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Tipping a Caterer?

A neighbor/friend loves to cook and caters parties occasionally for friends, etc. We had her help with a party for us. Do we add a tip on to the bill?

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  1. It's very hard to answer your question without more details about the expenses...

    Who paid for the food purchases?
    Was the person compensated in any way in terms of labor and etc?
    How much time did she spend on this event, i.e., shopping, preparing, cooking and serving?
    Who paid for the paper goods or rental items, if any?
    If there were rentals made, who made the arrangements?
    How many days did she spend specifically on your event?
    Who handled the clean-up?

    The short answer is....yes.

    1. I worked for caterer for several years through college, and we received tips ranging from 10%-20% on around half the events we worked. We were lucky though, our boss always split them between us and never took any portion of the tip herself.

      5 Replies
      1. re: snix

        I also worked for a caterer for several years during college, but don’t recall hearing a peep about tips. As servers we earned a more-than-reasonable hourly wage (and got to take some truly astounding food and drink home). The contract must have reflected our compensation structure – i.e. if any sort of gratuity were required to give us a reasonable wage, as in a restaurant, it would have been noted up-front.

        Of course none of this definitively answers the OP’s question. Frankly I would just ask the friend.

        1. re: snix

          I also catered in college. We usually did receive 10-20% tip and it was greatly appreciated by a poor starving college kid.

          1. re: MattInNJ

            snix worked for the caterer but wasn't the caterer. I support tipping for servers.

            1. re: c oliver

              yeah that is what I was getting at. But my boss one time tried to keep the tips (she had a cocaine issue). So we told her we all quit for the next week. She gave us the cash lol

              1. re: MattInNJ

                That got her attention, didn't it? Reduced income for nose candy.

        2. I *am* a Personal Chef/caterer. If we give you service "above and beyond", by all means include a tip. We *like* tips <grin>. As with a restaurant experience, if the service or food is just so-so, or not what you expected (on the not-good side), then don't tip.

          Whenever I create an invoice, the bottom line always reads.

          "Service gratuity is at your discretion."

          13 Replies
          1. re: KiltedCook

            Tipping the owner of a business is not expected in most case, restaurateurs, hairdressers, etc. Why is this different in the case of caterers? I'm not saying what is right or wrong I'm just curious.

            1. re: KTinNYC

              That's my thought as well: owners/independent contractors (which it sounds like the friend is) don't get tips because they negotiate a price upfront that presumably includes both their labor and an appropriate profit, although a "bonus" for an exceptional job might be a nice touch. However, if there is waitstaff in addition to the owner, you should consider tipping them. The best course is to discuss with the caterer when you're making the arrangements the extent to which service is included in the negotiated price.

              KiltedCook, if I were a customer I'd be very uncomfortable with your tag line -- gratuities are always at the discretion of the customer, and your tag line really doesn't give any clue as to what is reasonably expected. I'd be much happier with something like, "The contracted amount includes a 15 percent service charge. Additional gratuities are at your discretion."

              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                I am thinking the same thing. If this is just the friend doing everything herself, she negotiated the price she found appropriate for labor and materials. If she brought helpers along who are receiving some sort of base wage, then a tip for those workers would probably appropriate.

              2. re: KTinNYC

                I agree with KTinNYC. If the caterer is working solely on his/her own, which sounds like it's the case in the OP, then the quoted price should include the calculated profit.
                If the caterering includes other servers, I'd tip THEM, but not the owner.

                1. re: KTinNYC

                  I'm with you and the others who say you don't tip the owner of a business. If Thomas Keller strolled through the French Laundry, would you slip him a ten??? Do you tip your doctor or lawyer? And, KiltedCook, that line on your invoice would annoy me hugely. Please adjust your fees to the point where you can lose that line. I think it hurts you.

                2. re: KiltedCook

                  Ditto for me, personal chef caterer and I often get tips, but I don't expect them. My contract states gratuity at your discretion. I would say 80% of the time I do get tips, but when I do something for good friends I wouldn't expect it but when tip one another in other ways. They will take me out to dinner, me them, they will help me with house sitting or pet sitting or take me to the airport when needed. We do trade offs which to me is like a tip.

