Has travel tipping gotten out of hand?
Consultant Keith Anderson of Atlanta thinks so. "I'm 51 years old and I grew up when it was pretty black and white who you tipped. It's grayed tremendously in the last decade or so."
Nowadays, it seems everyone has his or her hand or tip jar out, travelers say, and tipping guidelines can be 50 shades — or more — of gray.
A July USA TODAY online travel survey drew 4,700 respondents, with 79% saying "too many people expect something extra." Seventeen percent said "hard-working people deserve tips," while 4% said they never or rarely tip.
"The rage you encounter over tipping is incredible," says Steve Dublanica, a former waiter and author of Keep the Change: A Clueless Tipper's Quest to Become the Guru of the Gratuity. What to give whom causes confusion, guilt and anger that is heightened by what he calls "tip creep" — the expanding number of workers seeking extra bucks for their services. He even saw a tip jar at a newsstand in a Pennsylvania mall.
Anderson, who also has worked in the service industry, is not averse to laying down 20% for a competent server or a couple of dollars daily for a hotel housekeeper. But now "I see people tipping stewards and stewardesses," he says. "I don't know if it's unsophisticated fliers or what." (Veteran flight attendant Sara Keagle, author of theflyingpinto.com blog, confirms that "passengers try to tip on occasion. Flight attendants are generally not allowed to accept gratuities, but if the passenger insists, then it is OK to accept" to avoid a scene or embarrassment.)
Retiree Phil Matthews of Goodyear, Ariz., is one of many USA TODAY survey respondents who say that in days past, "tipping was for service beyond minimal. The greater the effort, the greater the tip. Now, even terrible service expects a tip. It's more people expecting tips, and people you used to tip expecting more."
Anyone who has drawn glares from an inattentive server for daring to leave 5% can relate, as can those who travel light and play tug-of-war with roll-aboards with bill-seeking bellmen. Consider some tipping trends:
•More U.S. restaurants include a service charge, even for small parties. The stated reason may be so that international visitors know something extra is the custom, but many customers "don't see this inclusion in the menu's fine print and actually tip another 15% to 20%," says traveler Ken Perry, 67, of Columbia, Tenn. Ditto with that blank line for tips on hotel room service bills, which typically already include a gratuity and delivery charge. Whether to tip on a restaurant bill before or after tax is much debated. "I tip on the tax, but you don't have to," says Dublanica, who also has a blog called waiterrant.net. "But everyone would like you to."
•More cruise ships automatically put gratuities (sometimes $12 a person per day) on bills instead of relying on passengers to hand out tip envelopes. Cruisers such as George Matey, 67, of Arvada, Colo., and Tony Ellis, 55, of Pflugerville, Texas, are among those who dislike set tips. They don't think that encourages better service, and "a mandatory tip is no longer really a tip, is it?" Matey says.