tipping in a bar

In a perfect world, service industry employees would be paid what they’re worth, rather than having being relegated to a minimum wage (if that) and set to grovel for tips.  Until that day arrives, the reality is that hotel service employees rely on travelers to supplement their income into becoming a living wage.

This guide will help you decide who should get a tip at hotel, how much it should be, and how you can recognize and reward hotel employees who go above and beyond.  Here are some hotel tipping situations you are likely to encounter when you’re traveling:

Restaurants – 15% of bill before tax for good service, 20% for fabulous service or for accommodating special requests.  If you are using a discount coupon, remember to tip on the amount of the bill pre-discount.  With large groups, and in some restaurants, a service charge may automatically be added, so be sure to check as there is no need for an additional tip in those cases.

What to do when there’s really bad service?  First off, recognize that a problem in the kitchen is one that the server has inherited, and try to distinguish between bad service from you wait staff and a dish that you don’t care for.  Ask to speak to the manager before the meal is beyond repair and give them a chance to get things back on track.  Restaurant managers repeatedly say that they want to know if there’s a problem – and they want to know in time to fix it.

But what about those situations that just can’t be fixed?  In very extreme situations, I have not tipped and have discussed the issue with the manager.  Recognize that if a situation deteriorates to this situation that there’s probably not a way to keep your business, so the restaurant will not be as motivated to solved the problem.  It’s always best to salvage your dining experience before it gets to his point.

Room service – Most times a service charge is added on, but if you’re not certain, ask at the time you place your order.  With most service charges in the 18% range, and often a delivery charge on top of that, I rarely feel the need to offer any more.  If extra service has been extended, however, you can add a couple of dollars (in cash) inside the portfolio when you sign for it.

Hotel concierge:   Basic concierge services do not require a tip.  This would be for things like getting a map, providing directions, getting information about the neighborhood, or for simple dinner reservations.  For more detailed assistance, like planning a surprise party, securing hard to come by reservations, or getting tickets to a sold out show, a tip should be in the $20 (and up) range, depending on the difficulty of service.  Concierge tips are traditionally extended at the end of your stay, but I’ve notice more of a trend to offer them up and the time of service.

Bellman – Many people take care of their own bags these days, but if you use the services of a bellman or valet, the recommended tip is $1-2 per bag.  It’s been that rate for a number of years, and I’d suggest if you’re bags are heavy, your packing enough to start your own department store, or you’ve got unusually sized items, that you add a little extra.

For hailing a cab $1 is appropriate.  If a bellman moves you to the front of a long line to get a cab straight away, $5 is good.  If that line was around the block and you’re going to miss your dinner reservations, $10-20 should move you to the front of the line right away.

Car valet – This tip is extended when your car is brought to you, not when you are dropping it off.  The range seems to average about $5 dollars, depending on the type of hotel or restaurant, the type of car you drive, how quickly you wish it returned to you, and if any special service has been extended.

Housekeeper – This is one tip that is often overlooked, and can be one of the most important people to recognize.  These often hidden workers are the unsung heroes of the hotel.  They’ll keep your room sparkling clean, add in some extra coffee or bath gel,and see to it that your stay is a little extra special.  $3-5 per night is a good range for a basic room, higher for a suite.

You’ll likely have multiple housekeepers over the course of a stay, so I prefer to leave the cash daily, along with a note saying thank you.  It feels like a direct expression of my appreciation to someone who may not get a lot of appreciation.  Be sure to make it clear that the money is a tip for the housekeeper, if it’s not, they won’t take it.  Alternatively, you can leave money in an envelope for the entire stay, and ask the hotel manager to see that it is distributed among the housekeepers that took care of you.

Hotel Salons, Spas, and other Hotel facilities – The general rule is 10-20%, although you should always check the price list to see if a gratuity is included in the cost of service.  If it’s not listed, ask the receptions when booking an appointment.  Many times the tip is automatically added on so you don’t have to think about it as you’re all feeling all relaxed after a massage.

Tips can add up quickly.  When you’re figuring out your travel budget make sure that you take them into consideration.  You may think that they’re optional – but they’re not.

Photo credit:  SXC