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Practical travel advice
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Lani Teshima, editor

Tips on Tipping

Your Guide to Gratuities

Recently, a MousePlanet reader wrote and asked what a good amount would be for tipping. Mary-Ellen asked:

What are reasonable tips for Tiffany Towncar Drivers and chambermaids? Anyone I am forgetting? I can handle tipping wait staff in restaurants.

While most of us, like Mary-Ellen, are accustomed to figuring out a correct tip for restaurants, we are not so good at remembering acceptable tipping amounts for folks we encounter on our vacations. So today's column, which I dedicate to Mary-Ellen, is all about tips.

The Basics

Taxi and limo drivers: $2 to $3 is standard. More if you have a lot of luggage, or he helps you a lot, gets you to a place on time when you're in a rush, or gives you good tips on suggestions such as good restaurants. If cab fare comes out to $16, I might give the driver $20 and tell him to keep the change. If you are particularly generous with the tip, the driver may even give you his card and tell you to call him for your return back to the airport.

Porters: $1 per bag is standard for airport and train porters. More if you have very heavy bags.

Hotel bellman: $1 per bag is standard. Tip when he shows you to your room and when he assists you at checkout. Tip more if he provides any additional service. To ensure extra nice service, consider giving him $5 when you check in.

Doorman: $1 tip to hail a taxi. More if he helps you with your bags, or shields you from the rain.

Concierge check in at the Disneyland Hotel
Concierge check in at the Disneyland Hotel

Concierge desk staff: $2 to $20 depending on the level of service, and the difficulty they went through to fulfill your request. Consider giving them $10 to $20 when you arrive to ensure extra good service.

Hotel maid: $1 per night, left in an obvious location by itself. Some maids leave envelopes, others leave thank-you notes. If they do, leave your money in or near them. Try to avoid waiting until your last day, since your room may be cleaned by more than one maid. When I stay in a Disney resort, I often leave a bit more, with a note asking for an extra set of Mickey toiletries.

Valets / parking attendants: $1 - $2 when your car is delivered.

Waiters and waitresses: 15 - 20% for both restaurants and room service of your pre-tax check is considered standard. Large parties may have a 15% gratuity included on their bill. If this is the case, add a small additional tip only if service was excellent.

Cloakroom attendants: $1 to $2 if there is no charge for the service.

Tour guides / airport bus drivers: $1 for a half-day tour, $2 for a full- day tour.

How to avoid having to tip

Looking over the long list of people who get tips along the way, you'd think your vacation path was paved with dollar bills. You don't have to spend 15% of your vacation budget on tips though.

The best way to avoid paying tips is to not need the services. And the best way to not need the services is to travel light!

If you can carry all of your luggage with you as a carry-on, you can:

  • Avoid cabs and limos -- Use public transportation to get to your destination (although this doesn't work for getting from Orlando International Airport to WDW)
  • Avoid porters -- Nobody needs to check your bags in at curbside.
  • Avoid hotel bellmen -- You can take your own bags to your room, and back downstairs when you leave.
  • Avoid doormen -- Since you don't need a cab, you don't need him to hail one for you.

These days, the most popular piece of luggage is the rolling upright. If you plan on getting one, make sure to get one that says "carry-on size" on its label. Although they are not my favorite (nor most highly recommended) type of luggage, they are very convenient to roll from airport to hotel. For more information on how to travel with just your carry-ons (yes, even the ladies!), visit my Travelite FAQ Web site at

Tipping at Disney parks

You may be aware that Disney Cast Members (CM) do not accept tips. This means that if a CM is particularly helpful for you in the park, your best action is to go to City Hall and write a compliment about the CM.

On the other hand, CMs who work in traditional service-industry jobs on-property do indeed get tips. Make sure you provide tips for those whom you would normally tip in the hotel. This includes maids, bellmen and others.

Storyteller's Cafe at the Grand Californian
Storyteller's Cafe at the Grand Californian

In addition, all sit-down restaurants on-property require tipping as well. However, while a nice dinner at Hook's Pointe and Wine Cellar (at the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim) would call for a tip to the server, you do not have to leave a tip for any of the buffeteria- type eateries within the parks. A good example of this is Plaza Inn in Disneyland. Although prices are a bit steep and the interior very nicely decorated, you select your own food, and there are no waiters. There is no need to leave a tip for the busboys.

By the way, if you have an Annual Pass and get a discount on your restaurant bill, calculate your tip based on the full price before the discount.

