The bartender at your wedding isn't at the center of attention during the reception, but his ability to serve drinks and exchange friendly banter with your guests helps them enjoy their evening. Although many of your guests will tip the bartender throughout the evening, it's your job to leave a tip toward the end of the night to show your appreciation.
It's appropriate to tip the bartender at your wedding reception between $20 and $25, as of 2012. When budgeting for the tips to hand out on your wedding day, check with the catering company or venue to determine how many bartenders will be on duty. In the case of large weddings, you might have multiple bartenders and should prepare your tip budget accordingly.
Check the catering or venue contract to determine if your fee includes gratuities for the serving staff. If not, tipping is definitely proper etiquette. Even if your fee includes gratuities, it's still appropriate to tip if you feel the bartender's service is exemplary. ) Examples of this type of service include quick, attentive care, remembering the wedding party's preferred drink choices and, in general, being friendly and conversational with your guests.
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Cash is the simplest way to give a tip to your bartender. Before your wedding day, arrange the tips you expect to give and place each in a sealed envelope marked with the position or name or the person you wish to tip. If you're the bride or groom, handing out the tips shouldn't be your responsibility. A standard approach is to give all the tip envelopes to the best man, who can distribute them throughout the evening. Tip the bartender toward the end of the reception, but don't leave it late enough that you can't track her down. (See Reference 2)
Visiting the bartender toward the end of the evening and expressing your thanks is proper etiquette, especially if you've witnessed or heard about positive interactions with this staff member. Another approach is to write a note of thanks to the caterer or venue manager in the weeks after your wedding, and note the bartender by name and express your appreciation for how he helped make the reception special.