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Hold On to Your Cash

This summer, Grand Bay Hotels & Resorts, a new Dallas-based luxury hotel chain incorporating Grand Bay Hotels and Carefree Resorts, announced a policy of no tipping. During the next few months, all the company's properties will add a daily surcharge-- $15 on average-- to cover bellhops, housekeepers, concierges, and other staff. Restaurants, bars, and room service aren't included.

A number of independent hotels already impose service charges, but Grand Bay is the first company to try it chain-wide (among its eight properties: the Boulders in Arizona; the Peaks at Telluride, in Colorado; and, in California, the Golden Door Spa and Carmel Valley Ranch). The policy raises some questions: Is this the future?And who benefits-- the guests, the employees, the hotel?

According to Grand Bay senior vice president Mike Surguines, a series of focus groups conducted with past customers and other luxury-resort clients found that tipping was perceived as a hassle. Since this jibed with Surguines's experience ("On one trip," he says, "I tipped six people between arriving and getting into my room"), the chain decided to go with the no-tipping policy.

But does a daily surcharge accomplish the fundamental objective of tipping-- to provide an incentive for continued good work?Ken Humes, general manager of the Peaks at Telluride, thinks it does. He says that employees are well compensated for the loss of tips. Humes instituted the no-tipping policy at both the Boulders and the Peaks when they were part of Carefree. Before it took effect, staff members were asked how much they generally received in gratuities. The figure was at first quite low. After being told that their answers would be the basis for the new policy, however, they remembered getting a good deal more than they had originally reported. Carefree then came up with a surcharge that at least matched what staffers had received before.

These days the Grand Bay staff's mantra is "high occupancy." The more guests, the richer the weekly reward pool. For Guillermo Peralta, a former doorman at the Peaks, the extra money equaled as much as 75 percent of his salary: in high season he earned $750 a week from the service charge alone. But Joanne Reiss, a concierge at the Boulders, views it differently. "When it's high season at top capacity with seasoned [read: wealthy] guests, we'd get more if the surcharge system weren't in place," she says. "But it evens out over the rest of the year."

Grand Bay says all guests are informed of the surcharge when they make their reservations and again upon checking in; if they still wish to tip individual employees, they are welcome to do so. Humes says it is "incredibly rare" that Peaks guests are unhappy with the service they've received, but adds that if a guest insists, the hotel will immediately remove the surcharge from the bill.

New York social worker Whitney Wright recently returned from a wedding held at a historic hotel (not a Grand Bay property) in the Berkshires. Departing, Wright left a housekeeping tip in the room, then was surprised to see a $14 daily service charge on her bill that had never been explained.

"It takes the joy out of tipping," she says. "I'm offended when I don't have the choice. Then it's not a tip, it's a tax. Maybe someone at the hotel should look up tip in the dictionary."

Mind Your Tipping Manners
Lingering bellhops, expectant room-service waiters, valet parking attendants who won't let go of your car keys-- they're all waiting for their tips. The trouble is that many travelers find these scenarios awkward or even embarrassing.

Letitia Baldrige is an expert on etiquette and the editor of Executive Advantage, a monthly newsletter on travel manners. Tipping, she says, "is the foggiest, most misunderstood subject in the world." Baldrige is particularly fond of traveling in countries, such as Switzerland, where everything is put on the bill and a guest rarely or never has to tip. Introducing service surcharges here in the United States, she believes, is a fine idea-- except that "many room-service waiters tell me they're not getting their fair share." Baldrige, who spends a lot of time in hotels, considers herself "a generous tipper."

Here's who, and how much, she tips:

  • Valet parking attendant: $3
  • Doorman: $1 for opening a door; $2 for hailing a cab; $5-$10 for hailing a cab in foul weather
  • Bellhop: $5 for carrying one suitcase; $10-$15 for more
  • Room-service waiter: $2 for breakfast; 20 percent of the check for other meals
  • Laundry delivery: $3-$5
  • Housekeeping: $2 a day
  • Package delivered to room: $2
  • Concierge: $10-$30, depending on the nature of services, such as changing airline reservations, booking theater tickets, or arranging car rentals.
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