Tipping the Worldby Steve Russo, staff writer
Sometimes at the Walt Disney World Resort, it seems I’m tipping everyone. The guy who parks my car and the guy who brings it back; the guy who stores my bags and the guy who un-stores them; the waiter, the hostess, the maitre ‘d and the bartender; the housekeeper and the person who delivers a few extra towels; the limo driver, taxi driver, Town Car driver, and the Disney’s Magical Express driver. I’m pretty sure that on my last trip I tipped a fellow guest $5 for saying, “Good morning.” Where does it end?
The fact is that tipping, at least in our United States of America, is a time-honored tradition. I’m wagering it was started by Benjamin Franklin. He seems to be the one that started most traditions in this country and I’m betting he dropped a few coins on a local tavern employee for refilling his ale tankard and started the whole mess. Thanks, Ben. Next time you stop into the American Adventure at Epcot, fell free to hiss when he first appears.
Think about it… you order a $12 hamburger and a $7 beer at Walt Disney World and then have an obligation to pony up another $4-$5 as a gratuity because restaurants in this country insist on paying their service people as if they were making running shoes in a third world country. I’ve always wondered why we just don’t raise the prices by 15 percent and pay the workers accordingly—sounds too simple doesn’t it?
Like it or not, you’ll be faced with the issue of who to tip and how much to offer on your next Disney vacation and, as always, I’m here to help.
Gratuity [grah*tu*i*tee] (noun) A small gift, usually of money, given to somebody such as a waiter as thanks for service given.
Sounds pretty simple, doesn’t it? Then why does it bring such angst to Disney vacationers? The facts are that most of us have some familiarity with tipping the wait staff at restaurants but, unless you’re a frequent and seasoned traveler, the many other tipping scenarios might be a bit daunting.
It’s also fact that not all cultures subscribe to the same tipping regimen that we Americans do. I can only guess at the confusion by some of the international visitors to Walt Disney World.
Let’s begin with…
Travel to Orlando
It’s no surprise that our vacation will begin with transportation—getting our luggage, our traveling companions and ourselves from our homes to Walt Disney World. I know there are several possibilities here (e.g. - personal car, train) but I’d suggest the majority of readers fly in, so we’ll start there.
Assuming you get yourself to the airport with a personal vehicle, the tipping might begin with airport curbside check-in, or what I still refer to as the “skycap.” If your airport offers this service, these friendly folks are typically located outside the airport at small counters or kiosks (unless you live in the Northeast and it’s winter, in which case these helpful folks will be holed up in the airport’s coffee shop). For no charge, they can print your boarding pass and tag, and weigh and accept your checked luggage. The suggested gratuity for these folks is $1 to $2 per bag, more for oversized bags.
Do I endorse this service? That’s a big “Yes!” I do suggest tipping here unless you fancy your Samsonites heading off to Paraguay. Seriously, at large, busy airports, like Orlando International, this curbside service can save you the time and aggravation of getting into a lengthy line at the airline counter. For a few bucks, it’s a very worthwhile service.
An even better service, available for your return trip, is Disney’s Resort Airline Check-In which, essentially, places these “skycaps” at your hotel. If your airline is one of those supported, by all means use this service and tip the same as you would for airport skycaps.
If you do visit the airline counter, there’s no need to tip the employees there who may check you in, print your boarding pass and/or accept your checked luggage.
Arrival in Orlando
Hopefully, you’ve had a nice, uneventful flight (that’s how I prefer my flights to be) and have now landed in Orlando. As I’m sure you’re aware, there are myriad options for travel to Walt Disney World. Here are a few suggestions for tipping:
- Taxis: Tip 15 percent of the fare—more for exceptional service, helping with bags, etc.
- Disney’s Magical Express bus drivers: A standard suggestion is that airport shuttle drivers should receive $2 to $3. Some would suggest tipping the driver for the sole task of getting you to your resort safely. I disagree. My personal opinion is I would only tip a Magical Express driver if I was storing luggage and he or she assisted in some fashion. At that point, I think $1 per bag is appropriate.
