QC’s Guide to Vendor Etiquette
Ah, the wonderful, not-at-all frustrating world of etiquette. It comes second-nature to those who are used to it, but getting there takes time. That’s time in which you could be damaging your career as a professional event planner by accidentally offending a vendor. Yikes!
Negotiating contracts, organizing styled shoots, tipping, saying thank you for a referral… To an event planner just starting out in the industry, working with vendors can seem like a bit of a minefield. Our handy guide will walk you through the basics of good vendor etiquette to help you build a strong network!
Getting That Contract
It goes without saying that your relationship with your vendors is a major draw for clients. Not only will you refer them to reliable, high-quality vendors, but your longstanding relationships can also help you get them good deals. For budget-conscious clients, this is pretty big!
But getting a good deal for a client won’t end up being a good deal for you if you offend your vendor in the process. Like you, your vendors are professionals in the event industry—and also like you, that means they don’t appreciate having their services undervalued.
So when you’re settling a contract…
- DO insist on reasonable requests, like a contract that makes your vendor liable for potential negligence on their part.
- DO ask your vendors if they have options for services that’ll fit your clients’ budgets.
- DO ask about how pricing is done to help your clients understand what they’re paying for.
- DO ask about refund and cancellation policies. This is info your clients need to know in case anything happens down the line!
On the other hand, good vendor etiquette means that you…
- DON’T pit vendors against each other.
- DON’T demand a discount.
- DON’T encourage your clients to enter a contract unless they’ve locked down what they want from the vendor. Your clients’ expectations should be clear up front to avoid disappointments or unexpected costs.
Pro tip: Help out your vendors, your clients, and yourself by prepping vendors for consultations. Send details like the venue, date, color scheme, guest list size, or even online inspiration boards to your vendors before they meet your client. That way every vendor consultation starts with a clear focus!
Should I Tip?
While you’re obviously not responsible for tipping your clients’ vendors, you are expected to field questions for anything event-related. That includes tipping. This is especially true for weddings, since most of your clients will be first-time brides and grooms!
So when is a tip expected? Well, a general rule of thumb is that if the vendor owns their business, you’re usually not expected to tip (usually). If you’re working with an employee, though, it’s customary to give a little extra.
Here’s a more detailed breakdown of which vendors tend to expect tips:
- Hair stylist/makeup artist: Expected—just like at a salon. Tip 15-25% of total bill.
- Delivery and setup staff: Expected. Tip $5-15 per person.
- Wedding officiant: A donation to the church, synagogue, or other institution of a religious officiant is expected. Donate $100-200 to their institution.
- Musicians/DJ: Optional. Tip $15-25 per musician or $30-150 for a DJ.
- Catering: Expected. Tip 15-20% of total bill divided between chefs and servers.
- Photographer/videographer: Only expected if they don’t own the studio. Tip $50-200 for lead photographers and $50-75 for secondary shooters.
- Florist: Optional. Tip 10-15% of total bill.
- Transportation: Expected. Tip 15-20% of total bill.
Pro Tip: In some cases, tipping is so common that it’s built right into your clients’ contracts. Make sure your clients know whether their transportation or catering contracts already include gratuities to avoid tipping twice!
And remember, tipping is meant to show your vendors that you appreciated their work. Aside from caterers and transportation, a tip is generally considered a nice surprise rather than a hard-and-fast requirement. If a vendor’s service wasn’t great, your clients aren’t obligated to tip. On the other hand, your clients might decide to tip their florist, photographer, or even you for work that goes above and beyond.
This is super simple: thank your vendors after the event! An email, handwritten card, social media shoutout, or positive online review are all awesome ways to show your appreciation.
Vendor etiquette goes beyond thanking your colleagues for their exceptional service, though. A vendor who likes working with you will probably refer clients to you. Asking new clients how they found you helps you figure out your marketing strengths, but it also lets you catch any referrals. That way, you won’t accidentally overlook a vendor who was thoughtful enough to pass a client your way!
An email, card, or review are all nice thoughts for vendors who do good work, but sometimes you’ll work with a professional who really wows you. When you run into work like this, sending your vendor a gift or taking them out for a meal shows how much you value their services. Plus, treating them to lunch helps you get to know each other better and build a stronger relationship!
No event planner wants to deal with this, but hey, mistakes happen. Sometimes your vendors are going to mess up—they’re only human.
If you have good vendors, dealing with mistakes gets a lot easier. There’ll be fewer of them, for one! But more importantly, when a good vendor does mess up, they’ll take responsibility for it. As well as apologizing to the client, vendors might reduce the client’s bill or offer extra services free of charge. They’ll also apologize to you, especially if you referred the client to them in the first place.
But things can get tricky when clients complain about quality—without an obvious slip-up on your vendor’s end. Maybe your newlyweds didn’t think the food was up to snuff. Maybe your corporate clients felt the catering staff wasn’t very polite. Ending up as the mediator isn’t fun, but the best way to handle it is just to stay honest and respectful when you’re communicating with both the unhappy clients and the vendor.
And remember, the vendors you work with can affect your business. Yes, mistakes do happen, but if you’re consistently getting complaints from your clients about your usual florist, maybe it’s time to move on.