Travel Tip #13. Carry lots of one- and five-dollar bills for tips. As a rule, tip 20 percent in the U.S.
How much to tip? And whom to tip? Almost every new widow I know struggles with that question…another one of the tasks our husbands used to perform. Among those in the hospitality industry, older women do not enjoy a particularly good reputation for generosity. Perhaps that is why we are often seated at bad tables in the farthest, darkest corners of the restaurant.
Few situations are more embarrassing to me than to pull out the calculator (or pencil and paper) to calculate to the penny how much each woman owes and what the tip is. If one woman doesn’t drink and always orders a salad while her friends always order steak and bottles of cab, have a private conversation beforehand about how to handle the situation fairly if you must, but please don’t do it at the end of the meal in the restaurant.
If you are like me, you grew up with the rule of 15 percent tips and $1/suitcase for porters. We didn’t tip barbers and hairdressers who owned their business. We tipped 10 percent in modest cafes. And in Europe we simply left the change on the table for the waiter. When we traveled as a group in the days before plastic, one man served as banker, paying all the tabs and keeping up with all the expenses, and the group settled up at the end of the trip.
Those “rules” vanished along with eight-track tapes. I began to get a hint of tip inflation eight or ten years ago when I caught my son-in-law quietly adding to Lev’s tips on occasion when we traveled together. After Lev died, I paid closer attention to what others were doing, and I learned some important lessons.
Vignette 1. I sat by Marvin Hamlisch, the great Broadway and Hollywood composer who served as pops conductor of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, at lunch one day and he was asked about favorite New York restaurants, then about how much to tip. He said, “I always overtip. I want to be remembered so that I will get a good table and good service the next time.”
Vignette 2. Top Dallas Realtor Erin Mathews and I went to a large Dallas event together and joined hundreds on the sidewalk afterwards to get our car. One of the parkers spotted Erin, sprinted off and returned with her car within moments. Erin explained that she goes out constantly and the same parkers serve almost every event. They all know her. They park her car nearby and don’t even give her a claim ticket. The minute they see her, they get her car.
Vignette 3. As I started going out to eat with other widows, I watched how they handled it. Instead of separate checks, they asked the waiter to split the check. Everyone turned in her credit card (or signed her tab at the club) and took care of her own tip. They routinely tipped 20 percent.
Vignette 4: Friends who had waited tables at some point in the past or whose children had worked in the hospitality industry while looking for a job after college always tipped 20 percent. They knew what it was like to live on tips.
Vignette 5: The tipping point for me (sorry—bad pun) came when a group of us was discussing our problems with tipping. One of the women quoted her late husband, “No one ever went bankrupt from tipping.”
It finally clicked. I can afford to tip. When I travel alone, good service is more important than ever. Before I leave home, I go to the bank and stuff my billfold with $1s and $5s. I tip the hotel doorman because I want him to be quick to call me a cab and to assist me when it’s raining and my arms are full of packages. I tip the driver whom I use in Dallas well, because I want him to be available when I need him. Though my condo has a no-tip policy, I occasionally give the guys at the front desk $5 when I have packed my car with groceries, dry cleaning and the like and need help to get it to my unit. I assume that “free” or “courtesy” valet parking really isn’t. I tip the parkers. I want them to be quick and to handle my car well. I put $1 in the jar when I order at the counter, even though service is almost nonexistent.
When I am in doubt about what the custom is, I can do a quick google search. I can ask the concierge or the person at the front desk about local customs. How do we want to be remembered? Tight or generous? How do we want to be treated? If we are grateful for good service, we need to be generous in saying thanks. Entitlement and privilege also vanished with eight-track tapes. We aren’t entitled to special treatment. I can be less generous at a hotel where I stay a night or two and never plan to return, but is that the kind of person I want to be? I won’t go bankrupt tipping.
Because I believe that gratitude leads to generosity and that those virtues are the key to abundant living, I have written a lot about it, most recently here about David Brooks. Sunday, the minister at the Nantucket Congregational church preached on the myth of scarcity vs. the truth of God’s abundance. And Michael Hyatt, former publisher of Thomas Nelson, wrote about the same subject here.
Note: I skipped out of order today because of all I witnessed about tipping during my stay in Nantucket. I will return to Tip #11 next week.
Photo: Galley Beach Restaurant, Nantucket, August 2014.
What are your big tipping issues or questions?
What is your personal tipping policy?