In some hospitality arenas, tipping is rather straightforward. Everyone knows that 15 percent is customary at restaurants, and when your taxi or Uber drops you off without incident, throwing them a few bucks is pretty standard. But if you’ve ever thought about how to leave a tip at a hotel, you are not alone.
The rules of hotel tipping are ill-defined at best and nonexistent at worst. When you order room service, it’s a no-brainer to tip the person who delivers it. But what about the concierge? The bellhop? Front desk workers or valet? You don’t have a waiter at a continental breakfast, but what about the people who stock the buffet, and clean up? If you do decide to pull out the wallet, how much is enough, or too much?
No universal rules exist for tipping in hotels, but there are some best practices frequent travelers should probably know about. We spoke to experts from across the hospitality industry for the inside scoop. From which staff to tip to when, how much, and whether it really makes a difference, this is everything you should know about tipping at hotels.
How to leave a tip at a hotel
Hotels aren’t like restaurants, where you pretty much only interact with one person: your waiter. In the course of a brief hotel stay, you could easily cross paths with a dozen workers in a variety of roles, from the front desk to housekeeping and concierge services.
Brooke Bergen, a former front desk associate at a five-star hotel, advises tipping anyone in a non-managerial role, “including waiters, valet, bellhops, bar and restaurant staff, front desk staff, concierge, and housekeeping.”
When it comes to the continental breakfast, the rules are a little hazier.
“It is not customary to tip at a continental breakfast that is served buffet-style,” Bergen says. “It is customary and appreciated to tip during breakfast when there is a server who takes your order or serves coffee and juice.”
Eva Keller, another former front desk associate, takes a different view. “I would leave a tip of $5 or less for the attendants that go around and wipe off the tables after each guest,” she says. “If there is no one there doing that, don’t feel obligated to leave anything.”
The more touch points you have with a particular staff member, the more appropriate it would be to tip. Concierges, for example, might be an integral part of both your hotel stay and vacation experience, and tipping is certainly expected. But how often?
“If you’re going to a concierge to help make your arrangements every single day,” Keller says, “then you should tip them each time. But if you go once to knock out all the big things and check up on little things throughout your stay, then I would tip only once. Keep in mind, many services that concierge assists with, like booking rides or entertainment, they generally earn a commission for already.”
According to Bergen, “Most guests prefer to tip out the concierge every time they use their services, while others prefer to leave a larger tip, all at the end of their stay. Either is appropriate.”
How much to tip at a hotel
If you’re looking for one industry-standard number to guide your hotel tipping habits (like 15 percent for restaurants), you won’t find it. Instead, it depends on who you’re tipping, what they’re providing, and even where you’re staying.
“The standard tipping amount varies widely based on the quality of the hotel,” says Bergen. “For example, a $5 or $10 tip for a one-night stay at a two or three-star chain hotel is not unusual, but a five-star Hotel guest will usually tip $20 or more.”
Conventional wisdom, however, seems to suggest that $10 is the upper limit for most tipping situations.
“For a bellhop or breakfast attendant, anything in the $5 to $10 range is appropriate,” Keller says. “For housekeeping, you want to tip $1 per occupant per night. Always feel welcome to tip more though when you feel like you want to.”
Jenny Preece, sales manager for Hilton Hotels, says tips are never expected at hotels as a matter of course, though you should always tip staff who you feel has improved the quality of your stay. “It doesn’t need to be a large tip,” she says. $5 or under is fine.
So, when should that wallet come out? Some suggest it’s better to tip at the start of your stay, to encourage attentive service, while others may advise waiting until the end, to be sure the service was actually worthy of a tip.
“I recommend tipping at the completion of the service provided,” Keller says. “For a bellhop, I wouldn’t hand them a tip as they’re taking bags out of my car. I would hand them the tip once the bags were delivered to my room. Same with breakfast attendants. I wouldn’t go to breakfast and hand them a tip in advance. I would leave it on the table when I am finished. For housekeeping, I recommend leaving a tip each day that you receive service because you’re not necessarily getting the same housekeeper each time.”
Bergen, however, favors leading with a tip to ensure good treatment.
“For valet, bellmen, front desk and concierge, it is most effective to tip at the beginning of your stay, or as services are requested, for the best likelihood of receiving preferential service.”
Why should you tip?
According to Bashar Wali, Founder and CEO of hotel management company Practice Hospitality, tipping is a tangible form of personal acknowledgment. It serves the double purpose of giving hotel staff deserved recognition and making yourself stand out in their eyes.
“Tipping is not just about the money,” he says, “it’s about being seen. Valued.”
The jury’s still out, however, on whether tipping actually garners better service. Technically, staff should provide the same level of service regardless of whether you put an extra $5 in their pockets, though it certainly makes sense that a tipping customer might enjoy a slight edge.
“A well-respected five-star hotel should provide exceptional service without expectation of tipping,” says Bergen. “Though nothing is ever guaranteed, a nice tip goes a long way to ensure the staff goes above and beyond to make your stay an extraordinary one.”
According to Keller, it all comes down to whether the tip feels like a bribe and the attitude with which it is given.
“If someone is trying to play the system and bribe me to upgrade them or give them something for free, then no, I do not go out of my way to provide better service for those guests,” she says. “Same if they keep flaunting around cash and keep demanding more and more. The guests I make genuine connections with are the ones that I provide service above my pay grade.”
Which hotels you should tip at
Just as tipping protocol varies by role and situation, it also varies by hotel. As guest services are more comprehensive and specialized in luxury hotels, tipping is more of an expectation.
“In general, tips are less frequent at budget properties than at a five-star property,” Bergen says. “To be frank, if you’re paying over $600 a night for a room, it’s a bad look to stiff the housekeeping staff that works so hard to keep your room spotless!”
In Keller’s mid-range hotel, tipping rules were more ambiguous, and tips certainly were not expected. “The vast majority of guests never tipped anybody at all,” she says. “Every once in a while someone would tip front desk or breakfast attendants when extra assistance was provided, but it was pretty rare. In more upscale hotels, more services are provided that are usually tipped.”