Road Worrier: Tipping Tips For The Sophisticated Traveler

By Billy Lee Lewis Originally Published In DRUM! Magazine's April 2008 Issue

As our overburdened van drives away from the warmth and security of our three-night-a-week gig at The Rancid Cork, and our seven-night-a-week appearance at our parent’s houses, our chests grow tight with excitement, possibility, and insufficient cabin space. By nightfall, we’ll have closed the curtain on two never-before-encountered conventions: touring and tipping. Let’s break down tipping throughout the course of a hypothetical day.

Okay, we have to eat. At a buffet-style restaurant, you serve yourself. Many people see this as a way to avoid tipping. Not so. Tables must be bussed, and place settings washed, most often by people making less money than you. A couple of bucks won’t kill you, and multiplied by enough diners, can make a huge difference in the employee’s take-home pay. At a conventional restaurant, 15 percent is appropriate, unless exceptional service, good or bad, merits an addition or subtraction of 5 percent. Before subtracting, however, always consider the nonstop demands of juggling food and drink orders with efficiency and a smile for several tables.

If you’re traveling by air, keep in mind that skycaps (the men and women who take our bags outside the terminal) typically get a dollar per bag, while the folks inside, at the counter, don’t get tipped. After you’ve arrived, you can secure baggage handlers to schlep your stuff from the carousel to the curb. That’s really all you need to know about airports and tipping.

Now, hotels. Typically, when you arrive at a posh hotel your vehicle is swarmed by a daunting number of indoor suntans and cutting-edge hairstyles. These are your bellhops and parking valets. Whatever you do, don’t show your confusion — these guys smell fear, and won’t hesitate to sink their upturned palms into your jittery jugular. Give up your keys to the valet, but save the tip until your vehicle is called for. The bellhops will take your luggage. Again, a buck a bag will ensure your luggage arrives in a safe and timely fashion. If you’re really pressed for time, make that clearly known, and increase the tip accordingly. Once inside the sharply-angled glass walls, smartly furnished with the requisite waterfalls, flower arrangements as big as your apartment, and huge, bold slashes of oil paint on canvas, not much money changes hands. The concierge is there for your assistance; don’t be afraid to call upon their services, such as recommendations for and directions to restaurants, nightclubs, local attractions, and so on. If they comply satisfactorily, they can be slipped a discreet and thankful ten-spot.

A bartender once asked me if I knew the difference between a musician and a canoe. Upon my expression of ignorance, he informed me, “Sometimes a canoe tips.”