Tipping is not a city in China

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This is a guest post by Centerstage2020.

Okay, so the title is a bit cliche, but I bet you've been tipping wrong when you travel.

I have been working for a hotel near one of the top twenty airports in the world for almost two years now, and I've learned that if you want better service, you need to start tipping your hotel staff.
Let's start off with a lesson in hotel star ratings:

We all grew up seeing advertisements and watching movies showing fancy 5-star hotels, and we'd dream about sprawling out in their plush, white beds and drawing the curtains to reveal a fantastic view. Someday we'd be like Kevin in Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, with the concierge of some swanky hotel at our beck and call, and we'd tip him with used bubble gum. Or we'd watch those Sandals commercials and believe that the bartender would just know when you want a new piña colada delivered to you while you wiggle your toes in the sand.

It's nice to dream, but unfortunately the reality is that most 5-star hotels are really no different than a 2-star or 3-star hotel. The staff in each hotel is trained the exact same — housekeepers are supposed to stop pushing their carts when they are 5 feet away from you, and any staff member who comes across you in a hallway is supposed to ask you how your day is. Even a 2-star hotel will try to recognize that it's your birthday, even if it's just a birthday card resting on your pillow when you arrive.

So what does the hotel's star rating have to do with tipping?

The hotel's star rating lets you know how much you should tip your housekeeper each day. If you are staying in a 1-star hotel, leave them $1.00. If you're in a 2-star hotel, $2.00, and so on.

Housekeepers make little more than minimum wage, and they carry out the most dangerous and dirty job in the hotel. They risk chemical burns from all of the cleaning products they use and slips and falls due to wet bathroom floors. If you are diabetic and accidentally leave your medical syringe tangled up in your sheets, the housekeeper risks contracting a blood-borne infection just to strip your sheets. If you break a glass in the bathroom, the housekeeper risks cutting themselves while trying to clean it up and ensure that the room is safe. They scrub your dirty toilet, and they clean the hair out of your shower drain. Despite all of this, they are expected to clean your room in less than 15 minutes, regardless of the condition you left behind.

Please note that I wrote that the star rating denotes the amount that you should leave each day. I once read a travel article that said to leave your housekeeper $10.00 at the end of your trip. However, the problem with that is that if you are on a seven day trip, there may be seven or eight housekeepers that clean your room throughout the course of your stay. Housekeepers get their cleaning assignments each morning, they are rarely assigned to the same floor, and if they are, they are rarely assigned to the same rooms. So rather than leaving $10.00 at the end of your stay for one housekeeper, leave a few bucks every morning before you head out for the day.

Most housekeepers will not touch cash that is just laying out (They can lose their jobs and some don't think pocket change or even $100 is worth losing their jobs over), so leave them a note of appreciation with your daily tip so that there is no question that the cash is meant for him or her. My note when I travel usually says something along the lines of 'Thank you for your hard work. I appreciate your attention to detail during my stay,' with the money under the note. Every time I have done this, I have come back to a note of thanks, extra pillows, extra shampoo, whatever that housekeeper can do to make me feel a little bit more at home while I'm there.

If tipping your housekeeper is new information, then here's a shock: Housekeepers aren't the only hotel staff you should be tipping.

Believe it or not, the person at the front desk should be the first person you tip. If you slide a tip in with your credit card and ID at check-in and ask if a better room is available, chances are you just might find yourself upgraded. If an upgrade is not available, the front desk will still go above and beyond to ensure that your stay is comfortable, perhaps by giving you a call to see if the room is what you wanted, walking extra shampoo up, delivering menus for nearby places to order food from, having extra towels ready for you at the pool, or providing extra pillows or blankets.

One article I read said a $20.00 tip to the front desk guaranteed an upgrade. Unfortunately, this isn't true, as there are no guarantees of upgraded rooms being available. So, tip what you feel is appropriate, knowing that you may not get the upgrade you want, but it will still greatly improve the service you receive during your stay. The other thing to note if you put a tip down is that you might hear the front desk attendant say something along the lines of 'I can't accept that at this time, but if it's still there when you walk away, I can assume that it's a tip.' This protects their job, in the even that a guest attempts to come back and say 'I left a $20.00 on the counter, it was supposed to be broken into change...'

