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Catering Tipping Guide: How Much to Tip for Catering in 2024

Nick PerryAuthor

How much do I tip the caterer?

In the United States, the average server salary is roughly no more than $31,000 per year. With rising costs around the country, the service industry has seen an onset of ‘tipflation’. Research from PYMNTS found that one in three consumers noticed that tip suggestions have been higher in recent years. But has ‘tipflation’ impacted the catering industry as well?

If you’re using a catering service, you may wonder about the rules of tipping on catering orders. Fortunately, catering tipping etiquette is similar to restaurant tipping etiquette. While tipping a caterer isn’t expected, it’s customary under tipping etiquette to add 15-20% of the total catering bill, which helps the staff earn a more comfortable wage.

In this article, we’ll discuss the rules of tipping on catering orders and why it’s important to include the tip in your budget when hiring caterers.

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The Role of Tipping in the Catering Industry

While restaurant servers rely on tips to make an income, catering staff are a little less dependent on tip income. That’s because most caterers pay a full wage (usually minimum) rather than a tip wage to staff. That said, catering is all about providing a great experience, usually for a private party or event. The potential for a nice tip is a good motivator for catering staff to deliver the best service possible.

While tipping isn’t expected in the catering industry as it is at restaurants, it’s still an important part of the culture. As the staff at Chef Raymone says, “Tips have become the American way of saying ‘thank you’ to servers and other people who provide you with personal service.”

Although catering staff are usually paid more than restaurant servers, it’s not always the case. It depends on how caterers run their business. As such, some caterers may elect to include a gratuity upfront to help cover staff wages (and therefore pay them a lower hourly wage), while others may pay a more competitive hourly wage and not mention a tip at all. In the latter instances, it’s still customary to give a 15-20% tip for good service.

Factors to Consider When Deciding Tip Percentage

Like restaurants and other service industries, the average gratuity range for caterers is 15-20%. But to reiterate, catering tipping etiquette is more of a “thank you” than a social norm. It’s not a good look to stiff the caterer of a tip; however, it’s still not a social taboo like stiffing a waiter.

When considering how much to tip the caterer, there are several factors at play to consider: 

  • Service charge: Some caterers may elect to add a service charge to the bill, which covers any incidental costs that the caterer may incur during the event. While this is different from a gratuity charge, which is a tip built into the bill, if you paid a service charge and your event went off without a hitch, it’s okay to tip a little less than the customary 15-20%.

  • Gratuity: Echoing the previous point, if gratuity is already included on the bill, you’re not obligated to pay an additional tip, though you may if you feel the service was exemplary.

  • Quality of service: If there are no charges incorporated into the bill, then you must determine how good you felt the service was. If it was excellent, a tip of 20% or more is much deserved. If you felt the service was just fine, then 15% tip is good. Don’t leave less than 15% unless the service was truly bad, and don’t stiff the staff unless it was extraordinarily bad. In this worst-case scenario, it may be best to communicate the terrible experience that resulted in not tipping.

  • Price of catering: Very high-priced caterers should be able to pay their staff a living wage. A 15% tip on a $20,000 bill is $3,000, which should be more than enough to support the staff. On the other side, you may be getting a deal to help a new catering service get off the ground. In that case, you may be inspired to tip more than 20% for great service at a great price.

When assessing service quality, consider the size of your event, the number of catering staff, and the quality and quantity of food. Did people generally like the menu? Did they comment on the quality of the food? Was the catering staff friendly and polite? Did all the food come out on time? Was the bar fully stocked? The larger your event, the more difficult it is for a caterer to meet expectations, so factor that as well into your calculations.

Catering Tipping Etiquette FAQs

There are many different people involved in a catering operation. To help you understand the tipping etiquette, here are some useful frequently asked questions (FAQs).

Who do you tip in a catering order?

So, who actually receives the tip when you make a final payment on a catering order? It depends on what type of catering you need. Generally, catering services include a waitstaff, chefs, bartenders, and potentially a setup and cleaning crew.

In a restaurant, the tip is often split between the servers, the bussers, hosts, and other front-of-house staff who contribute to the experience. When you tip a caterer, you are paying both the waitstaff, as well as a sort of kitchen appreciation fee to thank the chefs and bartenders for whipping up quality food and drink onsite.

Many caterers make this easy by splitting a tip among the staff themselves. However, it’s not uncommon to see a tip jar at a bar or kitchen station at an event. If bartenders or, say, an omelet chef has a tip jar out, the overall tip most likely won’t go to them. Therefore, it’s a nice gesture to tip these people directly and deduct that amount from the final tip. You can hand them cash before, during, or after the event. It may be a nice touch to put a nice tip in the jar so guests are motivated to do the same.

What do you tip on catering delivery?

If you’re just getting food from a catering service delivered, it’s still customary to tip between 10% and 20% of the bill. Again, this helps pay a kitchen appreciation fee, as well as a thank you to the delivery person who may also help you set up and take down serving stations.

What do you tip bartenders?

As we touched on before, bartenders may have a tip jar out. The typical gratuity range for bartenders is 10-20% of the total bar bill, but some catering services will expect the bartender to collect their own tips. It all depends on the catering business. Make sure to check with the catering company if the bartender will be included in any tip or if you should tip them separately.

Should I tip the waitstaff and how much?

It is good practice to tip the waitstaff at a catering event. The typical range for waitstaff is between $20 to $50 per server, depending on the length of the event and the number of guests. Again, ask the catering company how they disperse any assigned gratuity or tip you pay at the end of the event. This will inform how much you tip to ensure that each member of the waitstaff is tipped appropriately.

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Whether you’re interested in opening a catering business or you plan on using a catering service soon, it’s a good idea to understand the rules of tipping on catering orders. Catering services may have different gratuity charges, service fees, or tipping policies, so it’s important to discuss them upfront with the company. Nonetheless, while tipping a catering service isn’t expected, it’s still customary to tip 15-20% of the overall bill.

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