Restaurant tipping

Never leave less than 15%, unless the service itself is inexcusably bad. Do not decrease the tip for bad food, as this is not the waiter's fault. Instead, ask to speak to the manager, who can give you a discount, free dessert, gift certificate or other incentive to make amends and retain a customer (you). More importantly, it alerts the manager to a problem with the kitchen that needs to be corrected.

Bad service on the other hand, include things such as seeing the waiter flirting or gabbing on the phone while leaving your food at the counter as it gets cold, or leaving for a lunch break without securing another waiter to service you. Besides leaving a smaller tip, consider speaking to the manager on your way out. Bad customer service is bad for business.

Napa Rose at the Grand Californian
Napa Rose at the Grand Californian

Having been in the restaurant business, I know that waiters should be looking in on their tables about once every seven minutes to see if patrons are ready for the next course, need water, or have problems or requests. Here's an exercise: Next time you eat at a restaurant, watch your waiter's efficiency. Your waiter should never have to make "empty trips," but use every one-way trip to do something. Just because a waiter runs around everywhere, doesn't make him good. If he comes to take your order, then grabs empty plates off another table on his way back to the kitchen, that's good. Good waiters remember special requests, never rush you, or make you feel inadequate for not ordering a full course (or ordering something plain off the menu).

Why tip?

While we're on the subject of tipping at restaurants, let's talk about why you need to leave a tip in the first place.

Fair or not, many states in the U.S. assume that you are compensating your minimum-wage wait job with tips. These state tax offices use fairly complex formulae based on gross earnings of the restaurant you work for to come up with a dollar amount you should be making in tips. Don't earn in tips what the state says you should be? Believe it or not, you are actually penalized during state income tax time, when you have to pay income taxes on income you didn't actually earn.

I think this practice is grossly wrong, but it's the only way states have figured out how to tax your tips (since they keep insisting on taxing everything).

Example: Let's say your family has an expensive dinner that cost $100. Tip on this should be at least $15. The restaurant shows that it made $100, so the state revenue office determines that your waiter should have earned $15 in tips. But what if you thought the soup was too hot and the steak overcooked, so you only tipped him $5? The state still thinks the waiter should have earned $15, so now the waiter has to pay income tax on $15 even though he only got $5 from you! In the end, you may be punishing the waiter with a measly $3 tip on a $100 meal. Doesn't sound right to me, especially if it is the food you were dissatisfied with, not the service.

If the waiter's service is indeed bad, he may need to change jobs. But bad food is no excuse for short-changing the waiter.

If you ask me, service is one of the reasons I go out for dinner (and eat at a nice sit-down place). No matter how automated or computerized this world becomes, you cannot replace the good service of a friendly server. For this, I have no trouble leaving a 20% tip. If I don't want to, I'll eat at a buffeteria.

Tips listed in this column are based on recommendations by the ASTA, the American Society of Travel Agents.

Tips on Tipping


Tipping seems to be higher in larger cities, at least in the U.S. If you are vacationing in New York City or San Francisco, plan on footing 20% on your restaurant bill. The same can be said for cab drivers and others whom you would normally tip.

Tipping rules differ quite a bit from country to country. Japan for example, does not have a tipping culture at all. Many Japanese service workers feel insulted if you try to tip them, since this implies that they are not paid adequately, or that they must somehow be bribed into doing a better job. Some restaurants however, automatically add a "service charge" to your bill, which may come out to something close to what you would pay in tips. In general, do not tip anyone. This includes waiters, chambermaids, cab drivers and bell hops. Keep this in mind when you visit Tokyo Disneyland.

Tipping is treated differently in Europe, and the specifics are based on which country you are in. Many French restaurants include an item in the bill labeled "service compris," or a service charge. This goes to the restaurant, not to the waiter directly. If you like the service, feel free to round up the cost of your bill. For example, if your dinner is 195FF (French francs), leave 200FF. This may differ if you are eating at restaurant catering to American visitors; however the general consensus is that the standard 15-20% tip of the U.S. is not used in France. Remember this as you visit Disneyland Paris.


Contact Lani Teshima if you have any travel tips or questions about trip planning.

A Hawaii ex-patriate, Lani is a technical writer for a San Francisco Bay Area software company.

When Lani is not managing the copy editing tasks here, you can usually find her at the gym, slogging away those slow miles on the treadmill as she trains for the WDW Marathon (held in January). She also maintains her internationally recognized Travelite FAQ.

In the occasional spare moment, Lani and her husband, Alex—our MousePlanet CEO and MouseAdventure event coordinator—attend baseball games, and drive down to Disneyland in their 2003 Honda Civic Hybrid (which gets 50mpg).


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