Here’s a tip on one of the last great travel mysteries

Written by admin on September 18, 2008 – 2:49 pm -

When the time comes to settling up their bills, even savvy travelers develop amnesia about tipping.

Should you tip taxi drivers, leave a monetary “thank you” for hotel maids or shell out something extra for the room service waiter when a surcharge has already been added to the tab?

How much does a doorman deserve if he hails a cab that happens to be waiting smack in front of the door?

Is a tip merited if passengers are climbing out of the car in time for you to climb in?

Do you cross his palm each and every time the doorman stands at attention holding an umbrella to protect you from deluges of rain?

What about the battalion of concierges who accomplish impossible feats? These men and women definitely are some of the best-connected in any city’s top hotels. They’re famous for snagging impossible-to-get reservations at restaurants, tickets for sold-out plays and other cultural events.

For special clients and tokens of appreciation, a definite underground exists. Clients know better than to ask specifics. Instead, they’re appreciative of miracles in the same way a child is when a magician mysteriously pulls a rabbit out of a black satin top hat.

Do you tip him or her as you check into the hotel — or when you’re leaving?

That depends on whether or not you’re a regular. If you are, dollars to doughnuts the concierge will have already reserved a better room than newcomers might receive. Yes, some quarters (not to mention bathrooms) are definitely better than others. Contrary to the photos on the hotel’s site, assume its marketing department knows better than to showcase the worst room and has no compunction when photographers use wide-angle lenses. What may look like a perfectly satisfactory room can be situated so close to the elevator or the storage room that getting an uninterrupted night’s sleep is a challenge.

It’s as if there’s a pipeline among hotel employees as to who’s a good tipper and who’s not. Those who are (amazingly) merit extra service.

Even though the general manager’s office would be unhappy to hear this, my experience has always been that when I ask the housekeeper for an extra washcloth or two and reward her with a bit of pocket money, I don’t need to ask on subsequent days. Being a maid in a hotel invariably is an entry-level, low paying job and what are peanuts to you, can make a difference in that person’s standard of living.

The debate as to when it’s appropriate to leave a few extra coins or bills is ongoing. Don’t take what some guidebooks advise as gospel and use the advice as rules of thumb. There are so many variables.

There’s no right or wrong; there may be recommendations, but consider them precisely that. Nothing is carved in stone and before you know it, there’ll be a new set of rules. And please don’t think that the dollar and the Euro are at parity. If only that were the case. Tip according to the country where you are.

In Paris, for example, tips are included at restaurants — allegedly. Unless the place is a dive and there’s no service, don’t stiff the waiter if you want to return. It’s amazing what great memories service personnel have.

The same is true in other EU countries. But in Italy, Spain and some other countries, there’s a cover charge for just occupying the table and having a roll plunked in front of you. Don’t expect a rebate if you don’t want bread and tell the waiter to take it back to the kitchen. Once you sit down, the table as well as the cover charge are yours.

In this era of the strong Euro and pitifully weak dollar, EU residents are flocking to the US to shop until they drop and to take advantage of the “good” life. Don’t be surprised if you see a notice on menus in multiple languages announcing that service isn’t included.

Restaurant owners and managers are well aware their staff’s take home pay is predicated on tips. Some places will even add a “suggested” tip, as if tourists and business people forget their math skills when leaving home.

When I was last in China, the taxi driver refused a tip because they’re illegal and each cab is equipped with a tiny microphone. When I later traveled to Hong Kong, I tried exiting the cab without tipping.  It’s a miracle my hand wasn’t slapped.

We may not have been speaking the same language but there are times that a shared language isn’t a necessity. It’s amazing what looks can convey. A glare is worth a thousand words and I reached into my wallet as quickly as I could. The idea of being tarred and feathered lacked appeal.

What are some of your hints when it comes to tipping?  Undoubtedly, there are a thousand variations and permutations.

Karen Fawcett is president of Bonjour Paris.

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