                  1. re: kchurchill5

                    If you are the proprietor why wouldn't you just build all the cost into your contract instead of putting your clients in a position to decide whether or not to include a gratuity? If your business model is such that you take tips then you should just be honest about the entire thing and charge only for your fixed cost and then have your client decide how much to reward you after the event. Of course this is ridiculous but it's really not that much more ridiculous than charging someone a fair price for a service and then telling them that the gratuity is "at your discretion".

                    1. re: KTinNYC

                      I mentioned here that one wouldn't tip Thomas Keller (!!!) or your doctor or lawyer. Perhaps the caterers who solicit tips really don't consider their profession as highly as they should.

                      1. re: c oliver

                        Or they just want to milk their clients.

                        1. re: KTinNYC

                          Well, that could be but it seems like there are more effective ways. Maybe they deliberately underbid a job in order to get it and then want the tip to bring them up to where they should have been to begin with. I wish the caterers on this thread would explain how they're any different than the other professions that DON'T get tips. I worked for 40 years and never had a job where I got tips. I not only don't understand it but, if confronted with it, would show my displeasure. And while I might refer someone to that person, I would always qualify it by telling them about the tipping scenario. It just seems so unprofessional. It really elicits the same reaction that it would if my doctor solicited me for a tip. Sheesh.

                          1. re: c oliver

                            From this link, http://www.findalink.net/tippingetiqu...

                            "Tipping Caterers can be a real mystery. The best thing to do is to talk to the caterer in advance. Most caterers have a service charge that is included in the bill and is distributed to the cooks, driver and wait staff. If there is no service charge or it is not for the people doing the work, then tipping 15% of the entire bill is appropriate. This amount should be divided among the servers by the on-site manager. If it is included, you don't need to tip any more. Of course, if someone really goes out of his way for you, then feel free to tip that individual extra, remembering that it will be extra."

                            Why wouldn't every caterer include a service charge in their contract? It would be like if I went to the mechanic and one of his employees fixed my car, not the owner, and I got a bill with the line "gratuity appreciated". Labor should be included. Period.

                      2. re: KTinNYC

                        kt, my business model does, XX% to be exact. It is standard fee. I don't know if I'd label a percentage of it gratuity, but I certainly make enough that I don't need it in addition.
                        On my contrct, my NO tipping statement is clear. However with regards to servers and I do use them, it is very clear in the contract. They are to be tipped 20%, and I will collect. That's up front and clear from the beginning. I have only the best help and I do pay them well, but in this industry, tipping them is normal.
                        The op, is saying it is a friend, and it is sort of unlcear how good of a friend.
                        When I do my very good friend's events, I don't use my contract. I get the budget, get the money, buy the food, and then make it. I've never expected a fee, let alone a tip. But them being the goobers they are, they will insist on giving me something for my time and trouble. It is a very awkward position, and I really don't like taking money from my friends, I'm happy to help.

                    2. re: KiltedCook

                      Many caterers I know have the tip written into the contract. Often they keep that, or most of it, and then host will tip the servers too. You can usually count on $100 for the work (four or five hours?), and another $100 in some type of tip coming your way. Nobody's starving! I've done bar plenty of times too, then you have your own tip jar for everyone to contribute if they so desire. That's the sweetest deal!

                    3. If this person loves to cook and does not run a business catering, then I would include a tip, especially if she is doing most of the work herself.

                      1. Most caterers I know own the business and I am under the impression that owners do not get tips. (I have a running argument with my wife about tipping her hairdresser, who owns the salon, but that is not germane.) When we got married, the catering contract included gratutities for the servers and we might have tipped five or ten dollars a person above that, but we did not tip the caterer.

                        If I had an ongoing relationship with a caterer and they did a really nice job for me on a regular basis, I would probably give them a holiday gift or even buy them a nice bottle of wine or something after an event they had catered for me, but tipping per se seems just not correct.

                        1. Generally, when someone serves a meal in a private home, they are tipped the same as if it were served in a restaurant. However, some catering companies include the service in the pre-arranged price. If they do so, it is listed specifically on the invoice. It is irrelevant if the server is also the owner of the company. Just as a plumber or a mechanic charges for both parts and labor, a caterer charges for food and service. The service charge is often discretionary, but fairness is expected and deserved.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: juantanamera

                            I think parts and labor is a great analogy but I go 180 degrees from you. The parts would be the food and the labor would be the time to prepare, transport, serve and clean up afterwards. That would be itemized on an invoice - just like a mechanic does. And I don't "tip" my plumber or mechanic.

