If you’ve booked a caterer for a birthday party, wedding, leaving do, or another social event then you might be wondering what the etiquette is for tipping the company or its employees.
There are usually a number of considerations when deciding whether to tip, such as the customary practice in the industry, the salary levels common in the profession, and the cost of the services.
There will also be times when you might want to withhold a tip or increase it for exceptional service.
This article will cover all these considerations and much more so you can make an informed choice about whether to tip your caterer and how much.
Let’s take a look…
Do You Tip Your Caterer? The Short Answer
It is customary to tip the staff provided by your catering company. Even though most companies include a service charge, this doesn’t usually cover a tip for the staff which will generally need to be offered in addition at the usual 10-20% of the total cost of the service.
How Much Do Caterers Earn?
A key consideration for most people when deciding whether to tip is to consider how much a worker earns.
It’s clear that some (usually service-based) industries like servers, carhops, and grocery delivery drivers, expect their workers to supplement their income with tips and they are paid below-average earnings for this reason.
Catering is one of these industries and has similar etiquette on tips as you’d expect for workers in other similar food/drink serving industries like restaurants and bars.
We’ve taken a look at the average US hourly rate for a caterer and according to the job website, Indeed, it is $16.40 per hour or $31,488 per annum based on a 40-hour workweek.
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average hourly rate in the US stands at $31.75 for April 2022 (or $66,040pa based on a 40-hour workweek) so a caterer’s average rate is clearly well below the norm.
On that basis, it is perhaps unsurprising that the common practice is to tip catering staff and this is the same conclusion we reached when looking at whether to tip party rentals.
How Much to Tip Your Caterer
The standard rate or a gratuity in the US is between 10 – 20% so around 15% is generally what you should have in mind when it comes to tipping your caterer.
The percentage is applied to the total cost of the goods or services so if your catering bill comes to $1000, you should be looking at adding $100 – $200 to this.
However, it’s important that you make inquiries with your catering company about how they manage and collect tips. Some companies include a gratuity with the final bill which is specifically for distribution amongst their staff.
If you don’t check then there’s a risk you’ll pay a tip twice so it’s always best to either check your contract for services or speak to the lead caterer.
Most catering companies will also include a service charge but this isn’t generally used for tipping staff. If in doubt as to what this is for, then speak to the lead caterer.
If a gratuity charge isn’t included then you will need to decide whether you pay a tip as part of your final bill or whether you distribute a tip to the catering staff at or after the event.
We often prefer to pay tips in cash to individual staff as this usually guarantees they will see receive the tip as intended. We are aware that some unscrupulous employers receive tips and then fail to distribute them amongst their workers. Clearly, you’ll want to avoid that.
If you are particularly organized then you should plan in advance by asking the lead caterer the size of the catering team so you can make a suitable allocation for individual tips before the event.
Cost of Catering
Another factor you will certainly want to consider in advance is how much the service is going to cost.
This will obviously be heavily dependent on the number of covers, the quality of the food, the number of courses and whether you’re including drinks or extras.
According to NYFTA, the average cost per person at a catered event is $70 – $80 which includes both food and drink.
So for 100 people at your event, your bill is likely to be in the region of $7000 – $8000 plus service charge.
Accordingly, a tip would set you back around $1050 – $1200 if we apply the common 15% rate.
For 20 catering staff that would equate to a tip of around $50 each. This is fairly generous in our view.
However, remember to include tips for other workers at your event in your budget. For example, you may also need to tip for flower delivery at an event like a wedding or funeral.
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Alternatives to Monetary Tips for Your Caterer
If you don’t want to offer a monetary tip then there are certainly other ways of showing your gratitude, albeit a monetary tip is generally what is expected within the catering industry.
Here are some ideas if you’d rather show your satisfaction and gratitude another way:
- Gift vouchers for the staff;
- Tickets to a team-building or group exercise for the staff;
- A favorable review on Google or referral to a friend or family;
- A donation to a charity of the caterer’s choosing.
When to Tip More and When to Tip Less or Not at All
Not all catering services are provided equally! We’ve seen plenty of complete horror shows where the company has simply failed to deliver and meet our expectations. In such circumstances, you may well be justified in reducing the tip or holding it back completely.
On the flip side, we’ve also seen catering companies provide a service that was way beyond what we’d expected – a demonstration of consummate professionalism, efficiency, and excellence, leaving us no choice but to dip even further into our pockets than planned.
For the latter that might be:
- When the service or food was exceptionally good and your guests were truly wowed;
- If the staff were professional, efficient, and courteous;
- During public holidays like Christmas;
- If you’ve been offered a discount or below market rate.
For the former:
- If the food was poor quality or cold or if there were delays between courses being sent out;
- If the service was slow or inefficient;
- If staff were rude or unprofessional;
- If you’re overcharged;
- If it’s clear the staff will not see your tip.
However, we wouldn’t advise withholding a tip completely unless the service was truly awful.
It’s important to remember that caterers rely on tips to subsidize their income. Holding back a tip will not go unnoticed by staff.
Moreover, poor catering service is quite often due to managerial failure rather than the failure of those on the frontline so withholding a tip may inadvertently penalize the wrong people.
It’s always best to plan ahead when it comes to tipping your caterer.
Catering costs are a big expense and you’ll want to avoid any hidden, surprise charges when it comes to settling your bill.
To avoid any last-minute shocks, it’s always best to check your contract and/or speak to the catering company to find out their policy on tips before the event gets underway.
It is common etiquette to tip catering staff 10-20% of the final cost of the bill so be sure to make provision for that in your budget.
Caterers are paid fairly poorly when compared to other workers in the US. A tip is a good way of showing your gratitude and rewarding staff for a job well done.
There will, of course, be occasions when a tip will not be warranted or when it should be reduced but it’s important to remember that catering failures are often due to poor planning and organization at the top, rather than due to those in the trenches at the front of house.