When choosing a tropical island for your wedding, you’re often choosing a more casual atmosphere and smaller pool of vendors to choose from. Here in the United States Virgin Islands most vendors own their own small businesses (and often hold down more than one job at that). So, tipping can be a little different than what you would expect stateside. I always tell my clients that the general rule of thumb is that if your vendor is their own boss, then a tip is not expected. In this case, any kind of tip is a true gratuity (a monetary offering of gratitude for a job really well done). Here are some guidelines to help you know who to tip and when.
- Rentals and Deliveries If you are having a wedding where there is a significant amount of set up and deliveries like at a villa or other unique venue (tables, chairs, tents, etc), considering offering $20/person, particularly if they are lugging things up stairs and really working up a sweat.
- Wedding Hair & Makeup 15-20% of service total. This is one of the exceptions of the rule of thumb (there are always exceptions, of course!) In particular, if visiting a stylist at a salon, remember that they are paying part of their service fee to the shop owner. If your stylist has done an exceptional job, feel free to tip a little more.
- Florist In the islands, most florists are their own bosses and tipping is not expected.
- Photographer the majority of photographers on St Croix, St Thomas and St John work for themselves, so a gratuity is not expected. If they sub-contract a second shooter you may want to offer that camera $50-100 cash gratuity.
- Officiant most wedding Officiants booked in the USVI are non-denominational folks legally ordained to perform your wedding. They work for themselves and thus tipping is not expected. If you are using a clergy member from a Church, you can offer an additional $50-$75 cash to them as an offering or as thanks. This would be in addition to the Church fee.
- Musicians If you are booking a single musician or DJ, tipping isn’t necessary. They are pretty much always their own boss. However, if you are booking a band, you may consider an additional $20/band member as a thank you for keeping the dance floor packed.
- Caterer & Servers Almost without exception, your caterer will add in an 18-20% gratuity to your catering bill and charge for the number of servers. There is no need to tip in addition unless a particular server really went out of their way during service. An exception to this is if you are working with a Banquet Manager at a hotel or resort. If they have gone above and beyond in service and ensuring that your reception runs smoothly, consider offering them $50-$100.
- Bartender As a rule for my events, I do not allow the bartender to put out a tip jar on the bar at the beginning of service for an open bar. It’s really tacky. However, more often than not, guests or wedding party members will offer a few dollars each at the end of the evening for a job well done. If you think the bartender has done a great job of being creative and keeping the party in full swing, you can offer them $20-$50 to say thanks.
- Baker The majority of wedding cake and dessert bakers that we work with are self-employed. And amazing. Often, you won’t see them because they will be setting up the cake just before or during the ceremony to ensure that it’s fresh and picture perfect when people arrive for the reception. If you’re contracting a simply styled wedding cake with flowers, there’s no need to add cash. However, if you’re a bride who has sent multiple pictures of cakes, requested a lot of detailing and the baker has gone out of their way to create something unique, I recommend a 15-20% cash tip in addition to the cost as a way of saying thanks.
- Transportation Most wedding transport in the Virgin Islands is via taxi van or bus, though there are some limousine companies. Taxi drivers do tend to own their own vehicles, however this is another exception to the rule. I recommend a 15-20% gratuity for the drivers unless it has been noted that it is included in the total.
- Wedding Planner Planners will never expect a gratuity, though sometimes it can be well deserved. If you’ve been working with a planner for almost a year who has gone over and above and become like a friend, you may want to consider a token of your appreciation. In this case, it is really completely at your discretion. Consider how demanding you may have been during the process or if the planner was able to save you on costs in different areas. A cash gratuity or a thank you gift or card will always be appreciated, but again never expected. Again, the exception to this rule would be the “free” wedding planner at a resort or hotel. Many of these folks are enthusiastic, helpful, overworked and underpaid. I do recommend a gratuity of $50-$100 for a job well done by a hotel wedding planner.
Though it may seem nowadays that every time you turn around you are expected to tip someone, remember that with most wedding vendors gratuities are not expected. In this case it is a true “thank you for a job well done”. You may have a standout who has gone the extra distance and really touched you or made your day just perfect. This is where the real nature of gratuity comes into play. An after the fact cash tip, thank you gift or card with a hand-written note will always be appreciated by that vendor and show you recognized their efforts to make your day extra special.
Organize Your Wedding Payments in Advance
With my clients, I always recommend that in advance of the wedding day, they create envelopes marked for each vendor that has a balance that needs to be paid on the wedding day. Place your cash or check in the envelope and seal it. I have the wedding couple hand those off to me at the end of the wedding rehearsal so that we can check them each off of our list and ensure that there’s no need for the Bride & Groom to worry about whose been paid on their big day. If you are not utilizing a wedding planner, delegate that duty to your Best Man, Maid of Honor or a trusted friend or family member.
You can choose to include the gratuity in those envelopes, or have cash on hand if you would like to personally thank reception vendors at the end of the evening. I don’t recommend this for vendors only in attendance at the ceremony as you’ll be tied up in front of the camera right after you say “I do”.
Many people have come together to make your day special. Even just a warm thank you and a hug at the end of the evening will let them know that you appreciated their efforts!