Tipping is one of the most frequent etiquette questions that I get asked by my clients...and it is such a hard question to answer. There is no right and wrong answer to this question.
I do believe that you should always tip your vendors, especially if they have done a superb job for you. It does not necessarily have to be a monetary tip, though it is nice to receive it, but you can send a gift of some sort later. Most service vendors will talk gratuities up front, but more and more, vendors are leaving that call to the client. It's about the level of service that you received and what they contributed to making your event spectacular.
You also have to look at your contracts and see if gratuities have already been written into them, but adding to that is, again, the client's call. Generally, the vendors who do not write gratuities into their contracts are planners, florists, bakers, photographers, rental companies, and videographers. While caterers, bar service, limo and car services, musicians and DJs do. But you have to read your contracts to make sure.
My suggestion is to bring some cash with you the night of the event. If you think you have gotten superb service from certain vendors or a certain person, I think it is appropriate for you to give them a tip. I would suggest anywhere between $50-$100 per person, or what you can afford, or what your budget will allow. You can give this to your planner to give out or you can hand them out personally before you leave your event. For your caterer, if they have not written a gratuity into your contract, you should consider a tip of 15-20%, just as if you were at a restaurant. This tip is usually divvied up and given to the waitstaff and shows your appreciation for the service they have provided to all your guests.
No matter if you tip or not, I think it is always a good thing to THANK your vendors by writing them a thank you card or even calling them and verbally thanking them after your event. The latter gives your vendors the ability to get your input on their product and talk about how they can better their service in the future. There is nothing better than hearing the words "Thank You for everything you've done" from your client. The ultimate "thank you" is a glowing referral for your vendors to share with future clients!
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