- Limousine or Town Car drivers: 10 percent to 20 percent of the bill. In most cases, the Town Car services in Orlando (Tiffany, Happy Limousine, QuickSilver, etc.) expect full roundtrip payment on the trip from the airport to your resort. For that reason, I would split my tip in half, giving 50 percent to the driver taking me to the resort and the other half to the one that will ultimately return me to the airport. That prevents any issues with getting a different driver for the return trip.
- Counter or lot services for a rental car: No tipping required.
We’ve arrived at our Walt Disney World resort. Now what? Again, there are several alternatives.
If you’ve used Disney’s Magical Express and left your luggage with them, you need to simply check-in and go on your merry way. There’s no one to tip there.
If, however, you’ve driven up in rental car, taxi, limousine or rickshaw, and/or you are carrying your own luggage, you will probably be offered assistance from a Bell Services cast member. Here are some, er… tips on tipping:
- Never ask to borrow a luggage cart to transport your own luggage. The Bell Services cast member and his cart are a package deal. That would be akin to saving on a restaurant tip by offering to dash into the kitchen to plate and deliver your food once it’s cooked. Bad form.
- In the likely event that your room is not yet ready, Bell Services will store your bags. They’re even nice enough to refrigerate a few items if you have medications requiring it, have just made a grocery stop, etc. In any case … tip! Use the standard of $1 to $2 per bag. Remember that a bellman’s tips are not limited to delivering bags to and from hotel rooms. They should be tipped for each major task performed for you.
- There was a time when it was acceptable to tip on luggage delivery only. The same was true with things like valet parking—you tipped on pickup, not drop off. I had this confirmed for me at Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort when I tried to tip a cast member who was storing our luggage. She told me to “Save it for the person who delivers it.” As near as I can determine, this practice has changed and it’s now expected to tip on both ends. If anyone out there knows more about this, let me know.
- A quick note on the $1 to $2 per bag suggestion… use common sense. That suggestion applies to suitcases. If you pull up with eight to 10 plastic grocery bags, I would think $2-$5 would cover the lot of them.
- When your bags are delivered to your room, you should again tip that bellman the standard $1 to $2 per bag.
- If Disney’s Magical Express is handling your luggage, there’s no reason to tip. You don’t need to be in your room when the bags are delivered so Disney takes care of compensating the bell person on these deliveries. I know that it may be awkward if you happen to be there. If you’d be embarrassed to have the bell person leave empty handed, you could tip him or her anyway or simply shuffle your feet, stare at the floor and ask, “I understand that Disney’s Magical Express takes care of your gratuity for bag delivery. Is that true?” and react accordingly.
- If you discover you’re out of cash or only have very large denomination bills, you shouldn’t tell the cast member that you would tip later. If you’re like me, you’ll probably forget. The best solution is to be prepared and bring enough small bills for your expected trip. If you haven’t, ask the cast member if he or she can provide change or get it at the front desk. I’m betting s/he will be happy to oblige.
At the Resort
Now we’re tucked comfortably in our rooms with our luggage delivered, unpacked and stowed away. Done tipping? Not so fast.
- It’s suggested that you tip housekeeping between $2 and $5 per day. That range is there dependent upon how big a slob you are. If you’re a neatnik and just need the beds made and towels and toiletries refreshed, lean toward the minimum. If you like to “rock star” your room, open the wallet. It’s also suggested that you tip each night instead of giving one large tip at the end of your stay. Similar to the Town Car driver, this will accommodate having different housekeepers each day.
- I’ve read that leaving the tip on the nightstand might have negative connotations. I know, I had a hard time buying that too. At any rate, be safe and leave it on the desk or a counter. Leaving cash is certainly acceptable but, at times, it may be unclear if it’s a tip or simply cash left behind and the housekeeper may not take it. A sure-fire way to avoid confusion is to leave it with a note (“For Housekeeping”) or, better yet, in a small envelope.
- What about Disney Vacation Club members staying on points? In this case, you don’t receive daily maid service, so I certainly wouldn’t advise tipping daily. You do receive trash and towel service mid-stay and housekeeping will need to do a thorough job of cleaning for the next guest (as they did prior to your check-in) so I suggest a single tip at the end of your stay.
