Last week, I was talking to a French hotelier who was remembering the good-old days. He was lamenting on the 1960s when his hotel staff worked for wages not tips. But mostly, due to American tourists who insisted on adding gratuities to every bill, the staff now expects it and gets downright surly at times when they don't get their palms crossed with cash.
In fact, some years back, it got so bad, the city of Paris gave out coupon booklets to tourists. If a traveler received exemplary service, he or she could give a coupon from the book to that person, which he or she could cash in for cash.
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But since those days, tipping has really heated up. Tip jars grace the counters of fast-food restaurants and coffee shops. Tips are expected. It's no longer an arbitrary thing subject to the discretion of the guest. Even for poor service, you better cough up 15 percent to 20 percent or you might have an angry waiter chasing you down the street. Which is what happened to Reggie Campbell.
"I had horrible service at a small coffee shop in midtown New York," Campbell said. "The food was cold, the dishes dirty and the waiter surly."
Campbell said he left a 10 percent tip, which he thought was more than adequate. But when he left the restaurant, the waiter went after him and used language and gestures usually reserved for road rage and other angry sports.
It can also be intimidating. When Martha Stevens received a day of beauty and relaxation from her daughter, she found it extremely stressful. Stevens had a massage, manicure and her hair cut and styled. When she was finished, she spent the next 15 minutes trying to find all the people who waited on her so she could tip them. She said she had a migraine all evening after the experience.
And it gets more confusing when you travel overseas. In some countries, waiters expect tips. In other countries it's included in the price of the meal.
Here are some general rules to follow:
• At airports, tipping $1 for each piece of luggage checked at curbside is good insurance. Skip it and you may find yourself at baggage claim not left holding the bag. When Bob Bond checked his bag at Kennedy International Airport in New York, he had nothing smaller than a $20 bill. So he took a chance. He went to London. His bag didn't. It was still waiting for him in New York on his return.
• Check out local customs before you travel. In some countries, such as China, a waiter considers a tip an insult. In many European countries, service is included in the bill, but guests often add a few euros for extra good service. Know the rules before you go. Websites, such as www.tripadviser.com, offer real examples shared by recent visitors on what to expect in many destinations.
• On airplanes, you've already added service with all the hidden costs you paid through baggage charges and other taxes. And it would be pretty unusual to have outstanding service with the way most amenities have been removed from flights. Besides, airline employees are told to refuse all gratuities unless it becomes a standoff and they fear for their lives by not accepting the gift.
While the Paris hotelier may long for the good-old days when good service was expected and paid for by the boss, don't expect it to return soon. While all-inclusive is a great idea that makes travel much less stressful, it will never fly completely.
• Gail Todd, a freelance writer, worked as a flight attendant for more than 30 years. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.