November 9, 2000 -- Want to make an otherwise confident business traveler squirm? Just ask about tipping.
"No one is comfortable with tipping," suggests Thomas Kinhaven, who has managed swanky hotels in Chicago, Dallas, New York and Hawaii. "Every business traveler feels they need to know more. Everyone feels they don't know the local rules."
With the notable exception of Japan, where the practice is still rare and actively discouraged, tipping is a staple of worldwide business travel. But the hows, whys--and, especially, how much--of tipping is a matter of endless speculation and conjecture.
Here is a quick guide to tipping practices in the United States. You'd also do worse than consulting The Original Tipping Page at Tipping.org, an unofficial, but extremely useful, guide to the topic. (Traveling overseas? Consult a good guide such as Frommer's or Fodor's. Both offer generally good advice on local tipping practices.)
The commonly accepted rule of thumb is about 20 percent on checks under $10 (and never less than a dollar on tabs under $5) and 15 percent on larger checks. In cities such as New York and Los Angeles, however, consider tipping 20 percent. And the larger the dining party, the larger the tip you should leave. If you want to be remembered by the service staff on a future visit, tip big and leave it in cash. In most restaurants, tips are usually pooled, so leaving a separate gratuity for the maitre d' or sommelier is no longer required. However, if either performed a special service, tip according to how you value their contribution to your meal.
Bellman usually receive $1-$2 a bag. For routine requests, the concierge staff rarely expects a tip. But if you need special help--reservations at sold-out restaurants, sporting or cultural events--tip accordingly. If you expect to call on the concierge regularly during your visit, introduce yourself when you check in, leave an appropriate tip on the spot (and at least $20), and thank them in advance for their help. Tip the room-service waiter only if a service charge hasn't already been added to your bill. Don't tip a doorman if his only assistance is opening or closing the door, but a gratuity of $1 is appropriate if he secures you a cab. Valet parking attendants generally receive $1-$2 when they retrieve your car.
One final thought about hotels: tip the chambermaids. They work extremely hard and often earn only the minimum wage. At smaller hotels and in small cities, $2 a day left on the pillow of your bed will go a long way. In big cities or swanky resorts, consider leaving $5 a day.
A skycap at your departure gate can be your best ally, checking you in for a flight, checking your bags and possibly even getting you a boarding pass without waiting in line. Tip at least $5, and more if you're checked several bags or if he's helped you circumvent lines during extremely busy periods. If he only checks your bag, $1 for each piece should suffice. If you use a skycap at baggage claim, $1 a bag will do.
Ten to 15 percent of the fare on the meter is standard in most of the nation. But in large, Eastern cities, where taxis are a way of life, cabbies expect at least 15 to 20 percent.