Hotels are adding the tip to the bill Gratuities: Increasingly, the room-service charge includes 15 to 18 percent for the server.

July 07, 1996|By Christopher Reynolds | Christopher Reynolds,LOS ANGELES TIMES

Tipping is never simple. And the closer you look, the more complicated it gets.

Consider, for instance, the room-service breakfast I ordered early this month at the Fifth Avenue Suites Hotel in Portland, Ore. The food came on time, the waiter was unfailingly polite. About a 15 percent to 18 percent tip, I figured. And sure enough, there on the penultimate line on my bill, someone else had already decided that I'd be tipping 18 percent.

A small-print note on the room-service menu explained that anyone who orders room service will be charged that amount automatically -- a practice that presumes all service to be above average and all guests to be fairly generous. Throughout the lodging industry, room-service operations have been adopting this practice in recent years, saying it simplifies life for guests and gives servers a more stable income.

John Bowen, associate professor of marketing at the University of Nevada College of Hotel Administration in Las Vegas, traces the trend to the growth of vacation-package resorts (where all-inclusive programs can confuse guests on the tipping question) and notes that since tax-law changes on gratuities in the 1980s, the built-in tip of 15 percent to 18 percent "is moving into regular commercial [hotel] properties."

Perhaps because of mixed feelings within the industry, Bowen says, the trend has spread relatively slowly. He guesses that among properties rated at three stars or more (roughly $80 a night and up), half to two-thirds of room-service operations now have built-in gratuities. Others put the figure even higher.

At Hilton-managed hotels, spokeswoman Kendra Walker says general managers have free rein to impose or reject the idea. Thus the New York Hilton and Towers has an automatic-tip room-service policy while the Waldorf-Astoria does not.

Still, questions over the automatic service charge remain. What if the service is slow, or otherwise subpar, and I don't want to pay 18 percent?

Despite the proliferation of the built-in service fee, I've never seen any hotel literature that allows for the possibility of not paying it. But the general manager of the Fifth Avenue Suites, Craig Thompson, says that an unsatisfied guest should feel free to overrule the automatic gratuity. And if a guest does that, XTC Thompson said, his servers have orders to comp the guest's entire meal. So travelers who love confrontation have a chance ++ for a free meal, while the noncombative masses quietly submit.

Here are some other updates from the mysterious world of gratuities, and those who receive them. Tourism industry insiders say this advice generally holds true in the United States, Canada and Mexico.

The maid: Many hotel guests forget to tip their maids, although maids may have the most unpleasant job at the hotel and the lowest pay. If your room is well maintained, authorities say, it's reasonable to leave $1 or $2 per night.

The cabbie: Generally, taxi drivers expect 10 percent to 15 percent if they give good service, rounding to the nearest dollar. In Mexico, however, most taxi drivers don't expect tips, but most gas station attendants do.

The concierge: This has always been a sort of Rorschach test with cash, and by gallantly insisting that they expect nothing but a word of thanks, most concierges offer little help to would-be tippers. Under intense questioning, however, a pair of veteran concierges acknowledged that $2 to $3 is a reasonable tip for making a dinner reservation or confirming flights, which are probably the most common tasks for the concierge.

Pub date: 7/07/96

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