Luxury hotels are crowded these days. And we aren't referring to sky-high occupancy rates or lobbies full of guests. We're talking about the explosion of hotel service people, each one more specialized than the next.
Where once travelers were looked after by a simple roster of bellhops, concierges and chambermaids, now there are pool attendants and ski concierges, personal shoppers and fitness coaches, not to mention butlers galore. Personal butlers, bath butlers, technology butlers, romance butlers, fireplace butlers and tanning butlers. Louis XIV never had it so good.
For the most part, there is no additional charge for these new services--all are included in the hotel room rates. But they certainly make the fine art of tipping more difficult to master.
"There are so many specialized hotel employees now that knowing who to tip, and how much, requires a graduate degree in hotel tipping," says Bjorn Hanson, hotel consultant with PriceWaterhousecoopers in New York City. That, or a calculator, some scratch paper and a hotel labor chart.
To spare you the math, and those awkward moments spent pawing for a bill--any bill--we have compiled a comprehensive luxury travel tipping guide. We picked 14 hotel service roles, from common ones like the bellman to the valet parking attendant to some newer and more exotic roles. Then we polled hospitality industry consultants and service people to ascertain what each person should: a) do for you, and b) get in return.
In doing so, we learned much more than we ever wanted to about what goes into cleaning a hotel room. Lesson one: Don't forget the chambermaid.
"Some of these ladies have so much pride in what they do," says Michael Tuesca, concierge at The Ritz-Carlton, South Beach, in Miami (See: "South Beach Style"). "I've seen housekeepers return $10,000 Rolex watches covered in diamonds. They work for their money. They clean 12 rooms a day. And you never even see them, but you come back to a clean hotel room with music playing."
Tuesca advises leaving a few dollars per night, depending on the size of the room and how much work is involved in cleaning it. Leave the tip daily; housekeepers may change from one day to the next. And hand it over in person, if possible--it means more.
Lesson two: The bath butler, available in a select few hotels to draw an elegant bath, lays out decadent snacks and lights some candles, is usually just a member of the room service department. Tip accordingly, at 15% to 20%.
For the ubiquitous hotel doormen, a good rule is $1 to $2 per favor, whether that's a flagged cab or a quick city orientation.
"You're a public servant, especially with directions," says Josh Sobul, who spent 18 years as a doorman at two of Chicago's biggest hotels and is now the doorman supervisor at The St. Regis, Aspen, a top resort in Colorado (see: "Peak Experience"). "The hardest thing is keeping traffic flowing. Checking people in at the same time--it keeps you moving. I was happy if I got $2 per cab."
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A clean bathtub or quick cab is easier to quantify (and get) than a perfect dinner recommendation from the concierge, or last-minute tickets to the hottest show in town. When thanking a butler or hotel concierge, your options are to tip after each service provided, between $5 and $10 each time, or in a lump sum at the end of a stay. For a two-day stay in which you received particularly good service, anywhere between $50 and $200 would be generous. Which brings us to another lesson: There's lots of room for judgment.
"One should tip according to how valuable one feels the service was, but also according to one's own concept of money," says Steven Ferry, graduate of the vaunted Ivor Spencer International School for Butler Administrators in London, a private butler for 16 years and current chairman of the International Institute of Modern Butlers, based in Clearwater, Fla. In one Pennsylvania hotel, "I've seen a butler carry the bags from elevator to the guest suite and receive a $300 tip," he says.
If that sounds outrageous, remember this: If you're staying in a hotel that hires a butler just to bring your bags to your room, you can probably afford to tip according to the basic guidelines we've assembled. And if you can't, remember that there are other ways to reward people for their help--a note to the general manager, for example, complimenting the service you received.
To avoid over-tipping, check the hotel room rates before you arrive for "resort fees," a 15% to 20% charge levied each night against the room rate. These fees are meant to cover the gratuity for everyone you encounter on-property, and render tipping unnecessary. At all-inclusive resorts, like Blackberry Farm in Walland, Tenn. (see: "Blackberry Bliss"), employees are generally discouraged from accepting guest tips, but will do so if pressed. (Blackberry Farm has a three-try rule. An employee may accept a gratuity on the third attempt.)
Finally, everyone we spoke to insisted that guests receive the same service, with or without a tip. But to recognize an employee who went above and beyond to make your stay more comfortable, and who is probably working on a meager hourly wage, follow these general tipping tips.
© 2012 Forbes.com