Tag Archives: travel tips

Another Year with Sophisticating Living

Fran Berger 2018 Welcome

What I’ve learned about sophisticated living – and how I’m taking it to the next level in 2018.

A friend of mine is fond of saying, “We only get one ticket to the big dance.  Make it count!”  I get that. I’m all for enjoying life. There are a lot of ways that you can live, why not do it while leading an exciting and flavorful life?

The big question is, “how?”

If you’ve been following my blog or my videos on YouTube, you know that this question is the very heart of what I call sophisticated living. There’s a very fine line between just living and living fabulously. – and I choose fabulously.  It’s certainly more than spending a ton of money – you definitely do not have to and just the spending does NOT make the difference. It’s an attitude – yes – but it’s also a state of mind. Why not live to the fullest? Why not draw out as much joy as you can wherever you can? And, what makes that life even more incredible is how you share it with family and friends.

This is where I come in.  I love to share tips – be they in the kitchen, recipes for easy and delicious dishes, tips on décor, travel, on being a fabulous host, tips for easy entertaining at home, and fun ways that can enhance your lifestyle. Not only am I in search of whatever makes life enjoyable, but I’m also looking for things that bring us together – all under one roof, happy, and thoroughly entertained.

When I share, I hope that people take these ideas and do more with them – put their own ‘spin’ on them.  Incorporate them into their own lives in their own way. Even things that seem insignificant to one person can be a huge deal to another. They’re conversation starters and idea makers. And, bravely incorporating them into your world is all part of what it means to live a sophisticated life.

Back to the question – how? How do we find those “small things” that can really make a difference? Come with me and I’ll share what I know works –  you just need to be open to the suggestion. And here’s another thing that decades of experience in the restaurant business has taught me: you don’t find “secrets of success” by being overly careful.  If you don’t ask or don’t try – the answer will always be ‘no’.

Part of the experience is trying many things in all sorts of situations. You’ll have some flops – things that don’t work no matter how hard you try.  But, part of the success is in the trying and it’s a great feeling when you find the one something that makes a room full of people happy. Go ahead, smile. It feels great, doesn’t it?

Here’s to 2018 and another year of sharing!

How Much to Tip when I travel?

Fran's tipping guide for the holidays

Tipping guidelines for keeping up with etiquette while traveling.

There are general travel tipping guidelines, but during the holidays it’s even more important to remember to thank those with whom you interact and accept their services. Check out my videos on the subject of tipping: one on general tipping etiquette and another on tipping for travel.

When you’re traveling it all starts right at the airport with the skycap. Think of tipping $1-2 per bag for curbside check-in unless they are doing additional work for you – maybe you need extra assistance from curbside to the desk for a special request. In those cases, then a flat $20 for an “all in” tip is appropriate.

For tipping for hotel maids and housekeeping, typically the tip should be $3 to 5 per night of your stay. It varies due to the hotel I’m staying in or how much mess I’ve made.  If you have several people in one room (think kids, etc) then it would be closer to $5/night.  At the end of your visit, place the tips in an envelope clearly marked ‘housekeeping’ and give it to the front desk. They’ll make sure that it is divided among the members of the staff who actually ‘touched’ your room during your entire visit.

The porter or bellman that delivers your luggage to your room deserves something too. Typically, this is $1 to $2 per bag; but add a bit more if the bags are heavy or awkward. And don’t forget to tip when the porter comes to retrieve your bags at the end of your stay.

Think about the person who delivers that extra pillow, gets you more hangers for your closet, or produces the toothbrush you forgot. The tip should be $1-2 for each time someone brings something to your room.

If you’ve ordered room service – read the check. If there is a tip included it will be a separate line item listed as ‘Gratuity Added.’  If it says, ‘convenience fee’ or ‘service charge,’ these charges do not go to the server. So, if you don’t see ‘gratuity added’ then add a tip of about 15% to 20%.

I tip taxi drivers all the time as well as Uber/Lyft drivers. That tip should be $1 to $5 depending on the distance and service received.

There are many instances where you’ll want to calculate the tip based on a percentage of the bill. This tip percentage varies depending on the service and even the state. For instance, in New York City at higher end restaurants a 25% tip is often expected. In Colorado, the usual tip would be 20%. Many people tip on the ‘pre-tax’ amount of the check but others find it easier just to calculate it on the total. Either method is acceptable. But, if the service has been bad then do not fret about dropping the tip to 10%. A low tip sends a sharp message to the server. If the service is particularly bad, make sure you speak to the manager before you leave.

