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Hotel tipping: Who and how much?

Chris Ryall
December 20, 2012

Millions of travelers from around the world will be visiting relatives (or maybe escaping from them) during the holidays and will find themselves staying at hotels.  ' Tis the season for giving, but many travelers, it seems, are perplexed as to how much and who to tip.

Emily Post, the doyenne of social etiquette with her seminal 1922 bestseller “Etiquette,” would not be pleased by the habits of some travelers who don’t tip.

Ironically the one who provides the most service to a guest is the one often neglected when it comes to tips – the housekeeper.
“Normally about 20-30 percent of guests tip the housekeeper,” says Graeme Evans, director of housekeeping for the Fairmont Banff Springs.  “Fewer people are tipping now then years ago – people don’t understand what a housekeeper is and what’s being done on a daily basis for them.”

Some guests leave garbage and clothes strewn everywhere (as well as other  “unmentionables”), making it look like a war zone.  Isn’t that worthy of a tip? A housekeeper can spend anywhere from a half hour to more than an hour to clean a room.  On average a housekeeper will do anywhere from 12-20 rooms a day.

Steve Kipnis, general manager of the Affinia Manhattan Hotel, believes “the economy in general has something to do with it” if people are tipping more or less.  He adds that a bellman could make a $100-150 dollars a day in tips.

Who are the best tippers?  Michael McGilligan, general manager for the Hilton Dallas Lincoln Centre, says leisure guests generally and “older guests, those over 45.”  He says the older generations grew up in a culture of tipping. Families can tip more since unlike a single business traveler there are more to the room meaning additional work.

No country takes the tipping crown.  Generally North Americans are good tippers.  Some countries, like China, frown upon tipping and it should only be done discreetly.

Many include a 10-20 percent service charge in the room bill  or, in the case of Australia and New Zealand (though the practice of tipping is gaining more acceptance there in recent years), the employees are paid a high minimum wage so tipping isn’t as necessary.

So who do you tip and how much?  Here are some basic guidelines, but it may vary depending on the type of hotel, party size, whether it's in a major city or small town - and other factors.

  • Doorman – No tip if just opening door.  If carrying luggage or hailing cab $1-4 Housekeeper – $2 daily – a little more if family or suite style room. Don’t tip at end of stay, do it daily.  Put tip on pillow or desk with thank you note.
  • Bellhop - $2-3 for first bag and add $1 for each additional bag.
  • Concierge – no tip necessary if just answering questions.  Tip $5-10 if making reservations for tours/restaurants. $15 at least for more hard to get tickets or other special services.
  • Front-desk staff – not necessary or expected unless you feel a person went way beyond call of duty. Better to acknowledge with note to the general manager, or a  comment card.
  • Restaurant/bar staff – normally 15-20 percent of pre-tax bill.

Some guests go beyond these standards. According to Evans of the Fairmont Banff Springs, guests have left a $10,000 cash tip, artwork, ski equipment and alcohol.

Make it a habit to show your appreciation to hotel staff, especially the housekeeper.

Emily Post will thank you, and Santa is sure to put you on his “Nice” list.