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.
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 www.tipping.org).
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
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
* It is also perfectly
acceptable to give the gift or cash after the post-conference
meeting takes place.
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
Louise M. Felsher, CMP, CMM, is senior event operations
manager with George P. Johnson Experience Marketing in San Carlos,