Tips for tippers: it isn’t what you expect

Tipping’s a tough nut to crack. Should you tip a housekeeper? Back in the day, the rule was leaving some cash only if your stay was 30 days or longer. Since then, however, it seems to have changed. And, what’s appropriate for a valet? Bellman? Skycap? Travel means tipping, and there are plenty of points at which you can expect to do this. If you go to the same hotel or use the same car service frequently, you may want to adjust your tipping habits, as well.

If these questions make you feel ignorant, you’re not alone. Michael Lynn, a prof at Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration, has conducted to nationwide tipping surveys and has found that a third of the respondents don’t know to leave 15 percent to 20 percent of the tab at a restaurant. Throw hotels and drivers into the mix, and it’s unsurprising that the rules aren’t understood as clearly as they could be.

So, USA Today and I are helping you know what to tip and when. A recent article by Gary Stoller provides some good ideas, and I’ve tossed in a few of my own.

Valet: This one was news to me. Don’t drop cash to the guy who opens the car door or brings the car to the valet lot. Instead, pay the guy who brings it back, generally $2 to $5. I’ve been overtipping on this one for a long time.

Bellmen: These guys carry bags, so they’re earning their tips. Give ’em $1 to $2 a bag, more if you pack for a weekend like you’re moving in for a month. Heavy bag, as well, warrant an extra tip.

Maids: Once upon a time, maids were only tipped if you were staying for the long term. I guess this has changed, and you’re supposed to leave $1 to $5 daily. But, if you’ve been tipping valets for both drop-off and pickup, this should be break-even for you.

Concierges: Don’t tip for the basics. If you’re asking for directions, recommendations or simple answers, those are free. Did the concierge score hard-to-find tickets? A table at an impossible restaurant? Pony up: $10 to $50. Nonetheless, it’s your call. Vivian Deuschl, a vice president at the Ritz-Carlton chain, says that you should expect fantastic service, “There is no obligation to tip.”

Skycap: Pay for help when you check your bags curbside: $2 to $3 a bag is fine. If you have a lot of bags, throw in a little extra, a good rule to apply for the driver who takes you to and from the airport, too.

And, here are a few others …

Service matters: Tips are provided for the service you receive. If you receive unacceptable service, don’t offer a tip. But, if service is so bad that you aren’t tipping, it’s probably a good idea to call a manager and give your side of the story. First, it will keep you from getting shafted by other hotel employees when the word spreads. Also, it will alert the management to a problem with the staff. Be thorough, and don’t whine.

“No tipping” is sacrosanct: Some resorts have no-tipping policies. They always make it very clear up front. Also, they will tell you if there are any exceptions. Curtain Bluff, in Antigua, doesn’t allow tips and makes alternatives clear (there’s a charity on the island). The spa is a “tipping zone,” however, and the front desk will let you know. If you try to tip in a no-tip hotel, the employee will probably let you know, but it’s best not to create the awkward situation at all.

Special requests: Think beyond restaurant reservations and event tickets. If the concierge does the impossible for you, shell out for it. I’m thinking of several super-luxury favors I’ve heard (sorry, can’t reveal them) from industry insiders. If you’re rolling in the big leagues, don’t bother carrying singles; you’ll need Benjies.

Be realistic: Tip what you can afford. You don’t need to toss around boatloads of cash that you don’t have. It may feel good to be a big tipper, but the high you get now will hurt like hell later. Remember that you’ll need to live with the financial situation that you create while on vacation.

Don’t tip from guilt: You don’t have to solve the financial crisis on your own. The recession has led to a travel industry slump, which means hotel employees won’t be making as much. Think of it this way: these guys aren’t buying more of what you make just to help you out. So, don’t think you need to return the favor.

Know your environment: There is a lot of mileage between Eden Rock and the Holiday Inn: don’t expect the same tipping strategy to work at both locations.

[Photo by AMagill via Flickr]

Hyatt will assure new jobs for all displaced Boston housekeepers

It has been a pretty bad week for Hyatt. First, their Boston hotels were accused of tricking their housekeeping employees into retraining a replacement crew before firing them.

Then Hyatt responded that the accusations were untrue. And then the Boston unionized cab drivers decided to refuse to drop passengers off at Hyatt properties. To make matters worse. the Massachusetts Governor decided it would be politically rewarding (for himself) to demand a boycott of all Hyatt properties for MA workers.

Of course, this completely misses the point, as telling people to stop spending their money at a hotel will only punish the remaining workers. The whole purpose of having to lay off the 100 housekeepers was to reduce costs so the hotels could stay open.

Hopefully the whole incident can now come to an end, as Hyatt has found new jobs for the housekeeping staff they made redundant. The staff can all go to work for a local employer, and will be hired at their previous rate. In addition to this, they’ll also continue to get health coverage till March 31st 2010, after which they can get coverage from their new employer.

Anyone who wishes to pick a different career move will be offered free training and career services, and a task force has been established to open a dialogue with the employees to assist them any way they can.

