, in that marked envelope after the cocktail hour, as most live musicians here in Santa Barbara have a two hour minimum for Saturday events.
You're not expected to give your shutterbugs any dough beyond their normal fees. Yet if the wedding photographer or videographer doesn't own the studio, consider tipping each person (or give a certain amount with a thank-you note to disperse to staff).
The Standard: $50 - $200 per vendor
When to Tip: At the end of the reception.
*This was pretty interesting. It didn't really matter how high end the photographer or videographers were, they hardly ever get tipped. The range was anywhere from $100 - $1200. My suggestion, is that if you are going to tip $100 after paying thousands of dollars for their service, do a gift certificate for a nice restaurant in town or at local shop. Trust me, it will read better.
Wedding Reception Staff
This type of staff includes the on-site coordinator, maitre d', and banquet manager. A service charge (typically 2 percent) is almost always built in to the food and drink fee, so check your contract. If the gratuity is not included, tip as follows.
The Standard: 15 - 20 percent of the food and drink fee (based on labor, not the cost), or $200 - $300 for the maitre d'.
When to Tip: If it's covered in the contract, the final bill is typically due before the reception. Otherwise, have the father of the bride or best man hand the envelope to the maitre d' at the end of the reception since you will need to know the final tab to calculate the percentage.
*I laughed out loud at this one! There is not one place anywhere in Santa Barbara that only charges a 2% service charge! It is pretty much the same at all of the hotels, but the service fee is between 19-22% then there is the tax on top of that. Now for catering companies, if it is not in the contract at 18-20% then it is suggested that you tip 15-20% of the total food and beverage costs. For hotels, this fee is then put in a "pot" and after a cut is given to the hotel - usually about 12% the remaining 9-10% is then divided up amongst the staff and becomes part of their hourly wage that they are then taxed on. So if there is a particular staff person that has done more than their job description or handled a bad situation particularly well, then give them the cash tip in person at the end of the night.
Wedding Reception Attendants
When it comes to bartenders, waitstaff, parking, bathroom, and coat-room attendants the rules of tipping are dictated by your contract. If the service fee is included, consider doling out extra only if the service was exceptional. If it's not included, ask ahead of time how many attendants will be working your wedding and calculate on a per person basis.
Protocol: Optional, based on contract
The Standard: $20 - $25 per bartender or waiter; $1 per guest for coat room and parking attendants; $1 per car
When to Tip: Although tips are traditionally passed out at the end of the event, you could alternately distribute them at the beginning of the evening, to encourage all the workers to give you great service.
*I actually agree with this one, however the staff usually get 15-20% of the food and beverage and it is divided up evenly amongst all of the staff including the bartenders. Now if it is a bartending company that is separate from the catering company, then they usually request 10-15% of their labor fee since the client usually supplies the product. For hotel events, if it is a hosted bar, then the client is charged a 19-22% service fee that is divided between the hotel and the staff. If it is a cash bar, then it is polite to tip $1-$2 a drink every time. I always suggest giving the bartenders a little extra if they had to setup on the beach. Sand sucks! Valet usually get 15-20% of the total fee and divided up amongst them based on the number of hours they were there. You always need more staff at the beginning of your event when everyone first arrives, so they can sometimes let some staff go before the night concludes since guests trickle out throughout the evening rather than all at once.
Wedding Reception Band or DJ
Whether you hire 12-piece swing band or grooving to a DJ, tipping musicians is completely optional. (Depending on the quality of the job and how willing they were to follow your ideal playlist!) And don't forget about any sound technicians they bring with them.
Protocol: Optional, yet preferred
The Standard: $20 - $25 per musician; $50 - $150 for DJs
When to Tip: At the end of the reception, by the best man.
*For my DJs, I suggest a 15-20% gratuity based on their total services minus their equipment costs and $25-$50 per band member.
Again, check your contract, as gratuity is usually included. If it isn't, plan to tip provided they show up on time and don't get lost!
The Standard: 15 - 20 percent of the total bill
When to Tip: At the end of the night or after the last ride. If you used a separate company for the guest buses, designate a bus captain to hand the driver a tip, otherwise, this duty falls to the best man.
* Or your wedding planner!