When you're creating your travel budget, you naturally include the price of plane tickets, the hotel room, restaurants, and sight-seeing, but what about a tipping allowance? Tipping is one of those travel practices that will bust your budget faster than anything else. A few dollars here or there can add up, and take away dedicated money from other areas in your travel budget.
Bellman photo by Will Pate
Tipping is a controversial subject, mostly because it's so darn confusing. When should you tip? Who deserves a tip? How much should you give? Can you not tip and still expect to receive excellent service? There are so many variables to consider, but there are no set-in-stone guidelines. As someone who worked in hotels for 10 years, I can tell you that there are unspoken guidelines when it comes to tipping.
First things first, there are two types of hotel workers: those who are paid a full wage (minimum wage or higher), and those who are paid a base rate (sometimes around $2.00 per hour). Concierge, front desk, and housekeeping all fall within the full wage group. Bellmen, car valet, bartenders, and waiters are in the latter group. You may be surprised that all of these people will feel slighted if you don't tip them, but especially the latter group. Now, upon reading this, it may anger you that a hotel, which is built upon the precepts of service, is filled with workers wanting to be tipped for just doing their job.
This is the reason why tipping is so controversial, because you expect that the price of a hotel room should absorb these costs.
You can use this reason to justify not tipping those paid full wage, but those who are paid less than that deserve tips. Why? The group making the full wage is part of the mandatory service of the hotel, but those making the base rate are an extra luxury. That said, I highly believe you should tip, depending on the level of service you receive. If you feel a specific individual has given you wonderful service, then you should show them with a gratuity.
Here's a standard guideline for what hotel workers expect for their efforts:
Taxi/ Chauffeur – 10% is a good gauge, but not mandatory, especially if you have an erratic taxi driver who takes you the long way to a hotel (and you'll know).
Car Valet – $5 is a safe bet. Upon check-in, it's not necessary to tip the valet if a bellman is taking your bags, but whenever you need your car retrieved, tip the car valet.
Bellman – $2 per bag, coming and going. It doesn't matter if you had the same bellman upon arrival and departure, the process of lifting bags deserves gratuity. Also, if you order up a sundry or toiletry, a bellman should receive a minimum of $2 upon delivery.
Front Desk – $10, but this is not necessary, and should only be done if the agent has performed above and beyond the call of duty, such as having gotten the room that you specifically requested upon check in.
Concierge – $10-$20 when using this service to obtain tickets or dinner reservations at an exclusive restaurant. Concierges expect to be tipped for any service they provide, and it's good to have the favor of a concierge. They will always work hard in your favor.
Maitre d – $20 at least, and of course, depending on what type of hotel restaurant it is (4 star or higher). The Maitre d will sit you at the best table, and give you celebrity treatment. If you do tip a Maitre d (which is not required), then tip well. While working at the front desk, I once had a Maitre d give me a tip someone had just given him, saying, “I don't do $5s.” (I did!)
Waiter – 15-20% at least, because the waiter usually splits his tips with the rest of his team, including the bus-boy, the bread-server, the water-pourer, etc. This fee also applies for Room Service. Bartender – 15-20% of your total beverage bill. They survive largely on your tips.
Housekeeping – $5 per day is nice. Housekeeping probably has the least enviable job in hospitality, but they don't expect much in the way of tips, and most people neglect to tip housekeeping, or leave dollar bills on the bedside table. Housekeeping will not (or should not) pick up money that is hanging around in the room, unless it's in an envelope specifically addressed “Housekeeping.” Keep in mind that these housekeepers usually split tips with their supervisors.
Laundry – $2. This is when your freshly laundered clothes are delivered to your room. It's not expected, but it's a good rate.