Tipping a Small Caterer

Updated on December 16, 2010
C.C. asks from Mamaroneck, NY
5 answers

Hi Mommas,

My dad recently died and my mom and I decided to hire a caterer (in CT) to have the "after funeral" meal back at the house. The owner came with a young man as her helper and they provided food/service for 50 people. Having no experience with hiring caterers before, we tipped the man $40 for the four hours they were at the house. But we noticed on the bill that the owner circled gratuity not included. Was that meant for the man who helped out, and so we don't need to worry about this anymore? Or is it expected that we pay her more? Any information would be greatly appreciated!

**extra information**

The owner of the catering company brought along a young man, about 22 years old. They set up a buffet of a hot chicken dish, a cold pasta salad, a greeen salad and assorted sandwiches. The owner and her helper rinsed off the rented dishes and put them away for the rental company to come pick up (all arranged by the caterer). I saw the young man walk around a couple times to take away an unused plate or glass, but most people brought their plates into the kitchen. It was not a sit down meal. The total cost was over $1600. We assumed that by giving the helper $40 cash (which he looked happily surprised to receive), we had done the right thing. Is it common practice to tip the owner of the company as well? Why would it be 15 - 25%? I might be completely naive here, but I didn't assume that a caterer would receive a tip as in a restaurant. Enlighten me!

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answers from Portland on

Every caterer I have ever worked for included a 15-25% gratuity in the bill. It takes a lot of prep to make a catering job successful, and the tip is always split between ALL the helpers, not just the server who helped that one day. There are cooks, other servers who prep and dishwashers, etc that all contribute.

I do find it odd that he did not include gratuity. I think if he was a wise business owner he would, so that his employees would be covered. The cash tip you gave on the day of the event was nice of you, but not customary in catering. It would have been seen as a person-specific tip that would not need to be shared with the rest of the crew. You are supposed to tip on the bill so that all of the catering helpers receive a share of the tip.

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answers from La Crosse on

I would review the bill and see how much was charged for the meal. depending on the type of service (buffet vs served meal) and food offered (casual vs formal) - I would just provide 15-25% of what the bill was depending on the amount of work that was done by the "server" and the cost to be safe.

My sister had a woman who catered a party at her house and did a fairly simple Mexican Themed buffet. The woman was there for about 5 hours (though prepped a lot at her own home) and my sister gave her $150 because she did an amazing job...and by herself...the day after she was in a car accident. Even a buffet can be a lot of work.

It is a hard question without more details - I was a server in the past and generally...waiting on 50 people is A LOT of work (a party at my restaurant would usually get me about $100-$300)...but depending on the age of the person helping (a 10 year old boy vs a 22 year old server is a huge difference), and what they did, you don't have to go that far.

Best bet is to look at what they did...then, I would review if you tipped enough. If he just cleaned up plates...$40 is probably adequate. If he did a great job, refilled glasses, got people items and whatnot, I would definately do more.

* If you are concerned, call the owner and sheepishly explain you are new to the catering thing, and not sure that you compensated the server enough, and ask what would be fair.
* If you want to be safe...tip 15-25% of the final bill, like you would in a restaurant.
* If you were impressed beyond belief with the service...make sure you let them know, add a little to the total (even if $40 is 15%), with a note saying "We really want to thank you for the wonderful service you provided in our time of grief, and wanted to let you know how much we appreciate how you helped us during this difficult time...could you please give this $___ to ______ and tell him how much we appreciated his hard work.

Added later ~ Catering is even harder than restaurant serving because you are always improvising. At a serving job you know where everything is (extra silverware, dishes, food), you know where everything should be placed, you know what ingredients you have in case you run out of anything, etc. There is a process. When catering, all rules are out the window. You can't send someone to the store because you are out of cream, you can use X instead of Y, you can't change up the menu because something didn't work out right. Also as a server, you are running around trying to find where the bathroom is for a guest, or digging out something from a cupboard because the guest wants this or that. It is actually a lot more stressful, too, because you are not in your comfort zone, and know that at work if you spill a glass of wine you will wipe it up and be done...at a catering job you may have just wrecked a $30,000 rug of Mrs. Jones'.

The other thing is...people go to buffets/brunches and tip less because they had to get up and get their plate. The funny thing is buffets are WAY MORE WORK for the server than a traditional meal. Generally, at a meal you will refill someone's glass once maybe twice...brunch tables sit longer and enjoy 6 or 7 "warm-ups" of coffee...and 4 glasses of champagne without blinking an eye. Instead of the server clearing a salad plate and a dinner plate, they are clearing the 7 plates your child used because each one had 4 grapes and a bagel on it. Most servers will hit your table about 3-7 times in an average meal. On a buffett with even 10 people your server is going to multiply that by 5 or 10 times just to keep dishes cleared, get grandma cream, grab another glass of water for your brother who is severely dehydrated from last night at the local watering hole, and keep on top of all the items like syrup and whatnot everyone needs.

The server gave you the look because probably they do not usually receive an outright tip...the owner probably takes it from the bill and divides it between everyone who prepped and worked on the meal (which could be 5 more people for all you know).

I would (and granted having worked in the industry for a long time) go back to the owner and fork out a bit more...IF you were pleased. Just because it was at somebody's home doesn't mean the same good service wasn't provided...but that is just my opinion...and biased because I worked in restaurants for many, many years! :)

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

Usually owners are not supposed to be tipped but I'm glad that you tipped the helper. Wow! $1600 for fifty people seems waaay too high. I guess you paid for rentals, too.



answers from Missoula on

Traditionally the owner of a business in NOT tipped. I think that what you did, tipping the employee only, was just fine.


answers from Kansas City on

I have never used a caterer. But I find it rather insulting that they think they need tips too. They should be including their labor in the bill. I really HATE that servers are paid so low that they must live on tips. Tips should be nice little extras for people that do great work. But we've turned it into part of the overall bill and made it to the point of being required. And yet most people don't understand when or how much or even if it's needed and for whom. I have noticed that even hairdressers expect tips. They charge so much already!

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