June 6, 2006

Tipping in Hotels - Who Writes the Rules?

Tipping is just plain confusing when you stay in a hotel. Of course I know that if you eat in the restaurant you tip. When you ask the concierge to hold your bags you leave a tip – not sure how much but I’ve been doing $1 per bag. Should I tip the guy who opens the doors, the reception desk folks, and the people who clean the ashtrays even though I don’t smoke?

Tipping the maid never occurred to me. Last week when I stayed in San Francisco the maids were all so very nice when you passed them in the hotel lobby, hallways and elevators. At first I thought, “what a nice hotel – must have great management.” But then the cynical part of me said, “wait, I bet this is how they indicate to you that you should leave a tip. They butter you up.” But I didn’t do it. I’ve never left a housekeeping tip. Am I cheap, spiteful, selfish, clean or just socially inept?

In Milwaukee I have a Hilton Honors “membership” which gives me access to their Honors Lounge. Heck, this is living. You get free food for breakfast – perfect for the frugal shopper that I am. But do you leave a tip? On the first day I was the only one in the lounge and the waitress came over and chatted with me. She was so nice and we had lots in common. Having just returned from a walk I only had 75 cents so I left it on the table. I didn’t pay for the breakfast so I didn’t know how much to leave – if anything at all.

Well, the next day she was there again and this time she acted a bit strange and looked at me sideways. Had I not left enough? Too cheap? So I splurged and left her a dollar this time. Don’t worry, I know that that is still chincy but again, I didn’t pay for breakfast.

Today for my final breakfast I neglected to bring any money. There was a fellow diner and I asked him if I should leave a tip. He was horrified and told me, in no uncertain terms, “No, you don’t leave a tip.” Oh my, the last two days I had insulted the waitress by leaving her not just a tip but a cheap tip. Maybe in tipping etiquette I had said she was cheap? Then again, maybe he was cheap and at least I had left some money?

Who writes these rules? How do you know when to tip and when not to? It seems like a mysterious world that you have to navigate carefully. If you make a mistake you may end up with bad service or worse – shortchanging someone who is depending on your money to provide them with a living wage. Maybe I’ll just keep a roll of quarters up my sleeve and dispense them to everyone. Equal Opportunity Employer.