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Should I Tip My Caterer?

I have a saying whenever someone asks me this questions…tips are never expected but are always appreciated.  There are no generally accepted guidelines as to whether a tip should be given or not nor are there predetermined rules as to expected tip amounts.  However, here are a few things to think about while deciding whether you will be tipping at your next event.

Tip to say Thank You
In our culture, tipping has almost become obligatory.  In many foodservice and hospitality careers, tips make up the majority of a person’s salary.  With catering, this is sometimes different.  Most servers and bartenders are not paid like the waiters at your local restaurant.  They are usually paid a reasonable hourly wage and are not dependent on tips.  That being said, if these servers go out of their way to take care of you at an event, a modest tip is always a good way to say thank you.
Make Sure You’re Not Already Paying A Tip
Some caterers and hotels will charge a “gratuity” which is split between the servers present at the event.  Be sure to check with your caterer to make sure the gratuity is not already included before deciding to tip the wait staff.  Also, some caterers (Draper’s included) will charge a percentage fee called a service charge or production fee…this is different from a gratuity and is used to cover incidental costs associated with an event other than the direct food and labor costs built into pricing.  Typically no portion of these fees go to the servers in the form of a gratuity or tip so plan accordingly.
How Much Should I Tip?
This depends on quite a few factors…did the server do a good job?  Did he go out of his way or stay later than planned?  Did he help you load your car or clean up after an especially messy or unruly guest?  Like I said earlier, there is no one predetermined amount that should be given.  15%, as in restaurants, is usually too much.  Tips generally range between $25 t0 $150 with most around $40 to $50.  It’s important to plan ahead of time and check with your caterer to see how many servers will be present.  That way, if you plan on tipping all the servers, you can be sure not to leave someone out.  Again, not everyone tips and this is left up to your discretion and budget.
Bars at Weddings
It seems that most people are accustomed to tipping when they approach a bar for a drink, especially when the drink is free.  Many hosts don’t want their guests to feel obligated to tip and will discourage the bartender from putting out a tip jar.  Find out from your caterer if the bartender will be working on tips alone or if he is paid on a hourly basis.  If the bartender is depending on the tips, you may offer to tip them directly if you do not want the tip jar out.  If it doesn’t matter, feel free to let your guests tip as they will probably try to do so anyway, even if the tip jar is not there.
Do you have any more tipping questions or would you like to make a comment?  I’d love to hear what you have to say.
-Ryan Draper, Operations Manager – Draper’s Catering of Memphis
Feature Image by Dave Dugdale
  • Schwing Baddah

    If tipping a percentage, do you calculate on just the food, or on the food plus the service fee? And what if the caterer is including a bartender, but you’re providing all the drinks, rather than the caterer including the drinks on the invoice? Thanks…