                          2. I know this is an old thread, but I had the same questions and found it - so figured I'd ask my question in this context (as I didn't really want to be the one to start a new tipping thread) . . .

                            We hired a caterer for a party, first time I've used a caterer. I want to tip the servers but I'm being charged for their time already ($25/hr). That isn't a typical $2/hr waiter salary, so to me this isn't exactly the same as a 'restaurant' situation. While I have no idea how much of that $25/hr is being passed on to the servers, it is what I'm being charged to start with.

                            The total bill also includes things like rental tables, glassware, etc - so it isn't all strictly food costs.

                            Do I tip on top of the bill? How much? Should it be a straight function of the time they are there or a % of the food portion of the bill? or a % of the total? I just don't know how to handle this - asked the caterer and she was just as vague as possible. . . .

                            5 Replies
                            1. re: thimes

                              If you wish to tip the servers at a catered party you host, find out how many servers/bartenders you will be having and get some small white envelopes and stick either a ten or twenty dollar bill in each envelope to hand to each server directly. Up to two hour party $10. 3-4 hours $20.

                              1. re: thimes

                                You don't mention how many servers and how much the bill is, or how long the party will be and the guarantee you have for their service in hours.. The servers may get the whole fee, or they may get a portion of the fee. There is no question the servers get a guarantee from the cater...it depends on the operation and the relationship the caterer has with each individual server. Are they staff...or are they friends.

                                I would not tip on a percentage of the actual bill. I would be more likely inclined to tip each individual server for their efforts.....20, 50 or a hundy, depending on how good they were and how well they assisted in the cleanup at the end of the party.

                                1. re: thimes

                                  Just to clarify: you don't have to tip the caterer -- as the business owner, she's paid herself out of both the costs and the profits of her contract. As others have noted, you can tip the individual servers at your discretion. That said, if after the event you think the caterer has done a fantastic job, giving her a "bonus" could be appropriate.

                                  I'm concerned about the fact that she was vague -- that's not a good indication of an ethical business person. You should ask her point blank whether the amount you've contracted with her includes a service charge. That's a "yes" or "no" answer!

                                  1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                    Yes, correct - the tip would be for the servers not for the caterer herself - I just didn't want to start another tip thread and this one was so close to my question.

                                    To be fair to the caterer, this is likely a situation of me asking a question in a manner that wasn't as direct as it could have been. I asked something to the effect of "I would like to tip the servers, how do customers typically handle this and/or what is appropriate in this situation?" So it wasn't a direction "is a service charge included in my contract" - my fault. Her answer was similar to yours in essence - "The tip is at your discretion." Which while honest and I take that at face value, it still isn't very helpful in this situation.

                                    I don't see a line item for service charge in my contract. That said, I am charged $25/hr per server in the contract - fine, no problems. Is and/or should a tip be expected on top of that hourly rate and if so, how much? Of course if they go above and beyond, etc, etc, etc.

                                    I just don't even know the social protocol or expected standard in this situation. $5/hr tip per person? $10/hr tip per person? A function of the contract cost - e.g. 10% the contract total and let them divide it accordingly? What is my starting point in this situation? How have others handled this.

                                    (I really wish the caterer would say something to the effect of "tipping is at your discretion but most of our customers tip between x and z." But you don't always get what you want . . . cue music)

                                    1. re: thimes

                                      My feeling is that if she's itemizing the cost of the servers, then she's doing that in lieu of a blanket service charge.

                                      I have no idea what is customary, but I wouldn't tip the servers based on the cost of the whole contract. I think I'd go with 20 percent of the cost of the servers (i.e. at $25/hr, if the server is there for four hours, tip on $100, i.e. $20, which is pretty much what bagelman01 said, above).

                                2. it depends on whether or not s/he included an appropriate profit in his/her bill.

                                  most "professional" caterers include their own profit (but not necessarily enough money to properly compensate the staff).

                                  your neighbor, though, sounds like s/he is not really a professional in this business who is used to calculating and, including such a profit.
                                  also, because of your friendship, even if s/he knew how to do the calculation, your neighbor may not have felt comfortable building in a "normal" amount of profit.