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Travel Musings 2 – On Tipping and Gratitude

Scott on August 16, 2007 at 8:45 am

While on vacation, tipping becomes a huge deal. How much do you tip? When do you tip? Who do you tip? It can certainly be overwhelming. At an “all inclusive” resort, it becomes even more of a puzzle. They tell you that everything is included in the price, even the gratuity. But how can this be? How can the hotel anticipate my level of gratitude towards the various employees working there? The simple answer is that they can’t, so while the hotel may claim to have a system in place to give their employees a piece of the gratuity pie, I still think it is important to express our own level of gratitude. I’m sure that some people go cheap and figure, “If they say the gratuity is included, then why should I shell out any more than I have to.” That is unfortunate, because not only does it cheat the people who are providing services to them, it also demonstrates a lack of generosity and cheapness within their own souls or at least that’s how I see it.

The guy who was working the area of the pool where we hung out each day was Norberto. Very nice, very friendly and quick to be sure everything was OK and to see if we needed anything else. If Norberto had moved slower and been less interested in how we were doing, the hotel would have still paid him but he went “above and beyond.” As my grandfather would have said, he had a fire underneath him that kept him moving and hustling. He worked and worked hard. By the end of our first full day of vacation by the pool, he knew the names of everyone in our group including the children. Throughout the week Norberto watched to see if we needed another towel or if one of the youngest of the kids needed more shade as she tried to fall asleep. He recommended stuff off the lunch menu and reminded us throughout the week if someone in the group had enjoyed a certain lunch dish. He checked with the front desk for us when we had questions about activities, he called on our behalf to make reservations at the various restaurants in the hotel, and he noticed if we left stuff behind at the end of the day and kept them safe for us until the next day. (I dropped my copy of C.S. Lewis’ “Surprised by Joy” on one of the chairs as we left and he held onto it for me until he saw me the next day.)

We thanked him constantly throughout the week and made small talk when he had a spare minute. I don’t think he was used to people actually talking with him and offering regular praise and thanks for the job he did. The quality of service he provided warranted an extra acknowledgement that we appreciated his hard work. We tipped him well each day to say “thank you.”

In contrast, other hotel guests who also staked out this same area by the pool treated Norberto like he was a hotel employee and nothing more. No “thank you” after he brought their lunch. No acknowledgement of his presence when he happened to be standing near waiting to see what else was needed in his area. He was simply an expectation, a fixture to meet their needs. When one couple left the pool at the end of the day, the husband asked the wife about whether they should tip Norberto. The wife sniffed and said something to the effect of “Why? He gets paid enough. Besides, we’re leaving tomorrow anyway.” I could only do an internal shake of the head at her attitude.

Over the days that we were there I also noticed how some of the people who were hanging out in the same general area of the pool seemed annoyed at the time and attention Norberto paid to our group. They looked irritated when, without being asked he would bring things to our group (more water, a fresh Coke Lite, new towels, etc) but he didn’t bring those things to them unless they asked. When someone in our group ordered food, it was delivered fresh and hot within minutes, while many of these other people seemed to feel that they were forced to wait too long.

As I noticed this, I was reminded of the power of appreciation. I think that Norberto felt appreciated, not just by the tips we gave him every day but by the time we spent talking with him and expressing our gratitude. He knew his work was appreciated and so was willing to extend himself, to go the extra mile not just for the tip but because he knew that WE knew what he was doing and we appreciated it.

Appreciation is a currency that spends well all over the world.

My youngest son, Quinn, asked me about tipping one day by the pool. He heard me talking to my brother-in-law Bryan about tipping Norberto. Quinn wanted to know why we tip people. (What a conversation to have with a six year old!)

I explained to him that a tip is a way to tell people that you are thankful for the work they are doing for you. I reminded him that whenever we eat at a restaurant back home I leave a tip for the server who has been helping us and that we do the same while on vacation. I told him that I was raised to be very appreciative of people and the work they do and that it is important to let them know that you have noticed them and appreciate their hard work.

What I didn’t explain to him (because he wouldn’t have understood it) was that when I was growing up my mom was a server (“waitress” was the term back then) at the Space Needle up in Seattle. Many times her tips determined how we ate. If it was a slow week, she tightened the purse strings, and if it was a good or even great week we got to have some fun extras. As my grandfather used to say, “it was feast or famine.” Because of these experiences growing up, I was raised with an awareness of people who are in the business of “doing,” of working in the service industry where they push themselves to hustle. I try to live my life in such a way as to be appreciative, and I pray that my children have learned that lesson as well.

We all want to be appreciated. Through appreciation we receive validation. We want the work we do to be validated because in the end this validates us as people. Appreciation and validation are universal commodities. As I said earlier, appreciation is a currency that spends well all over the world.

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