Who gets tipped at a wedding and why?

man pouring champagne on glasses for a wedding toast. this type of worker is one who gets tipped at a wedding
Photo by Rene Asmussen on Pexels.com

Who gets tipped at a wedding is a common question in wedding planning. It used to be you could just say, “Tip anyone you would tip normally,” and everyone knew what to do. However, this gets complicated when you factor in vendors such as DJs, photographers, and florists that not all of us use in our everyday lives. (Well, maybe if you are a celebrity…) Using a little knowledge of history, common sense, and principles of fairness and equity, we’ll try to tackle this question.

A little tipping history

While tipping predates the Civil War in the U.S., it became more prevalent in post-Reconstruction America. When it became no longer legal to enslave humans and pay them nothing to work, companies such as Pullman hired Black workers and paid them low wages, expecting them to work for tips to make up the bulk of their income (via USA Today).

As Rakeen Mabud mentions in an article on the Forbes website, “Former slaves…were exploited by employers who offered them no-wage jobs with the promise of tips. Tipping, therefore, was explicitly used to avoid paying black Americans for their labor in this period.”

CBS News continues, “Surprisingly, in those early years, many considered tipping undemocratic and therefore un-American because of its roots in the aristocracy. ‘Tipping, and the aristocratic idea it exemplifies, is what we left Europe to escape. It is a cancer in the breast of democracy,’ wrote William Scott in 1916. But the railway and restaurant industries fought for using tipping as their employees’ full wages, to exploit their African American labor force, and they won.”

Today, we have what are called “Tip Credit” exemptions in US laws such as the FLSA, that allow certain classes of workers to be paid a minimum wage as low as $2.13 (!!!), and to earn the rest of their wage through tips. Thankfully, some areas have adopted minimum wage laws that start minimum wage at $14.75 or better (hi, Portland). However, even a higher minimum wage doesn’t quite cut it when you look at this table from MIT showing what a living wage should be for a household with 2 children — for example, that’s between $27 and $48 in Multnomah County, depending on how many adults are working in the household. Simply put, tips really help if your hourly wage doesn’t cut it.

OK, so knowing the above, we’ve accepted that the history of tipping is pretty awful. Also knowing that while we continue to live in and agitate against this inequitable system, it’s up to us to take direct action and figure out who gets tipped at a wedding, to make it a better situation. So we should absolutely tip folks who work at a wedding, because not only are they working hard, they’re under so much more pressure since they are not just making dinner or creating space, they are doing so for such a timeless and special occasion. By tipping, we’re also directly helping people, and making up for some of the inequities in a system that we have the privilege to affect. That being said, if you absolutely do not have the ability to tip*, you shouldn’t feel bad, and nothing bad is going to happen to you. There are alternatives to cash tips that we’ll go over later in this article.

Yes, you should still tip anyone you would tip in your daily non-wedding life

So who gets tipped at a wedding? Let’s start with the easy answers: Anyone who you would tip in normal, non-wedding life. Do you go out to eat? You tip the waiter, and maybe even in your food delivery app, leave something for the kitchen staff. Do you drink in bars? You tip the bartender. Do you stay in hotels? You tip the people who carry your stuff or bring things to your room, and those who clean up after you. None of this changes just because you’re having a wedding. Do you tip your hairstylist? Of course you do. Do you tip when you go to the department store, and a makeup artist helps you choose makeup and sometimes, even applies it on your face? Yes, all of these tips that happen in normal life, should also happen at your wedding.

And anyone who offers an above-and-beyond customized service

In addition, let’s think about people who offer specialized labor or a customized service. When you go to a karaoke bar, you might tip the KJ for finding you that special song you wanted to sing, and moving you up in the queue because she knows it’s your birthday. Similarly, a wedding DJ who goes out of their way to customize your wedding playlist, gets to know your likes and dislikes, and watches the crowd to tailor the music in order to get the most people dancing — this person is deserving of a gratuity. The words gratuity and gratitude are related – use tips to show how grateful you are.

Exceptions to who gets tipped at a wedding: Bad service, business owners, and when it’s already in the contract

Let’s be real, tips add up. When you are already spending so much money on the wedding, it’s always good to look for safe places where you can skip the tip. One is if the vendor provider is a business owner. Although they will definitely appreciate, and certainly not turn away, a tip if you give them one, they normally are not thinking of themselves as who gets tipped at a wedding. This is because, as an owner-worker they are presumably (hopefully) paying themselves a living wage or better. (If you are a business owner and you are NOT paying yourself a living wage, there’s a book for you!)

The other situation is where gratuity is already included in the contract. But be careful! “Service charge” and “Gratuity” are not always interchangeable. It’s up to you (or your wedding planner) to ask vendors who add service charge (most likely a caterer or a hotel), whether or not that service charge goes to the staff. If it doesn’t, then it would be customary to give tips to hotel or catering staff at the end of the night.

One last situation is if you’ve received overall bad service. I’m not talking about if one guest’s impossible request wasn’t met (I’m thinking of that one wedding guest who asked me to chill and serve her own wine that she brought from outside the venue. Uh, no.), but overall bad service where it seems like everything went wrong — late or missing staff, important instructions such as dietary needs not followed, diagrams or timelines given well in advance not followed, etc. In this case you should feel fine about reducing or eliminating gratuity for the affected services. But please do give tips for those who did show up and give their all.

Ways to show appreciation without tipping

For those vendors who aren’t being tipped, there are still lots of ways to show appreciation. Offer a sandwich tray with ice-cold sodas during setup, for the floral and rental setup crew. In my experience, those folks do a lot, but rarely get tipped. After the wedding, you can write your vendor a thank-you note and include a coffee gift card, or send a bottle of wine (unopened, please) that is left over from your reception.

And if they did a good job, you should write that vendor a nice review on a site like Yelp, Google Maps, or TheKnot. (Pro tip: Copy and paste your review on as many sites as you can. More ideas include WeddingWire, LinkedIn, and Facebook.) Your vendor will love you forever, and a good review that could lead to future business is worth far more than a $50 handshake.

Finally, don’t forget to write your vendors a thank-you note if they did a good job. It’s a little thing that does mean something, especially if you cannot tip someone.

Your wedding planner is your intermediary

This seems like a lot of work, doesn’t it? But this is a perfect example of a service a wedding planner provides for you, in order to remove stress and fuss from the events leading up to the wedding. Your planner can look at your vendor list and help you figure out who gets tipped at the wedding and exactly how much. Once you and your planner determine what tips will be arranged, you can place these amounts (usually cash) in sealed envelopes with the name of the vendor for your planner to hand out (or not hand out, based on service) at the end of the night. You and your sweetie and all your friends and family won’t have to deal with all of that.

Need a cheat sheet? Here you are!

Feel free to download this PDF with a quick checklist of common vendors that one would tip at a wedding. Who Gets Tipped at a Wedding Checklist

*As most wedding expenses are non-mandatory, my stance is that few people planning weddings fall into this category. Just as if you can afford to go out for dinner, you can afford to tip; so if you can afford to host, for example, a wedding with a budget of $30,000 or more, you can afford to tip your wedding vendors. To host a wedding at this budget level or higher in the US and think you can’t afford to tip, in my opinion, means you didn’t plan correctly. Smaller weddings on shoestring budgets are exempt from my blanket judgement.