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Taking care of those who take care of you

Corporate Class: Tips on tipping

Tipping: Taking care of those who take care of you

Ann Humphries

(CNN) -- Somehow, tipping can become extra-tricky when you're in a business setting. Maybe it's just because it comes out more into the open than we're taught it should be.

Example: You're sharing a cab in a convention city with three colleagues. You reach the conference hall and everyone chips in for the fare. But how much to tip?

Are you on the same wavelength as your colleagues? Are you going to look naive if you ask about it? Just bringing it up has put the subject into the open where we're often programmed to think it doesn't belong -- "OK, that's $8 for each of us plus, what, $1 each for the tip?"

CNN: So we slipped a 10-spot to Ann Humphries, president of ETICON, and asked her to let us in on the business of tipping.

Ann Humphries: I was at a coffee place the other day and saw a sign by a jar near the cash register that said, "Tip Jar -- please support counter intelligence."

That, at least, makes light of something that usually feels more like taking out the trash than anything else -- it has to be done, but it's icky. And yet, I've had jobs in which I relied on tips. My family has been in similar jobs.

graphic How comfortable are you with tipping?

Very. I'm good at it.
Iffy. Sometimes I feel like I get it right but not always.
Bankrupt. I'm really awful at it.
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What's really bad is when it's so aggressive -- tips jars all over the place. In our culture, we cringe at the idea of getting ripped off. And plenty of time, forking over some cash can leave you feeling that way. It seems like trivia to have to worry about who gets $1, who gets $2.

And then, your business trip might take you to a hotel that adds 18 percent for tips, plus a "delivery charge." I don't tip extra when that's going on -- but then I'm left wondering if the worker is being ripped off? Is the hotel just pocketing that money?

Here are some basic guidelines, at least, to help you in a few common business situations.

•   Breakfasts and buffets. Even if it's a self-service meal, you need to tip. If the help is just pouring tea, you still tip. However, this can be 10 percent. Leave something at a buffet, even if it's a small amount -- just not coins.

•   For lunches and dinners, it's at least 15 percent. I like it when they pre-calculate it for you -- on the cost of the meal, that is, not with the tax added in first. They'll often do this for parties of six or more. Although you may feel it's an imposition to ask for separate checks, that may be the best thing with a sizeable group of colleagues.

Consider taking the lead and asking for separate checks -- "and add 17 percent, please." Once you've done that, everyone at the table is being handled individually and you're sure the wait staff is being taken care of, but without sorting it all out over a huge pile of money in the middle of the table.

Be aware that your traveling colleagues may be in some way appraising you on how you tip -- or following your lead. Don't forget airport shuttle drivers, rental car shuttle drivers, private limo drivers.

Don't forget that if you hold a table for more than one serving, you need to double the tip because you're keeping the staff from turning that table.

•   I've always felt awkward handling "naked money," giving it to someone in a public place. But serving people tell me they have no problem with it and are just glad to get it whether it's handed over obviously or surreptitiously. Don't be intimidated by tipping.

•   Build tips into a travel budget. I don't deal in quarters -- you want to use bills, so you need to have those ready.

•   If you get poor service, leaving a bad tip may not be a good option. That's leaving bad for bad and solves nothing. It's better to let people know your displeasure. You may even have to leave the table to find someone to straighten things out.

The best way to get back at bad service is to spread the word.

But at heavy eating times -- when so many business luncheons and dinners happen -- you can't avoid the crush and neither can a wait staff. If you're short on time, ask the waiter what on the menu is quick to get. Tell the waiter you'll take care of him if he'll help you get out quickly.

•   If you're at a bar before a meal, settle up at the bar and tip there before moving to your table.

•   In tallying the tip, don't be shy about looking at the bill carefully, making sure it's properly tabulated, that's OK to do. If you offer to buy the meal and someone says, "I'll get the tip," just get the whole thing and say, "You can buy next time," it's cleaner that way.

•  If you're at a convention and there's a bar with drink tickets, don't forget to tip the bartender, who doesn't get anything in the form of a tip out of a drink ticket.

•   With luggage porters, I go with a dollar a bag, more for very heavy stuff. Put your money right out there with your ticket so they can see it and know you're playing the game, they'll do the job.

•   Valet parking people -- when they bring me the car, I give them a tip, not necessarily when I leave the car with them.

•   Inside a hotel, I really appreciate it if the same person who gets my bags at the curb goes all the way with them to the room -- instead of just leaving them with you at the desk for someone else (or you) to get.

•   With the housecleaning staff at your convention hotel, I put a bill on the TV or pillow, so that it's very conspicuously as a tip. Not on the bureau where they could be accused of taking something not meant for them.

We work for tips, too. Well, the advice kind of tips, anyway. Put a bug into our ears about what you'd like to see addressed in Corporate Class. Just click here to palm off a suggestion on us. And thanks.

•   Be aware that your traveling colleagues may be in some way appraising you on how you tip -- or following your lead. Don't forget airport shuttle drivers, rental car shuttle drivers, private limo drivers. In a limo, you want to tip, even if the company is paying for the car, because it's just good form -- you want people to speak well of you.

•   Professional package delivery people, when something is delivered to you at your hotel? -- don't forget them.

Finally, there's the issue of style. Like anything that looks good on a careerist, being a smooth tipper is impressive. It's great when it's discreet, prepared, seamless.

Good tipping compounds your reputation, you get almost exponential benefits from it. It shows what you are off-camera.

Next week: The many forms of over-familiarity at work.

South Carolina Gov. Jim Hodges has named Ann Humphries, founder and president of ETICON Inc., one of seven South Carolina Women of Achievement. Humphries, who's based in Columbia, is a Certified Professional Consultant to Management. Her clients have included several Fortune 500 companies. She's been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Fortune and Money, and on CNN, CBS and Lifetime TV. You can contact her at



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