Vendor Etiquette 101: Tipping, Feeding and Dealing With Difficult Vendors

Everything you need to know about proper vendor protocol.

garden wedding reception in Italy

Photo by Lisa Poggi

Without key vendors, your wedding day simply won’t happen. They’re crucial to making the day a success, from delivering rented furniture, to snapping those incredible wedding photos, to decorating your cake. When it comes to working with wedding professionals, there are a few important things every couple should know, including how to properly tip your vendors and which vendors you should plan to feed—the last thing you need on your wedding day is a low-energy DJ or a photographer who misses your first dance because she’s in the back grabbing a snack from her bag! These guidelines will help to ensure your wedding day goes off without a hitch.

Which vendors do we have to feed?

Making sure your vendors are properly fed is incredibly important—and might even be specified in their contract. You will definitely need to feed your wedding planner, photographer, videographer and band or DJ/emcee, plus their assistants. (On the other hand, you won’t need to feed your baker, your florist or anyone working only at the ceremony). Talk to your caterer about what they offer for vendor meals—most have a set list of options, whether it’s a “chef’s choice” or the same main course your guests will be eating. Sometimes it's included in your catering fee, while other times it's a lower set price, depending on what's offered.

When you’re confirming your final wedding guest count, be sure to give your caterer the final count for vendor meals, too—and remember to include any allergies or special diets your vendors might have.

When should our vendors eat and take breaks?

Timing is everything. When it comes to your wedding planner, photographer and videographer, plan to have them eat while dinner is being served at the reception—that way they won't miss anything major. While you won’t schedule specific breaks for these vendors, expect them to be “on” until the dancing is underway, at which point they may sneak into the back to sit down, have some water and perhaps even a slice of cake.

Your wedding band or DJ/emcee is another story. Ideally, they should be fed during cocktail hour—so before your guests are seated for dinner. This will ensure that they’re ready to go as soon as it’s time to announce the entrance of the bridal party, the newlyweds and set the mood for the reception's festivities. Depending on how long they're contractually scheduled to entertain, the band will likely play in sets, with small breaks in between; the wedding toasts also offer an opportunity to take a discrete break.

Should we tip our vendors?

In one word: Yes! If you loved their services, definitely tip your vendors—and their assistants or staff. Just make sure you check their contracts first as some vendors will include gratuity in their total fee, in which case a separate tip isn’t necessary. Also, if your photographer, videographer, baker, florist or wedding planner own their business, providing a tip is not necessary—although you should tip their assistant(s) anywhere from $50-$150 per person.

And of course, you can tip the owner of the company as well, if you'd like.

Some vendor tipping guidelines

  • Catering and waitstaff: The gratuity or service fee is often included in the bill; if it's not, aim for $10-$20 per person. And don’t forget the banquet manager! If they aren’t also serving as your wedding coordinator, a tip of $250 or more is a kind gesture for their services.
  • Bartenders: If a bartending service fee is not included in the catering bill, tip 10-15 percent of the pre-tax bill to be split between them.
  • Hair and makeup stylists: Just as in a salon, you should tip your stylists 15-20 percent for their services.
  • Musicians: For both ceremony and reception musicians, check the contract for gratuity. If it isn’t included, plan to tip between $25-$50 per person.
  • Wedding day transportation: If you've arranged for transportation services, most likely the company has included gratuity on their invoice, but if not, tip 15-20 percent of the pre-tax bill.

What should we do if we're unhappy with something?

After spending so much on your wedding day, the thought of not loving your services is a tough pill to swallow. If you don’t love what you’re seeing as samples or during a trial, speak up! Ask for to see different types of flowers, to try a different cake and frosting combination, or to make changes to your hairstyle or makeup during the pre-wedding trial run. Don’t be afraid to ask to consult with the owner of the company if you're working with a particularly challenging employee. They should know if one of their employees is leaving you, the customer, unsatisfied with their services.

If your wedding day rolls around and things don’t go the way you thought they should have, first check your contract and then say something to the vendor. If they billed you for huge, flowing floral centerpieces and you got bud vases, you should be reimbursed. And if someone was unprofessional or didn’t show up at all, you definitely have recourse. Schedule a meeting and bring along photos of the event if they’re relevant. Know your rights and where you stand, and be prepared to negotiate.

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