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Tips for Hotel Tipping and Then Some

Fran Berger's tips on tipping

Tips help make your trip more enjoyable – in more ways than one!

Fran Berger's travel tips on tippingI have done quite a bit of traveling in my lifetime and I’ve picked up tips and tricks along the way.

The big one for all international travel these days is to scan your passport, airline tickets, driver’s license, and itinerary and keep the images on iCloud or Dropbox (don’t forget to upload the app to your phone). That’s one of the nifty things about technology these days – full access to just about anything from just about anywhere. Take advantage of that convenience on your next trip.

Here’s another important one for international travel. I always use ATMs to get local currency (e.g., Euros) and always bring at least one credit card that doesn’t charge exchange fees. I don’t use the currency converters in airports and hotels anymore –  I save a small fortune by cutting out their very high exchange rates and fees. And, I always keep different currencies separate: I have separate sections in my travel wallet for my US Dollars and Euros or other foreign money.

There’s a burning question that I’m always asked: “Do I have to tip?” You never HAVE to tip anyone, but it’s a real faux pas if you don’t. Let me explain.

Starting at the airport – if you’re checking in curbside, $2 per bag is a very nice thing to do for those guys who are hefting bag after bag. They make sure your bags get to the plane.  But, they can do so much more than that sometimes.  My girlfriend travels with her small dog.  She makes sure she is at the airport really early for her flights but she always has extra paperwork for the dog that has to be checked.  So, when she gets to the curbside porter she makes sure he knows she will tip him very well if he helps her complete the paperwork for the dog.  It has been extremely helpful more than once.

Bellhops are on the same level as the curbside checkers. All they do is haul bags. I think it’s only fair to tip $1-2 per bag when they deliver your luggage straight to your room. Consider bumping that up if you have a lot of bags or you’re staying at a very nice hotel (like a five* – trust me, it comes back to you in more ways than you know).  Tip them after they’ve delivered your bags and explained your room.

Got a special request from housekeeping – maybe an extra pillow or the toothbrush you forgot to pack? Make sure you have at least $2 each time they deliver something. Another note on housekeeping, I tip $2-3 per every night I stay. If you’ve got extras in your room – kids, more than 1 of you, a mess, et cetera – then the tip is more like $4 to 5 per night.

Room service seems like a no-brainer. Of course, you’re going to tip the delivery steward. If gratuity is included in the bill, you can just add an extra $1-2 for the extra. If gratuity is not included, then don’t forget to tip as you would a restaurant: 15-20% of the check.

It used to be no question about tipping Doormen.  Maybe they’re just opening the door – but maybe they’re also helping you get a cab? Calling bellhops to help you? Giving you local travel tips? Unless they are only opening the door for you – you’ll want to give them $2 each time you pass. If you use Valet-Parking, then give the Attendant $2 to 3 each time they fetch your car.

I use the hotel Concierge all the time for restaurant reservations, theater and concert tickets, and questions about all sort of things. Generally, I tip $5 to $10 or more (for difficult to get reservations or tickets) per each time I come to the desk.

I know those tips add up but service staff live for their tips. Because the staff that serves you is not always the same each day – especially if you’re staying several days, then put all the accumulated tips into one envelope for each department at the end of your stay and mark the envelopes for every service you’re leaving tips: “Housekeeping, Room Service, Valet, Concierge, et cetera.” Drop off the envelopes at the front desk. The managers will make sure that the tips are shared appropriately with the staff that was on duty during your stay.

One last tip – if you are traveling overseas, check an online travel guide for the customs of the countries that you will be visiting.  For instance, in some countries, the gratuity is included in the bill. In other countries – like China and Japan for example – the staff will not take tips. According to my friend who has traveled to Japan many times, tipping is considered an offensive display of wealth and pity. But, on the other hand, in many places around South America, if you don’t tip you’re committing far more than just a mere faux pas!

But, let’s roll this back to the good ol’US of A. Here, in this country, tipping is a courtesy. It’s a mark of appreciation – that you received good service and you recognize the effort. And here’s another thing. Word gets around the “house” who tips and who does not. Need I say more?

Etiquette for Tipping

tipping etiquette

Yes, there is such thing as proper manners for tipping!

A friend told me a story about going out to a nice restaurant with a small group of eight people who were traveling together in Hawaii. It was one of those boutique restaurants that literally dot Lahaina on the island of Maui. There was lots of ambiance, great food, and – according to my friend – really excellent service.

My friend said that they had such a great time largely due to their server who had terrific suggestions from a menu that was filled with dishes that were a little unfamiliar. After a wonderful dinner they got their bill, paid it, and left.

Out in the parking lot, my friend suddenly realized that they forgot to include a tip. A few of her friends struck an, “Oh well” attitude and were ready just to leave. But my friend – being the kind of person she is – demanded that everyone contribute for a “nice” tip which everyone agreed the server certainly earned. She collected from everyone, went back inside and handed it to the server herself.

She looked at me and said, “How on Earth could I let that sit on my conscious?”

Not everyone is as militant about tips as we are. We all know people who would have been perfectly fine with “getting away” with not tipping the server.

Our attitude about tipping might be because my friend and I both have long professional experiences as restaurateurs. I owned restaurants for 20+ years and can tell you – with absolute certainty – that your server depends on his/her tips. The very nature of the restaurant business is a cooperative one. The server is the frontline ambassador in any restaurant, doing whatever is necessary to ensure that you have a great time.  Moreover, servers’ actual paychecks are very tiny (most of which goes to taxes) and they use their tips to pay their bills. It’s a big chunk of what they take home.

Some states have laws where tips are calculated as part of the server’s minimum wage.  California, where I live, isn’t one of them.  But, no matter which state you’re in, tipping etiquette stays the same. Think only of how the server has helped make your meal entertaining and enjoyable. That being said, the amount of tip you offer should definitely depend on the service received.

The only thing that’s missing for you to figure out is what’s the proper amount to tip. On that note, it’ll be easier to pare this down to a few simple points.

If you’re at a coffee/fast food spot (what we in the business call “quick service”) where you stand in line and take your own beverage/food to a table or out the door – tip about a $1 for the counter person.

If you’re at a bar, some slightly different rules apply. The bartender depends on their tips just as much as a server does.  It is acceptable to leave two dollars per drink as a tip. If the bartender has been particularly great or you had him/her jumping around making complicated cocktails, then it is good to add a bit extra. The bartender always remembers a customer who tips well!

If you’re at a sit-down restaurant and the service was as good as you hoped, the tip should be about 20%. If the service wasn’t so great, you can take the tip down to 15% or even lower.  But remember, if you do have a service issue – let the manager know. It’s probably the only way they will know and trust me; the feedback (assuming the complaint is warranted) will be appreciated.

Tips are very easy to calculate. Just look for the total amount – before tax (don’t calculate your tip on the tax) – and move the decimal point to the left once. So, if the bill is “$120”, now you have “12.0.” That’s 10%. Double that for 20%, and you have $24.00 for a tip! Some people think that you don’t need to tip on the wine/alcohol you’ve consumed at your table – you do.  The server has taken your orders, brought your beverages and poured the wine – that’s called service.

One last note. You know that “birthday” dessert the server brought over? You should still tip on it as if you were paying for the special dessert. After all, your server still served the dish!