Here are a few other tipping suggestions when in your room:
- Room service with gratuity included on the bill: $2.
- Room service without gratuity included: 20 percent of the charge.
- Toiletry/towel delivery: $2.
Restaurants - Table Service
We have to eat, right? What are the suggestions for tipping the restaurant’s cast members at Disney’s table service restaurants?
At the core, the size of any gratuity should depend on how well you are served. In a restaurant, this would include ensuring your order is taken and delivered correctly. A good waitperson will be polite, check on you after you receive your food and check back at reasonable intervals to ensure everything’s okay, check on drink refills, etc. A great waitperson will be all of that and, if requested, make suggestions on menu items and wines, or somehow go above and beyond to ensure your experience is special. To be honest, that seems to happen at Walt Disney World more frequently than not.
Although many people do this, you should not let the food’s taste or preparation affect your tip: The server has no control over it. If you feel strongly about it, mention it to your server and the manager or maître d’. If they’re good at their jobs and your complaint is legitimate, they’ll offer to correct the situation or offer some compensation.
I might also suggest that you let them know of a problem even if you caused it yourself. “I thought I’d like the oysters and peanut butter casserole but, after tasting it… not so much.” They may be able to help and, if they do, be prepared to show your thanks accordingly. The key here is not to expect relief but, if it’s offered, show gratitude.
Here are a few restaurant tipping guidelines:
- Restaurant wait staff: 15 percent to 20 percent of the bill depending upon service.
- If you linger at your table for a period of time when the restaurant could normally seat and serve others, you should increase the tip proportionately. I’m thinking of a situation such as lingering an extra 45-60 minutes in order to catch Wishes from your table at the California Grill.
- As I mentioned previously, you should always tip for service. Even if the service was less than splendid, you should leave a minimal tip as they’re generally shared by the restaurant’s workers. If your server was truly horrible, mention this to the manager.
Restaurant - Counter Service
What about takeout or one of Walt Disney World’s many counter service restaurants? As a rule, no tipping is necessary. However, if you receive some service, like a waiter packaging your food, then tip $1 to $2.
Restaurant - Buffets
Tipping at one of Disney World’s buffets can be confusing. A server at a buffet has much less responsibility than those at a table service restaurant. However, they do take and deliver your drink order, keep your drinks refilled and haul away your used plates while you make 15 trips to the dessert table (OK, that’s me, not you). Remember these tips are shared with the runners who replenish the food trays as well. For these reasons, a tip of 10 percent to 20 percent is still recommended.
Here’s an interesting quandary: at Walt Disney World, an 18 percent gratuity is typically added if you’re dining with a party of 6 or more or you are using the Tables in Wonderland discount card. I’ve had this happen at several buffets and have not, as yet, questioned it. I’m betting, however, that one could have that gratuity lowered for a buffet if you ask. However, in my experience, I believe the wait staff at Walt Disney World buffets earns their 15 percent to 20 percent.
Salons and Spas
I can’t find a lot of information specific to Walt Disney World but, in the spa industry, many workers are paid on commission or receive a minimum wage plus a small percentage of the fee charged. At the Senses Spa at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa and at Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort and Spa, a 20 percent gratuity is added to each spa service. Of course, additional gratuity may be allotted at your discretion. Gratuities are not included for treatments at the Mandara Spa at the Walt Disney World Dolphin, the Zahanati Spa and Fitness Center at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, La Vida Health Club at Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort, Ship Shape Health Club at Disney’s Yacht Club, Olympiad Fitness Center at Disney’s Contemporary Resort, or Sturdy Branches Health Club at the Villas at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge. At these locations, it would seem the following suggestions are appropriate:
- Massage therapist or facial esthetician: 15 percent to 20 percent.
- Hairstylist or barber: 15 percent to 20 percent.
- Manicurist or pedicurist: 15 percent to 20 percent.
So there you have it—the complete guide to tipping at the World—unless of course I’ve forgotten anyone.
I hope that this will help at least of few of you deal with many tipping situations on your next visit. The best advice I can offer is to remember that when you tip a service person, you’re essentially paying a part of that person’s salary. Consider the service given and tip appropriately—it will be appreciated.
As always, thanks for reading.