Event Design

How to Deal With Event Tipping

hand holding money

Skift Take

The tipping dilemma is more complicated than ever as norms around who and how much to tip shift. Although there are no steadfast rules, there are things to remember.

Leaving nothing to chance is the key to successful meetings and events. Every detail, down to the smallest minutia, must be specified. One delicate area, even for the most experienced meeting planner, is tipping. Who gets what and how much — a confusing aspect of a meeting that is even more complicated due to the pandemic and our ever-increasing cashless society.

“Tipping for exemplary service at a hotel or venue after a meeting or event is very common and, after all, why shouldn’t you tip for great service after a successful event?” asks Missy Johnson, CMP, DES, principal and CEO of MJMeetings. “It is important that event organizers are very well educated about where the service charges that we are required to pay are going and how they are being distributed to the staff.”

Recognition and thanking those who helped make your event successful go a long way. Consider a handwritten note with a few hundred dollars in it. That is how to build future partnerships in an industry built on connection.

“I recommend writing a specific thank you note about the service a person by name provided, sending it to the person and copying their supervisor, the GM, and sometimes the owner if the service was that outstanding; if the person cannot accept a gift or cash,” said Joan Eisenstodt, a meetings and hospitality consultant with Eisenstodt Associates, LLC. “Keep in mind if you are thanking someone who doesn’t speak the language in which you communicate proficiently, find help to write the note in their language. The more personal, the more it matters.”

Labor Shortage Exaceberates Issues

Today’s labor shortage is a reality and is impacting all aspects of meetings and conventions. “We all know that due to shortages, the staff that does service groups are being asked to do more and sometimes even the jobs of two. This should be a factor when it comes to tipping. The bottom line is I feel today, staff should be tipped more than pre-pandemic,” said Johnson.

Tipping and the Law

Many planners may feel a mandatory service charge includes tips. Not true. Only a small portion goes to service staff. The rest, to the venue. This issue is in the news as in San Francisco — a judge ruled that the San Francisco Marriott Marquis, adjacent to Moscone Convention Center, likely violated a California law prohibiting employers from taking any cut of tips left for workers. There is $9 million at the center of this case.

San Francisco Superior Court Judge Ethan P. Schulman gave both parties a copy of his tentative ruling and said the purpose of the proceedings was to hear from both sides. The judge said the hotel banquet servers are entitled to receive the total amount that was put on banquet bills.

Adam KohSweeney of O’Melveny & Myers LLP, an attorney representing Marriott, said that the workers had not shown that a reasonable customer would understand that the food and beverage service charge put on banquet bills at the San Francisco Marquis was a gratuity, all of which would go to servers working the events. This California case is one to watch as it may have far-reaching implications. 

Know the Terms

One way to protect your group from a situation like this is knowing the appropriate terms and their differences, says Johnson. For example, a gratuity is a mandatory and automatic amount added to a bill for the service personnel who receive the entire amount. The percentage amount is discretionary.

A service charge, however, is a mandatory and automatic amount added to a bill for the service personnel and the facility which receives a portion of it. This amount is not negotiable.

Eisenstodt, in her understanding, says most planners need help understanding the language. “A question that often arises is if the percentage shown is a gratuity versus a service charge that goes to the servers,” she said. “The language and charges changed. Old banquet event orders and contracts used to use gratuity, which to most of us meant tip. When we asked more, we learned that a percentage went to the service staff but not all.”

The language changed from gratuity to service charge because of tax laws and how the money was distributed. “Now what we see on F&B, AV, meeting room rental, and often other charges are tax plus taxable service charge plus taxable administrative fee. RFPs must ask, and contracts and BEOs are best if they state what and to whom it goes. Then there is the issue of ‘should I give extra?'” said Eisenstodt.

Ask Questions to Get Clarity

To get a complete understanding, Eisenstodt often asks the hotels with which she’s negotiating for clients what the hourly wages are for staff members. If organized, the union will provide that information as well. ‘Otherwise, ask the hotel or ask a server. Ask how the set-up staff are paid — hourly? salaried? overtime? I also look at the cost of living for the area,” said Eisenstodt. 

“Most clients have budgeted to provide tips as thank yous if it is legal and ethical to do so. For instance, if the staff are state or city employees, it may not be or may have to be differently disclosed.”

She uses a front-to-back-of-house guide. Line workers first, and she then moves forward with her tips. 

This is not a cut and dry issue. Take a convention services manager who may be on site for the entire meeting. “In many cases, because they are management, they are prohibited from accepting a cash tip. However, they are sometimes permitted to accept a gift like a gift card. It’s never clear until you ask,” said Eisenstodt. 

Tipping Varies by Country

Tipping is not a common practice in Europe. “Workers are paid higher wages, so they don’t have to rely on gratuities,” said Anthony Prusak, director of business development, FHT Global International Meetings & Events.

Each country is different, so it’s essential to check expectations. Take Italy. “Leaving a small amount, up to 10 percent of the bill, is appreciated. Check to see if a ‘coperto’ charge has been added that is usually about €2 per person that covers the cost of table settings, bread, and other items.”

Our society has become increasingly cashless, which impacts tipping for hotel housekeepers, bellhops, parking attendants, and more. To avoid this issue you may choose to tip the department as a whole.

Tips on Tipping 

In the U.S., here are the guidelines MJMeetings follows when it comes to tipping. 

  • Director of Convention Services — $75 to $200
  • Convention Services Manager — $50 to $150
  • Convention Services Coordinator — $20 to $50
  • Catering Director — $100
  • Banquet Captain/Manager — $35 to $50
  • AV Manager — $50 to $150
  • AV Technician — $20 to $50
  • Sales Manager — A gift

Chef — If the chef helped with your menu and created custom dishes for your group, thank them with a tip. Again, a few hundred dollars and a note go a long way.

Housekeeping — The average hotel housekeeper makes just $25k a year. Think about how important they are to making your attendees’ stay more comfortable. Make sure they receive at least $5 per day. As stated earlier, you can do that by tipping the department.