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Tipping Caterers: Why, When and How much?

Should you tip your caterer or not? Unlike other service professions there are no hard and fast rules. So most people end up being confused and unsure of what to do. Tipping caterers can become awkward when you’re confused of what to do.

In a sense, catering is just like a restaurant. You’d likely tip at a restaurant so why not tip a caterer? A tip is a great way to acknowledge and thank the servers, bartenders and event captain for their great service.

Many catering contracts include a Service Charge, which is generally 18% of the total bill. Check the contract to see if this charge is the gratuity. If it is not, or if there is no service charge, consider leaving a cash tip on the day of the event.

If you’re having a larger event with many catering staff, we recommend giving cash to the Banquet Manager/Captain to distribute to the individual waiters, bartenders and kitchen staff. This is usually the most efficient way to distribute the tips to a large staff. Small bills are helpful with this option. If you’re having a smaller event, such as a party in your home, it is usually easiest to give the tip directly to each staff member and doing so adds a personal touch

In our area (Washington, D.C.), $50-$100 is the standard tip for the Banquet Manager and the Executive Chef and $25-$50 is standard tip for the individual servers, bartenders and kitchen staff.

If the bartenders are separate from the caterer (usually the case when you have a separate contract for the bar), 10-15% of the total bar bill is a fairly standard tip. Again, double check that the service charge is not the tip.

Not sure how many servers, bartenders and kitchen staff you will have? Check your contract. If it’s not clear, ask the caterer in advance.

Tell us about your tipping caterer story.

Happy planning!

16 Comments

  • Beth L July 20, 2013 at 9:54 pm

    This post is so helpful!! We didn’t know if and how much to tip our caterers for our upcoming wedding reception. Now we know and won’t have that awkward moment at the end of the night! Thank you!

    Reply

  • Diana August 17, 2013 at 9:28 am

    What if the caterer is providing buffet service charging $30 / hour for waiters and $35 / hour for a chef / sous chef? Would I still tip? If I was at a restaurant – in Toronto, Canada – the waiters make around minimum wage or perhaps up to $15-$20 / hour in a 4-star restaurant plus their tip. The work involved is roughly the same as it would be in a restaurant – setting up tables, clearing tables, replenishing food etc. Is it required that I tip on top of the catering cost when the staff make $30 / hour each for buffet food service?

    Reply

    • Keita M. August 17, 2013 at 1:16 pm

      This is a good question, Diana. I’ll start by saying that the custom in Toronto might be different so please consider that I am answering as if you were having this event in the US. First, keep in mind that even though the caterer is charging you $30-$35/hr per staff person, it is very likely that the individual staff people are not making that full amount (most caterers keep a portion of the fee to cover contingencies* or as a finder’s/admin fee of sorts). Second, tipping is never compulsory. At the end of the day, if you feel that the staff are being adequately compensated for their services, then you should feel secure in your decision not to tip. Of course, on the day of the event you may feel that the staff went above and beyond the call of duty and have earned a tip.

      All that being said, there is a good argument that it depends on what type of caterer you have hired. If you have hired an on-premise caterer, such as the caterer in a country club, then your comparison to a restaurant is a good one. In a country club, like a restaurant, the room is already designed and the waiters’ work is usually limited to the tabletops (setting place settings, clearing, etc). In this case, it can be more acceptable not to tip (although I generally feel that some small tip should be given). If your caterer is off-premise, however, such as where you have rented a blank reception site, then the staff’s work is much more involved than at a restaurant. This work is often unseen by the host and the gusts. In addition to what you mentioned, the set up and breakdown of the room (considerations of room flow, last minute changes, unloading and loading tables and chairs, placing tables and chairs around the room, etc) and clean up of the event site (most event sites using off-premise caterers have strict clean up rules so that you can get your security deposit back, down to where to place full trash bags) is much more involved . In this case, a tip is generally expected because of the level of work the staff performed.

      Also, consider that the staff may pool tips. In those cases, a portion of your tip will be given to people that you never meet, such as the person packing the truck at the warehouse or the dishwasher at the event.

      I hope this helps! If you feel comfortable doing so, raise this question with your caterer. Please come back and share what they advise. I’m sure your experience will help other readers in a similar situation.

