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To Tip or Not to Tip at Events?

From event planners and team-building hosts to caterers and florists, here’s what event profs have to say about the tipping culture craze.

Tipping Article
Illustration: Clint Poy

To tip or not to tip? That is the controversial question. With major news outlets, food magazines, and TikTokers all driving this conversation, talk of tipping culture continues to gain traction in 2023. From “tipflation” (the increase in tipping percentage beyond previously established norms) to “guilt-tipping” (default tipping suggestions added into payment software impacting every consumer experience), the once-simple act of leaving a few appreciated, extra bucks has evolved into a polarizing debate. 

However, the gesture of leaving gratuity for service providers is not a new concept in the event world. From bartenders at weddings to face painters at children’s birthday parties and waitstaff at philanthropic galas to food trucks catering local art walks, there have always been opportunities to tip workers at private, ticketed, and public events. 

Since tipping is such a touchy subject, we decided to tap a group of event profs to weigh in on whether or not they invite gratuity to the party—and why. 

Shuai Chen, founder and CEO of Gr8er Good Games and Patchwork Adventures | New York City
“Our team has hosted over 1,000 events in the past three years, and we’ve never asked for tips. We specialize in team-building activities like escape rooms, murder mysteries, game shows, and scavenger hunts. We never ask for gratuities from our clients even though each and every one of my event actors/hosts/facilitators are incredible at their jobs. Our business model supports paying our team way above industry norms—our virtual escape room hosts get paid $100 per hour.

Tipping culture incentivizes unscrupulous businesses to underpay their staff and rely on tips for hosts to make enough to live. It shouldn't be up to the guests of our experiences to compensate our hosts. It’s my observation that events that don't expect tipping are better run. Tipping is sometimes awkward, especially in the event industry, where there's no norm for the expected tip amount. For instance, certain escape rooms encourage tipping, and the gamemasters always leave the guests with information about how to tip them rather than leaving them on the ‘high’ of having completed the room and winning.”

Mike Linder, owner of Silver Lining Inflight Catering | Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
“Absolutely no tip jars or signs of tips being requested at private events. Typically, the host handles the gratuity for all services provided at some point. If a guest decides or wants to tip, it is OK—as long as it is not being solicited. There are, however, some events at which we would allow a ‘tip jar,’ and that would be for an open or ticket sales event. We typically use our internal team of servers and work closely with an agency. All are highly trained to my standards, knowing when we allow tipping. We try to keep the same team together so they are aware of our consistency and expectations. Over the last 25 years, we have perfected our service and food and always deliver a great product and team. Service and food are our No. 1 priorities—in that order. Great service keeps everyone coming back, and great food makes it even better. Also, we need to find new words for ‘tipping’ and ‘tip jar.’”

Angela Hein, co-founder of Partydip | Austin, Texas
“Partydip is an online platform that connects local children's party venues and vendors directly with parents. We match vendors and venues based on budget, location, child's age, and more, so the party vendor receives a consistent flow of high-quality leads. We believe tipping is always optional, but we encourage our users to support their vendors if it's in their budget. The majority of the party vendors on our platform are in the party business because it's their passion; they're in it for the love of making children smile. They have invested a lot of time, money, and energy into perfecting their craft.

If the vendor brings the extra touch of magic to the party, if he or she brings your guests joy and makes your party experience better, then parents shouldn't hold back on showing their appreciation through gratuity. While most of our vendors don't expect gratuity, they appreciate receiving it because it communicates to them that they did a great job. The moms we surveyed said whether or not they tip depends on the situation. For example, if the service provider owns their own business, then tipping should not be expected, although a tip could be offered for going above and beyond. If the service provider is an employee of the business, then a tip is highly recommended for a job well done, as they are likely only receiving a lower hourly rate.”

Paige Nathan, principal at Simply Food Trucks | Atlanta
“Some of our vendors include tips in their pricing. When they don't, I add to the agreement that gratuity is not included but is always appreciated. Some clients like to give additional tips and have the option of having our team add it in, as we are the ones paying the food truck, or they can provide cash on-site to the staff. A little bit goes a long way. Folks in the food service industry work long and hard hours.”

Tod Roy, president of CI Management | Miami
“I definitely support tipping. An event producer should always pay a fair wage, but a part-time staff member, like a mixologist, should be welcome to accept tips at an event because it's going to give them the incentive to work harder at their job and provide a level of service for your guests as an event producer. With that said, there is a time and a place for this, and it's dependent on the event. These are discussions we do have with the staff ahead of time—explaining that tipping can be encouraged tastefully with a tip jar, at times provided to ensure proper setup, but cannot be requested or mandated if someone does not offer one. We hope everyone wants to support the hardworking hospitality professionals at these events who are there to make sure everyone has that perfect afternoon or evening.”

Amanda Orso, event stylist and founder of High-Low Hostess | New York
“When hosting an event, I always treat a relationship with a vendor like any other good relationship, where communication is key and expectations are discussed early. This sets parameters not only for the service that is expected but for the compensation as well. In my experience and preference, all tipping responsibilities should fall upon the host, rather than the guests, which automatically relieves the need for tip jars and the like. When vendors understand that gratuity will be provided by the host, they also understand that accepting gratuity from a partygoer is not necessary and should be politely declined.

As a host, my best tip for tipping is to discuss these gratuity expectations with your vendors before your event even begins; and, in some cases, have gratuity built into your contract. With the excitement (and even stress) of any affair, it is always simpler to take tipping off your plate ahead of time. If you are tipping the day of your event, I often suggest giving the lump sum of gratuity to the business manager or event captain (for the caterer, for instance), who can then distribute the money accordingly.”

Rachel Russell, assistant director, field marketing at EY | Los Angeles
“My parents raised me to tip at least 20% because what may be an extra couple of dollars for you could make a difference to someone else. With that said, I do not encourage tipping at my events. Whenever bartenders set out a tip jar or Venmo QR code, I kindly ask if the jars can be cleared from the bar and let them know that I will add a generous tip to the invoice at the end of the night, which is typically more than what they would have made in tips throughout the evening.

I plan high-end events tailored to C-suite executives, so I never want attendees to feel pressured to tip. They are giving their time and energy to be at the event. In Los Angeles, there are so many events on a given night that attendees get to choose where they spend their time. I want attendees to feel confident that we have taken care of every detail. Even with tighter budgets, I ensure I plan ahead and include tip when pricing out vendors. Sometimes I will ask before the event how much the vendor recommends for tip.”

Bill Hansen, owner and founder of Bill Hansen Catering and The Hansen Group | Miami
“Tipping is always a complicated topic in the world of group events. At Bill Hansen Catering, we have a policy that states that we do not allow tipping on hosted bars during weddings and corporate events. If a client forces a tip on the bartender, our rules state that tips must be shared with everyone working the event so that it's totally fair across the board. On cash bars, we do allow tipping, and the same sharing policy applies. Everyone works equally hard, and we like to share with the team. Our event producers and planners do accept tips for superior service.”

Peter Hein, COO of Rachel Cho Floral Design | New York
“As a floral business, we do accept tips when a client is so gracious to give us one; however, it isn't an expectation. These tips are usually discreetly given to whoever is in charge of the event on-site at some point during the setup while the entire team is there. These tips go directly to the staff that is setting up the event who are sometimes spending 10 or more hours to accommodate the flow of the day, such as breaking down the ceremony after it is finished or waiting until a certain time before a reception can be set up. Often, a portion will also be saved for the florists in the studio who worked on the event but may not have been on-site with the rest of the team. While everyone working for the day is appropriately compensated for the work they do, this really goes a long way and makes the long day and all the hard work put into it all that more special.”

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