Tipping Etiquette for Travelers

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I am often asked, What is the worst mistake you can make when it comes to tipping? The answer is “not tipping.” Many people don’t tip because they do not have the proper change or bill. My dad always taught me to be prepared and go to the bank before a trip and get plenty of one dollar bills and five dollar bills. It is not ideal to ask the person you are tipping for change!

I had the pleasure of traveling to Seattle last week to present a Dining Etiquette dinner session for an amazing medical device company. I had to laugh at myself as I found my mind razor-focused on Dining Etiquette topics, but found myself (and others) faced with so many travel etiquette tipping dilemmas. Whether you are traveling for business or pleasure, these reminders and guidelines will surely come in handy!

Airport curbside check in:  Airport arrival can be stressful and chaotic; no matter how prepared you are when you arrive. The outside baggage handlers, also called skycaps or porters, provide a valuable service by meeting you outside the airport, at your airline. They take your bags from you and ensure that your luggage is checked through to your final destination. You should tip the outside baggage handler according to the number of bags you are checking. Consumer Reports, Trip Advisor and U.S. News and World Report all agree that the standard tipping amount is between $1.00 and $2.00 per bag. Use your best judgment. If it’s raining, snowing or over 90 degrees and you get good service, tip towards the $2.00 per bag side of the scale. If your baggage handler takes two or three bags from you and all you have is a five dollar bill, do not ask for change back.

Taxi driver15% is average and 20% and above for a driver that assists you with your heavy luggage and gets you where you are going efficiently and without scaring you to death! A pleasant scent (no smoke) in the cab and a cab that is clean is always worth a bit more in my book!

Limo/town car driverMost car companies include gratuity into their bill, however, if you receive good service and want to leave a favorable impression for the return flight home, it is nice to leave an additional tip. If gratuity is not included, tip 15% – 20% of fare.

Airport car rental or hotel shuttle driver: When the driver helps you with your bags or holds the shuttle for you, it is nice to tip $1 or $2 dollars (typically a dollar per bag). $5 is customary if you have a group/family.

Tour Guides and Drivers: On tours of two to three hours or less, tip your guide 10 – 20 percent of tour cost. You can simply hand your guide the money as you say goodbye. On longer tours with no build-in gratuity, each passenger should give $5 – $10 to the guide and another $5 – $10 to the driver.

Restaurant servers: A minimum of 15% is standard and 20% upwards for exceptional service. If your experience is negative, it is best to voice your dissatisfaction with the manager versus leaving no tip. Often times many of the delays in a restaurant are not the fault of your server. If your server is the problem you could leave 10% and definitely speak with the manager.

Restaurant Maître d’: Some people will think if they flash a large dollar bill at a maître d’ they can demand a better table. This is considered insulting and is not recommended. Feel free to tip after your dinner if you appreciated your table or they went out of their way to seat you when you arrived without a reservation – $10 – $20.

Bartender: Tip 15% to 20% of the bill. Dropping loose change in a jar when it amounts to a few cents is not acceptable.

Buffet servers: Attendants who walk around and fill your water glass, retrieve an additional roll, utensil or clear your dishes should be accommodated with a tip, $1 to $2 dollars per diner. The tip should be left on the table.

Valet/Parking attendant: $1 – $5 when your car is delivered. People with “special” cars will often pay a tip when they drop of their car to ensure extra careful care.

Hotel doorman: No tip required for a smile and assistance with the door. If the doorman hailed a cab, a minimum of $1 to $2. If they help unload your luggage, tip according to weight and quantity.

Hotel bellman: Generally, $1 to $2 per bag, but if you only have one or two bags make it worth the bellman’s trip and give $5. If the bellman stores your bags for you, it is appropriate to tip him when the bags are being returned to you. No need to also tip when you drop off your bags.

Hotel room service: Check the bill first to see if gratuity has already been added. If it has not been included, tip 15% to 20% of the bill. It is not necessary to leave an additional tip for tray pick-up.

Delivery of special items: $2 for one item, $5 for more. Tipping is not required for someone fixing something broken or bringing something missing.

Hotel concierge: For quick directions to the local cafe, no tip is required. For general theatre tickets, or dinner reservations, tip $5 to $10, and $20 upwards for difficult to get tickets, reservations or special services. Or, you can pay a lump sum at the end of your stay.

Housekeeping: $1-5 per night (depending on how many people are in the room and how messy you might be), and tip should be left daily in the morning (not at the end of the stay). If possible, leave a note saying the money is for housekeeping.

Yes, the tipping process can be overwhelming and it does take some budget planning to afford all the tips that are expected as you travel. Now you can plan ahead and enjoy acknowledging all those people that make your travels more successful and enjoyable with their great service! Just remember what my dad says, “be prepared with the $1’s and $5’s”!

Now that you have your travel and hotel tipping down pat, make sure that you can further enjoy your meal without those dining faux pas that can pop up adding an awkward moment to your experience. If I can assist you with this topic, please learn more about my Dine and Shine Session.

Sources for data:
American Hotel and Lodging Association in partnership with Forbes Travel Guide.
Emily Post Institute

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