Remember the bartender whenever you sit at the bar, even if you’ve just ordered a pre-dinner drink while waiting for your table.  A minimum tip of $1 to 2 per drink is appropriate – especially if it’s a fancy mixed cocktail!

In Europe and other non-tipping countries, the ‘tip’ is already built into the price of the food or service. In Asia – like Japan – don’t bother tipping. They won’t accept it.  Check the internet for the tipping guidelines for the countries you will be visiting.

Back in the U.S.A., tips are often the major source of income for wait staff and other service providers.  In some states the minimum wage for ‘tipped employees’ is very low – employers anticipate that the tipped income will make up the difference. However, always check your bill before tipping as some restaurants have started adding an automatic gratuity to the bill.

Be a good traveler and have fun!

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?

4 Great Reasons Why Beverly Hills is a “Local Exotic” Travel Destination

Broiled Jumbo Nova Scotia Lobster - The Palm

Lucky you if you’re a LA Local: “Exotic” Beverly Hills’ is just a drive away!

I love to vacation in exotic places. But who says “exotic” has to be far faraway? I’ve been living in Beverly Hills for more than twenty years. I’ve owned restaurants here, raised a family, made all kinds of friends, and I’ve learned so many things. Like anywhere else though I suppose, it’s easy to take your own backyard for granted.

But I don’t like to take anything for granted. I’m constantly looking for places in my own neighborhood to eat and be entertained. So, I’ve taken it upon myself to do more exploring locally – even to places that are very well known to me and my friends. I’ve mapped out of a few favorite places around Beverly Hills that are so fun, I think they definitely qualify as part of the “local exotic” scene.

Let’s start at The Palm Beverly Hills. A fabulous landmark restaurant located on Canon Drive’s well-known “restaurant row.” This is the ‘rebuilt’ Palm – the old one was in West Hollywood for more than 40 years and had to move after their lease ran out. But what a rebuild – it’s beautiful!  I go with a girlfriend when either one of us gets the “urge” for lobster! Because I like my clams served without a lot of stuff to blur their sweet taste, I always call ahead to ask them to set aside at least a dozen to serve simply steamed with drawn butter to start. If I’m feeling a bit healthy we share a classic wedge salad with lettuce, crisp bacon, ranch dressing and the blue cheese on the side (blue cheese isn’t my favorite).  Then we get down to my favorite part of the meal – the”Broiled Jumbo Nova Scotia Lobster.” Always order a 4-pound female lobster to share. Female lobster tails are larger than the male’s, and really, isn’t the tail the best part? Be sure to order the best creamed spinach you’ve ever tasted to enjoy with your lobster and you have the perfect meal! They’re open for lunch and dinner and I always suggest reservations.

How about brunch on Saturday or Sunday? I highly recommend The Blvd restaurant at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills for their unlimited Champagne Bar.  They serve Perrier-Jouët Champagne – which is a really great bottle of bubbles – and also offer orange juice (for Mimosas) or peach (for Bellinis).  But I always say – why mess with a good thing- if the bubbles are that good you should enjoy them all by themselves. And, the great thing is that you really can’t go wrong with anything on the brunch menu. The dining room is a beautiful backdrop for a lazy afternoon – or request a table outside and do some serious people watching while enjoying your champagne.  Definitely make reservations if you want to go.

Want casual dining but with a flair for the refined? South Beverly Grill on South Beverly Drive fits the bill. It’s one of those places where you can really feel at home for lunch or dinner.  The food and service is consistently good!  They have one of the best cheeseburgers around, definitely order it with fries. If you’re over 21 sit at the bar and try to be in George’s section,  I think he’s one of the best bartender in Beverly Hills. No reservations for the bar, but if you want a table, I recommend reservations, especially for dinner.

Hopefully there’s a concert you want to see while on your vacation, and there’s no better venue than the world-famous Hollywood Bowl. My favorite thing to do during the summer is to make a plan with friends, get a box, bring a picnic for “al fresco” dining and listen to my favorite music.  They have something for everyone – special themed nights like “sing-a-longs” (this season one night was The Sound of Music) or the Los Angeles Philharmonic – Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets, classical music, jazz and so much more.  It’s absolutely magical – food, music, a warm summer night and the stars.  Not sure it gets any better.

And now you know some of my personal favorites!