Tipping etiquette at luxury hotels... (including what to tip valets).

Get ready, because everybody is expecting gratuities. 

So, it is departure day. The maid, of course, is hoping that if you didn't leave them a $5 bill or so each morning, then this will be the moment your appreciation is expressed for their hard work. And IT IS hard work. They have one of the toughest jobs in the building, probably aren't treated well by management, and probably don't make a whole lot. It's possible also that the bellman swooped in a few times and took tips you left for the maid staff. 

Downstairs, if the concierge provided any services for you, he/she is certainly hopeful of receiving a gratuity.

Typically, the bellman is tipped for bringing your luggage down.

Then the doorman is tipped for moving the luggage from the luggage cart into your car, even if it took only 30 seconds.

Then the valet team certainly expects their tip for bringing the car out.

Yes, it can get expensive.

Even though you may be staying at the very fanciest of hotels, it's possible the valets are paid only the federal tipped minimum wage, which is $2.13 an hour. (This applies in 19 states.) In Pennsylvania, where I worked, the tipped minimum wage is $2.83 per hour. However I was one of the lucky ones. My pay was a dollar more. Still, that's not enough to pay the bills with. The situation is: most valets are poorly paid, and tipping is expected.

People typically tip the valets at the conclusion of their stay. But this approach just isn't savvy.

My recommendation is to give the bulk of the valet tip when you arrive. Make sure a valet gets it, not the doorman. Since not many people do tip valets up-front, this gesture usually is appreciated by them. And this appreciation is shown by valets being extra careful with the car, and parking the car in a better, safer place with more space around it—if they are professional. If the valet is a rookie, they probably won't do anything different.

So the key is to get a seasoned valet or supervisor to park it. One way to inspire that situation is to use my vehicle damage assessment form. You can download it for free. (See it on the side panel.)

Mark down your odometer-reading on the form. Put your gratuity on the dash. Ask the valet to mark down your existing damage on the form and have them initial it. If they are brand new, they will think this is something they are not allowed to do. So they will call over somebody more experienced. The seasoned valet worker will see the tip you left on the dash and say no problem (probably). And then THEY will park it, not the rookie. That's what you want. Get the rookie away from your car.

The money you left on the dash brings influence. It inspires better care. Giving that money only at the end does nothing to influence the type of care your car already received. Smart use of the tip, in this situation, is to tip up-front.

When it is time to leave, as a courtesy, you leave a departure tip. This can be a smaller amount.

Five bucks up-front would be a nice tip. Two dollars as you are leaving is minimally adequate.

Here is how I rank valet tipping:

  • No tip = no class. It's a lousy thing to do. That's just the way it is. Your valet is probably going to be punching-bag-angry.

  • $1 tip. This is a terrible tip. The valet team probably pools their tips, so for the valet team this is a really bad tip that hurts morale.

  • $2 tip. This is what I considered the minimum acceptable tip for valet work.

  • $3 tip. This is appreciated.

  • $4 tip. This is appreciate more.

  • $5 tip. Nice tip.

  • $10 tip. This is lavish.

  • $20 tip. You are making their day.

I actually think the tip should be built into the price of parking, but at most valet parking operations the valets are suckers working for peanuts who are relying on the whims of their customers to make their living.

And a lot of people don't tip, so that's a problem in this business. It impacts worker retention.

With doormen, if they hail a taxi for you, they expect a tip. In my experience, $2 is the minimum expectation. If you summon an Uber ride and cut them out, they probably are going to be annoyed with you if you ask them for directions or advice, since the taxi hailing tip is now out of the picture.

Doormen might be able to let you park it "up-front." Twenty dollars will probably do it.

If they arrange a free ride for you in the house car, they expect a tip. That can be a special favor. You might not want to be cheap here if you ever want to use the house car again. And the driver will certainly be expecting a tip too, even if it is a complimentary amenity.

Commonly, guests tip the doorman for help in unloading their car upon arrival. And the bellman will expect a tip after bringing up your luggage.

Did the doorman hand you a cold bottle of water and towel after your jog? Did they hand you an umbrella to use? Were they aggressive in asking if you required assistance? Did they call you by name? Don't worry about handing out a tip then. But later on when they open the door to your limo or taxi, that would probably be an ideal time to slide them a bill.

Front desk agents probably aren't expecting tips, so it's a really nice surprise when you hand them one. It might even result in a room upgrade.

You people in England might think the tipping culture in the United States is a horrible thing. But that's how it works here, in 2015. (I've read a lot of complaints about tipping from Brits.)

What are your thoughts on tipping? Write a comment below.