by Louise M. Felsher, CMP, CMM | July 01, 2007

Gratuities can be a source of anxiety and confusion for even the most experienced meeting planners. They might not be sure why they need to tip when they are paying service charges. They might not know who in a facility or in their supplier chain should receive gratuities. And, of course, there are always questions about how much to tip or even if cash is appropriate. Following are some guidelines to help alleviate these doubts and concerns.

Who’s earned it

In simple terms, gratuities are special thank-yous for specific individuals. You can give a tip to whomever you wish and to anyone who has helped to make your event a success. It is customary to give cash gratuities to hourly employees, such as housekeepers, banquet staff and bell staff, as well as phone operators and valets. For more senior staff, such as a convention services manager, it is customary to give personal gifts, such as tickets to a show or a gift card.

How much

Tips are a very personal determination, and there are many variables. In addition to overall service, take into consideration the size of the group, the length and complexity of the event, and the destination (tipping norms may vary outside the United States; check with local contacts, national tourist boards or convention bureaus to determine local tipping customs; also check out

Although it’s tempting to tip from your “slush fund,” gratuities should be entered as a line item on your budget. Gratuities typically are not fixed costs; they are flexible and need to be scaled accordingly if your event changes in size or complexity. How do you figure out how much to put in your budget? Use past events to help gauge, or calculate 3 to 5 percent of total event spend and integrate it into your budget.

Note: Planners often assume they are paying a gratuity when they pay a service charge, or “plus-plus” rates. The service charge is a surcharge that is shared among the workers in a certain department or venue. Gratuities are above and beyond the “plus-plus” pricing. A gratuity is therefore the third plus and should not be doled out as an obligation but presented as an expression of appreciation for exceptional service.

Keep in mind that many resorts today include housekeeping and porterage charges in a resort fee tacked on to the room rate. If you pay these fees, you don’t need to tip again unless you feel inspired to reward service that really stands out.

When to give

The best time to distribute gratuities depends on the particular department or service. For example:

* Housekeeping staff generally appreciate having their room gratuities presented daily. You also can choose to give a lump sum to the housekeeping manager at the end of your event with a note detailing the dates and rooms that were serviced, and let him or her distribute them.

* Banquet and convention services staff should be tipped at the end of the event.

* It is also perfectly acceptable to give the gift or cash after the post-conference meeting takes place.

Final word

Gratuities are not mandatory. The world will not come to an end if you fail to provide them, but there are many reasons to consider them. In many meeting venues, staff in areas such as food service and housekeeping are dependent on gratuities to survive. It is in poor taste to opt out of these particular gratuities, unless, of course, there is an issue with service. If you do feel there is good reason to withhold your gratuity, at least take the time to explain why in person or on a feedback card.

Louise M. Felsher, CMP, CMM, is senior event operations manager with George P. Johnson Experience Marketing in San Carlos, Calif.