      *An example of a contingency I heard about just this week from a caterer: The client ordered a certain number of staff and then on the morning of the wedding, ordered more pieces of equipment. It was too late for the rental company to deliver the equipment so the caterer had to pay another person to pick up the equipment. This was not a cost the caterer could have passed on to the client. The portion of the staff fee that the caterer held back was used to pay this extra driver.

      Reply

  • Linda Suchak December 11, 2013 at 1:22 pm

    I HIRED A CATERER FOR A MEMORIAL SERVICE. THEY SET UP A BUFFET AT THE FUNERAL HOME WHERE THE SERVICE WAS HELD, BUT THERE WERE NO WAIT STAFF PRESENT. OUR GUESTS HELPED THEMSELVES. THE FOOD WAS DELICIOUS AND BEAUTIFULLY PREPARED, BUT THERE WERE QUITE A FEW LEFTOVERS THAT WE PACKED UP OURSELVES . I THINK THE CATERING STAFF(ONE PERSON CLEANED UP THE REST. WOULD 10% BE AN APPROPRIATE TIP?

    Reply

    • Keita M. December 12, 2013 at 9:56 pm

      Thanks for the question, Linda. $25-$50 is the standard tip for an individual server so whether 10% was an appropriate tip for your server depends on the total bill. My condolences and I’m happy to hear that the catering went well.

      Reply

  • cara December 13, 2013 at 1:54 pm

    If not at a venue but in your home for a small cocktail party (40) with some passed hors d’euvres and some stationary items, what is appropriate? There is one chef, two servers, 1 bartender. They will bring, prepare, serve and clean up. The estimate was not broken apart for food and service so do not know what is built in.

    Reply

    • Keita M. December 24, 2013 at 4:35 pm

      It sounds like the staff will perform customary tasks so a customary tip is appropriate: I recommend $25-$50 for the servers and bartender and $50-$100 for the chef. Exactly what you tip in that range will depend on the total bill and how well the staff performs. (If they do an excellent job, I tip on the high end of the range. If their performance was satisfactory, I tip on the lower end.) I would also ask the caterer if the tip was included in the bill (it probably isn’t but it can’t hurt to ask!). Have a great party!

      Reply

  • Pam Dooley January 5, 2014 at 11:14 pm

    My husband and I cater crawfish boils and cajun dishes and we never expect a tip but are overjoyed when we receive one. Usually IF someone tips they give us $200. We only cater large parties so the $200 is about 10% of our average bill of $2000.

    Reply

    • Keita M. January 7, 2014 at 12:12 am

      Pam, exactly- tips are not expected but they are definitely appreciated! Thanks for contributing to the conversation (crawfish boils – yum!)

      Reply

  • AJ January 9, 2014 at 9:54 am

    What should you tip if you order food from a catering company, however, they are just delivering the food? I myself set up everything for the event which is usually an office meeting.

    Reply

    • Keita M. January 9, 2014 at 1:03 pm

      Since the person is delivering but not setting up or serving the food, I believe that a “driver’s” tip is appropriate – maybe $10-$20, depending on the size of the order, if they bring the food into the event area vs leaving it in the delivery area, etc. Use what you would tip another delivery person that is making a large delivery (such as furniture) as a guide. Thanks for the question, AJ

      Reply

  • Christina January 17, 2014 at 6:04 pm

    I’m glad someone wrote this. I have been in the catering industry for 10 years as a catering staff and event manager. I wanted to add something: I agreed to have case tip or write a check at the end of the night of the event. They would really appreciate it. When our tip go “on the bill” the catering office tend to not give us the fair amount and of course we can’t ask how much the tip was to see if it was split fairly. Also Uncle Sam love to take a piece of your hard earn tip.

    There is nothing wrong if you are host to ask how many staff will be working the event so you can individually tip everyone at the end of the night. Sometime the chefs leave before the event because they are not needed at the end of the event for breakdown.

    Reply

    • Keita M. January 19, 2014 at 12:52 pm

      Thanks for your thoughts, Christina. And you make a good point that certain staff may not stay until the end of the event to break down, which is when most hosts distribute tips. When the client asks how many staff will work the event, they can also ask if any staff are scheduled to leave before the end.

      Reply

  • Vilma January 18, 2014 at 7:46 am

    Very nice article, just what I needed.

    Reply

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