Ignore the Tip Jar but Not the Maid

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Tip jars are turning up everywhere in America these days. Don't feel guilty if you ignore the ones at fast food establishments, even coffee shops, if they don't bring food or beverages to the table. Tip jars are often placed so conspicuously that employees at self-serve businesses, from gas stations, convenience stores, hot dog carts, coffee houses and fast food restaurants, are being rewarded for service they are not providing. In the meantime, people who do provide service are often overlooked, especially when we travel around the country.

Tips are not just rewards for good service. There are many people who depend on tips as part of their income. The people most commonly thought of in connection with tips are restaurant employees. In fact, restaurants report a percentage, usually around 12 percent, of gross sales for food and beverage to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for their staff. Not all restaurant employees, however, should be tipped 12 percent. Some basic guidelines for restaurant tipping in the U.S. include:

  • Food server/waitperson: 15-20 percent (for separate checks tip 18 percent on each check)
  • Wine steward/Sommelier: 10-20 percent of wine bill
  • Coat check attendant: $1/item if coat check is free
  • Restroom attendant: $1
  • Teppanyaki chef: 15-20 percent (this will usually be split with wait staff)
  • Musician that visits the table: $2-3 for requests, optional if musician just stops and plays
  • Bartender: 15-20 percent or $1 per drink (if at the bar while waiting for a table, settle the bill at the bar before going to your table)
  • Musician in lounge: $1-5
  • Cocktail server: 15-20 percent (tip $1-2 per round for free drinks in casinos or other similar places)

Tipping the Maitre d' and busboys is not required unless they do something special. Withholding a tip is not the most effective way to register dissatisfaction with the quality of service. Make the manager aware of the problem, so they can correct the behavior.

There are a variety of other individuals who count on tips. At the airport, these individuals include:

  • Skycaps/porters: $2 per bag and another $2 for curbside check-in
  • Electric cart driver: $2-3 per person
  • Wheelchair pusher: $5 for pushing, ticket counter to gate or gate to baggage claim, $10-20 for trips between terminals. Add $1-2 per bag if they help with luggage
  • Courtesy shuttle driver: $1-2 per bag if they help with bags
  • Taxi, limo, van or paid shuttle driver: 15 percent of the total fare and up to 20 percent if the driver helps with bags or makes extra stops. Never less than $1.

Some hotels are now charging a daily fee covering all tipping for hotel services, so be sure to ask whether gratuities are included in the price of the room. If there is no daily fee, tipping the following individuals is appropriate:

  • Parking valet/attendant: $1-3 for returning car, the same is optional for parking the car
  • Garage attendant: $1
  • Doorman: $1-2 for hailing a cab, $0.50-1 per bag for luggage assistance unless he/she caries them all the way to the room, in which case tip $1-2 per bag, No tip for simply opening the door.
  • Bellman: $1-2 for helping with luggage or packages.
  • Concierge: $5-10 for helping get hard-to-get dinner reservations or theater tickets. Tipping for just advice is optional. Tip concierge at time of service or end of stay.
  • Room service: 15-20 percent unless gratuity is included. $1 if gratuity is included
  • Maid/housekeeping staff: $1-5 per day typically but up to $10 depending on mess or special services requested. Leave tip on pillow every day because staff may change.
  • Swimming pool or gym attendants: $2-5 for special service such as extra seating or towels or help inflating pool toys.
  • Delivery of requested items: $2 minimum, then $1 per item, such as pillows, iron, etc.

Tipping generously upon arrival can set the tone for an entire stay and ensure high quality service. Also, frequent visitors to a hotel may wish to err on the side of generosity, even infrequent visitors may wish to do so as it will make hotel staff more aware of the guest.

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