If a shuttle is offered at the hotel to and from an airport or a bellhop meets you at your car and assists with your bags, the general rule of thumb is to give them $1.00 for every bag they touch. This, like housekeeping, can be a dangerous job. If your shuttle driver doesn't know your bag weighs over 50 pounds, they can strain their back trying to load it into the back of the shuttle. Your bellhop also has the same issues, but he or she is helps cart your heavy bags all the way to your room. If you have awkward bags, such as skis or snowboards, trying to safely load them into the back of the shuttle without risk of breaking can be a hassle.

Along those lines, if you are traveling on business and your boss tells you that they hired a car to get you to and from the airport and they all ready included the gratuity, chances are the company is not actually going to give the tip to the driver. My girlfriend was a limo driver and every time the tip was included in the final bill, she never saw it, so make sure you have at least a few bucks ready to say 'Thanks' to your driver.

Most hotels in this day and age offer a complimentary breakfast, including a complimentary breakfast attendant. Again, your attendant makes little more than minimum wage and is the first person to show up for work at the hotel. They came in at 4:00 or 5:00 o'clock in the morning to make sure that everything is ready and perfect for breakfast so that you can get a good start to your day. They also face some danger if they have to cut fresh berries for waffles or if they work around ovens where the could burn themselves. I actually started out in the breakfast area, and the people that left me at least $1.00 on their table got better service the next morning. I'd go out of my way to clear their plates, chat with their family, give suggestions for what to do in the area, help line up taxis, or whatever else I could do to help them get in and out of the hotel easily. If I found out it was someone's birthday, I would make a little goody bag and deliver it to their room while they were away for the day. If I found out someone had a death in the family and was staying at the hotel while in town for the funeral, there were cards and flowers in their room when they returned.  A dollar left on the table each day went a long way for us, and if there were two of us, we split all of the tips to be fair. If you liked the service of both breakfast attendants, you can leave $2.00 if you want. Like I said, they usually split tips regardless. The same rule applies as with the housekeeper: Leave a small tip each day, rather than $5.00 at the end of your trip, as there are several people working breakfast every day and the person who helped you Monday through Thursday may not be there on Friday when you check-out.

The last person to tip that I can think of is the person that brings you something requested to your room. What I mean is you've arrived, there are three of you, and your daughter has really long hair. That one tiny shampoo and conditioner bottle isn't going to do it for all three of you, so when you get that phone call from the front desk person (who's checking to see how your upgrade is, because you tipped them, remember?😉) you mention that you could use a couple of more bottles of shampoo and conditioner. Either that front desk person will deliver some or they will have someone in housekeeping deliver them, but whoever puts their daily duties on hold to bring you your shampoo should get at least a dollar for bringing it up to you. Whatever the item is – extra blankets, extra towels, a fan if your AC isn't working (because that person is probably going to try to fix your air conditioner as well) – they deserve a tip as a 'thank you' for going out of their way to deliver your requested item.

If you had any conversations with the manager of the hotel, you can also leave them a virtual tip by writing them a 5-star review on TripAdvisor, Yelp, or any other travel websites you utilize. A quick email to corporate about their service, as well as the service of the hotel staff, goes a long way. Mention as many names as you can (Your front desk receptionist, breakfast attendant, housekeeper, etc.) in the email so that these staff members get the recognition they deserve for their hard work. Those positive mentions can help when it comes to getting a raise or promotion.

I realize the way this sounds— like you're going to arrive at the hotel looking like you're going to a strip club, but I promise you, the few extra bucks you spend per day tipping your hotel staff will make your stay a much better experience.

* These suggestions are primarily for travelers staying within the United States, as other countries have different tipping norms, so if you are traveling abroad, do your research and see what is appropriate for tipping hotel staff in the country you are visiting. In some countries, tips are considered an insult because you are saying you don't think the hotel is good enough to pay their staff, and in other countries tips are already included in the rate.

— Centerstage2020 has worked for 2 years in the hotel industry, and 6 months in the airline industry. She grew up traveling and has always loved being able to explore new places and different cultures. Her most memorable trip was traveling to Costa Rica when she was 15, driving through the villages on Dea del Muerte and witnessing all the celebrations, as well as all the fútbol games happening in the streets. Currently, she is amassing a collection of Starbucks mugs from each new city she goes to with her travel companion and girlfriend (The next one will be from St. Louis, MO!). When possible, her two pups, Gabby and Xena, join her on her trips, and they make great tour guides in the mountains.

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