I’m very surprised how quickly this whole incident blew up. People are losing their jobs every day, and you rarely hear anything other than the basic statistics on the news. Why this individual case managed to get so much attention is really beyond me. Obviously, any time staff are made redundant is a pretty tragic case, but Hyatt was no different than the thousands of other companies trying to stay alive in this challenging economy.

Hopefully the job offers for the Hyatt housekeepers will be sufficient for the Governor to back off, if not, I’m not sure what will make him happy. After the jump, the official statement from Hyatt Hotels regarding the job offer.


BOSTON (September 25, 2009) – All housekeepers affected by August staff reductions at the three Hyatt hotels in Boston will be offered new full-time positions in the Boston market. The jobs, which will be provided by an affiliate of United Service Companies, will match the employees’ previous Hyatt rate of pay through the end of 2010. The Boston Hyatt hotels will extend healthcare coverage through March 31, 2010 for the employees who choose to accept positions with United Service Companies, after which they will have the option to obtain health care benefits through their new employer.

“We are committed to supporting all of our associates, especially when they are negatively affected by business decisions made necessary by the most difficult economic environment in decades,” said Phil Stamm, general manager of the Hyatt Regency Boston and chair of a local Hyatt management task force formed to assist the displaced workers. “Every housekeeping employee who wants a job will have one. That’s our promise.”

Affected employees who wish to pursue a different employment path are being offered career services and training opportunities through a partnership Hyatt has formed with Manpower and Right Management. Employees opting to participate in the career services and retraining program will receive financial support equal to their Hyatt rate of pay through March 2010 or until they secure permanent jobs, whichever comes first. “We’re pleased to be able to support our employees with retraining and job search assistance provided by a highly respected employment and placement firm,” said Stamm.

“We are meeting with these individuals to fully explain their options, answer their questions and ease the transition,” said Michael Hickey, general manager of Hyatt Regency Cambridge, also a member of the task force. “The task force we set up accomplished what we set out to do. We believe the creative solutions we’re offering are responsive to the concerns expressed throughout our community, and are consistent with Hyatt’s core values as well as our responsibility to manage our properties prudently in this very difficult economy.”

“We sincerely hope these efforts demonstrate the respect we have for our associates and renew the community’s faith in Hyatt. Contrary to the way our actions have been characterized by many, we did attempt to implement this staffing change in a respectful manner and many of the assertions that have been made are false. We do, however, recognize and regret that we did not handle all parts of the transition in a way that reflects our organization’s values, ” said Stamm.

Hyatt’s problems increase as chain is boycotted

The Hyatt hotel chain is facing more trouble after firing nearly 100 housekeepers and replacing them with contract workers. Though a rep for Hyatt has denied that the fired workers were “tricked” into training their replacements and were not given severance, it seems the public isn’t buying it.

Union officials at the Boston Taxi Drivers Association have said that the 1700 drivers in the union will boycott Hyatt Boston locations, refusing to pick-up or drop-off fares there, unless the housekeepers are reinstated. The Massachusetts Governor has even gotten in on the action, saying that unless Hyatt rehires the fired workers, he’ll direct all state employees to stay at other hotels.

In a letter he sent to the CEO of Hyatt, the Governor said that while he understood that tough economic times meant making tough decisions, he thought that the manner in which the staff was let go was “so inconsistent with the expressed values of the Hyatt organization and basic fairness” that he did not think that “any other remedy other than full reinstatement” was appropriate. He also said he didn’t wish to instate a boycott but that the workers were treated so unfairly that he had no choice but to do so.

Of course, Hyatt fired back, saying “We do not understand why the Governor is putting more Massachusetts jobs at risk instead of working with us to find jobs for employees affected by the realities of these unprecedented economic challenges.” Looks like neither side will be backing down, and the only people who’ll suffer will be the workers.


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Confessions of a hotel maid – read if you dare!

I’m pretty sure I won’t have to tell any of you just how unsanitary many hotel rooms are.

We’ve all heard about the exposés on TV where someone would shine a CSI style ultraviolet lamp around the bed, lighting up the kind of stains you really wish you had not known about.

MSNBC has posted an article from a former hotel housekeeping staff member – and the story may make you think twice about drinking out of the bathroom cup.

For starters, after several weeks on the job, she decided that using the vacuum was just too much work, and simply picked the worst of the crumbs off the floor by hand.

Once she learned the in’s and out’s of how the room inspector worked, she even stopped cleaning sinks and simply wiped them dry to make them appear clean. Sometimes she was not in a “scrub the tub” kind of mood, and simply did a quick spray and wipe.

Thankfully she informs us that she never skipped changing the sheets – apparently even a hotel maid has her limits as to how low she will go.

Of course, things are not just bad for the guests. The housekeeper describes an incident where someone had soiled their bed linens so badly that all the sheets had to be disposed of in a biohazard bag. Sleep well!

I wonder if the housekeeping is more attentive in any of these ultra-weird hotels: