By Jill Krasny
June 25, 2019

Ask most travelers what they leave for room service, and chances are you’ll be met with a blank stare. The fact is, most of us don’t know! Tipping is hard! And, uh, do you happen to do it?

“It’s the most awkward thing to tell someone what to tip because [expectations are] so different everywhere,” says Julie Danziger, managing partner of Embark Beyond Travel in New York City. “Especially for Americans who are used to tipping in one way, which other countries might take as an insult.”

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Fortunately, there are some guidelines, say the travel experts we spoke with. Keep reading for their advice, which you can apply at home and abroad. And try not to stress — we’ve all gotten it wrong at some point. (Editor’s Note: Though these tips may be helpful, they’re not hard and fast rules, so do what makes you most comfortable and don’t be afraid to ask your host or travel advisor for guidance.)

At a Top-Tier Hotel

Booked a room at the Ritz? Then expect to pay a service charge and gratuity, says Danziger, who rarely sees such fees omitted from bills. If you’re unsure whether your hotel has them, just ask. And if you’re paying with a card, as many travelers are likely to do, find out if tip is included, says Betty Jo Currie, founder of Currie & Co. Travels Unlimited in Atlanta. If not, you may decide to leave a little cash. “I generally leave $5 or so,” she says, noting how little these workers are compensated.

Danziger finds applying the same mentality she uses when dining at American restaurants to be helpful. “As Americans, usually we’re trained to double the tax or pay 18 or 20 percent on top,” she says. Assuming the food came from the hotel, it should be fine to do the same for room service. (If it didn’t, you can pretend it did, Danziger says.)

For those staying abroad, where tipping customs may not be as clearcut, do your homework, says Lizzie Post, co-president of the Emily Post Institute in Burlington, Vermont. “Take the time to look up standards for the area,” she says. And remember, just because there’s a service charge and gratuity included doesn’t mean the person who brought up your food will receive it. “Ask whether the person is receiving tips from the actual bill.”

At Chic Boutiques and Beyond

Post stresses tipping is a personal decision, but warns against tipping based on the type of establishment you’re staying in. “You want to make sure workers feel valued for the work they’re doing,” she says. “If it’s not as high class, don’t decrease your tip because of that.”

However, some boutique hotels, at least in the States, don’t usually have restaurants, says Danziger. So you can tip as if they did have one. “It’s not expected, but people usually appreciate it,” she says.

Currie agrees. “Logically, one would think motels would provide less service and thus require less in terms of tips,” she says. But anytime service is provided, she thinks of the person she’s tipping — you know, the one ferrying her burger up to her room at one in the morning. “If the service is good, my amount wouldn’t change — and I urge others to think the same way.”  

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