If a tip is meant to inspire service, then why do we tip after the work is done?Why, for instance, can't we give the waitress a couple of bills before we order the meat loaf?
The answer: We can. Many business travelers and repeat customers proffer an advance gratuity known as the power tip. It's done not for the usual reasons—habit, fear of confrontation, a sense of obligation—but to accomplish something.
I learned how to power tip by accident. A couple of jobs ago, I worked half the time out of my home in New Hampshire, spending two weeks of every month in North Carolina and flying home for the weekends. I used a duffel bag that was too large to carry on. Checking it in tiny Lebanon, N.H., was no problem. But the lines were long in busy Greensboro; I came to rely on curbside check-in.
In the early days of my 1,000-mile commute, I tipped the skycap a fiver, figuring my duffel was more than twice the size of a regular bag. (The normal tip for each piece of luggage is $2.) One time, though, I was running late and yanked a bill out of my wallet without looking. Just as I handed it over, I noticed it was a ten.
"Thank you, sir!" exclaimed the skycap, who metamorphosed into a modern version of a 1950s gas station attendant, bursting with smiling bonhomie. I couldn't bear to ask for change.
The next week, running late as usual, I pulled my rental car to the curb at the airport and saw two people dashing for the curbside counter, where the line was already five deep. Keeping the engine running, I ran around to the trunk and tugged at my duffel. Suddenly a hand reached in and grabbed the handle: my skycap. He processed me while the other passengers watched, bug-eyed, and so of course I slipped him another ten.
From then on the big tip and the big-shot treatment became our little ritual, and I never stood in line in Greensboro again. Sure, it cost me, but the only other way to get that kind of service from an airline would be to achieve frequent flier Nirvana Level, which takes about a billion miles of flying.
And just how does power tipping differ from bribery? It differs hugely: For one thing, power tipping is legal and bribery is not. And for another thing . . . give me some time and I'll think of another difference.
Tips On Tipping
You've just arrived at the Hotel De Luxe and now the panic sets in: Do you tip each helpful staff member you encounter? If so, how much? According to a study by Michael Lynn, an associate professor at Cornell's School of Hotel Administration, one of the functions of tipping may actually be "to reduce people's anxieties about being served by strangers." Tame tipping stress with this guide drawn from a survey of travel industry sources. Remember, though, tipping is always at your discretion.
Front desk— Changing money; mail and messages — No tipping required unless the front desk also acts as concierge
Concierge— Touring advice; special services like restaurant reservations and theater tickets — $5 minimum for special service; more for particularly tough assignments like securing tickets to a sold-out show
Doorman— Hailing taxis; helping with bags — $1 and up
Bell desk— Handling luggage; running small errands like getting newspaper — $1 and up per suitcase; $1 and up per errand
Business center— Computer; fax; photocopies; courier — No tipping; typically run on a fee-for-service basis
Housekeeping— Cleaning; in-room supplies and special items, like irons — $1 - $3 per day; $1 and up for delivery of a special item
Food and beverage— Room service — 15% - 20% of check if service is not already included
Illustration by Tim Carroll
This article was first published in January 2001. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.