The tipping point: How to ace the gratuities game

To tip or not to tip? You’ve probably faced this dilemma while travelling, as there are no fixed rules. And yet there are many unwritten ones that can be a minefield to negotiate. Our guide to tipping could tip the scales of service in your favour.

tips, tipping, gratuities
Tips are not mandatory, but expected. They not only get you better service, but are a good way to build rapport with a team. This is very helpful in being remembered if you are a repeat guest. Image: Shutterstock/Pressmaster.

It was intermission during the Mamma Mia musical at a beautiful theatre on Broadway and I had just bought a soda. ‘Put your tip in here,’ the woman at the bar said, quite aggressively, gesturing at big, glass jar. I was planning to tip her anyway but bristled a bit at her tone. Fortunately for me, she was the only rude New Yorker I encountered throughout my entire stay.

Speaking of stereotypes, in hindsight, I realised she had bought into the one about Indians being bad tippers. While not all of us are stingy, there’s certainly a base for the stereotype. On a coach tour across Europe, the kind big family groups go on together, I was witness to the ‘tip dance’ people engaged in. A double-decker coach, with 80 people on board. The captain driving for several hours daily, but also doubling up duties to load and unload everyone’s luggage at the start and end of every day. And cleaning the coach from top to bottom, getting rid of the spilled farsaan (snacks) that passengers had spilt all day. A nightmare job, if ever there was one. And, definitely deserving of a good reward for his services. Towards the end of the trip, the tour manager suggested that we all contribute one Euro per person per day as a tip. People who were ready to spend hundreds of Euro on shopping, at first flatly refused to pay. And then, after a lot cajoling, finally gave in but begrudged the guy that miniscule amount.

A lot of Indians don’t see the point of tipping. They are used to squeezing maximum service from underpaid underlings at home and look at any service provider and service as their personal fiefdom. You’ll always hear the argument that they’re being paid a salary to fulfill their tasks already, so why do they deserve a tip.

The fact is, most establishments factor in tips when they’re hiring for a customer-facing position, be it waitstaff in a restaurant or the bell desk in a hotel. Tipping is not only for when you’re happy with someone’s service, but also expected by people who wait on you.

tips, tipping, gratuities
Sometimes it’s confusing whether to tip someone or not. Especially because with hospitality getting more new age and boutique, everyone dresses well, comports themselves elegantly, and presents themselves as more of a friend to the guest. But even in such cases, you could either offer a larger cash tip or get them a small and appropriate gift if they’ve been efficient and helpful throughout your stay. Image: Shutterstock/Chadchai Krisadapong.

Here are some tipping tips for you…

Whom to tip: Restaurant waitstaff are a given. Bartenders and sommeliers too, can be tipped. Chauffeurs, washroom attendants, doormen, bell boys, private butlers, hair stylists, manicurists, gym and spa staff, yes. Les Clefs d’Or (golden key) concierges, managers, chefs, no. Unless it’s a king’s ransom you’re offering for some really, really outstanding work.

How much to tip: The customary 10 per cent of the amount of a restaurant bill can suffice in India. Many restaurants now add a nominal service charge to their bills, but it’s always nice to add some more to make it a respectable amount. In some places, the US, for example, 15 per cent is expected and 20 per cent could win you a smile. In circumstances where a person has attended to you personally, like handing you a clean napkin in the washroom or bringing you items from the buffet, you’ll need to benchmark the amount against the grade of the establishment, the amount of work put into the service rendered, and the general trend of the location you’re in.

How to tip: It’s easy in a restaurant or with room service; all you need to do is put the requisite amount into the docket. At other places, you’ll need to hand it over to the person you’re tipping. The best way to do this is discreetly. Don’t flash notes, don’t tip coins or coupons! Fold the note in half and offer it without any major flourishes with a polite smile and a ‘thank you’ with eye contact. Don’t leave money for the cleaning staff on the desk or bed of your hotel room. If you must, put it into an envelope and add a small thank you message so it’s clear that you haven’t forgotten the money by mistake.

tips, tipping, gratuities
Leaving cash like this is a big no-no. The housekeeping staff you intended it for may not get to keep it as it may have to be reported to the lost & found department. Besides, it is also a bit disrespectful to the individuals you’re leaving it for. Image: Shutterstock/Vladeep.

When to tip: If you’re checking in to a hotel for the first time, it’s always good to tip early in your stay. Find out who is assigned to your room or suite or floor, note the person’s name, and offer a tip with appreciation for something they did for you. This will ensure you get better attention and service for the duration of your stay.

Do your research: If you’re travelling to a new country, find out their tipping practices beforehand. Travel forums, Facebook groups on travel to that country, all of these can get you real-time responses that you can be guided by.

Don’t get bullied: Some establishments now have a ‘no tipping’ policy and encourage you to put money into a tip box, so even the back-office staff and behind-the-scenes people can get a bit of the baksheesh. But in others, where gratuities are par for the course, you might feel pressured to tip individuals. In such places, you suddenly see more members of the team on the last day of your stay than you ever did in all the time you were there! There’s a veritable parade of people ‘taking care of you’ in the very obvious hope of a quid pro quo, with the emphasis on ‘quid’. Unless you want to tip them all, you’ll have to be firm and pick the ones who actually did the work.

tips, tipping, gratuities
This is an equitable way for everyone to get their fair share of rewards for good service and helps to raise the overall morale and standard of an establishment. Image: Shutterstock/SergeyPerm73.

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