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Commentary > Everyday Money
How much to tip the cabana boy?
Swimsuit, check. Good book, check. Cash for the towel guy? Oops. Here's a guide to summer tips.
May 28, 2004: 8:41 AM EDT
By Jeanne Sahadi, CNN/Money senior writer

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Talk to anyone who's gone on a Club Med holiday, and you'll be told the same thing, "You know what was so great? Everything was included. We never had to tip."

That's right. The beautiful beaches, the sports, the endless buffets, the open bars -- all nice, but nothing compared to the freedom from having to shell out money every time you turn around.

It's like a spa treatment for the brain.

Alas, life is no Club Med.

As summer kicks into high gear, tipping may not be at the top of your mind. But you can't avoid the issue if you're going on vacation, hiring gardeners, or just planning to play golf or take tennis lessons.

I've made the point in earlier columns that the practice of tipping can be irrational and illogical. In one of the more minor developments in human evolution, it's come to be that some people get tipped and others don't even though -- let's face it -- everyone's just doing their jobs.

And some people who arguably have more difficult (to say nothing of less pleasant) tasks -- such as the hotel housekeeper who cleans your bathroom -- may be tipped the same or less than, say, the hotel doorman who hails your cab.

I can't say that talking to tipping and etiquette experts has helped me much in pinning down the wherefores and the whys. Even when they agree on the types of services that should be tipped, the amounts suggested can vary.

"There are no specific rules or laws. The bottom line is it's really a personal choice," said Stacie Krajchir, co-author of "The Itty Bitty Guide to Tipping."

Fair enough. But that choice is often constrained by the desire not to come off as a cheapskate or a numbskull, or not wanting to offend inadvertently by tipping too much. And, some have argued, there's a desire to relieve the guilt of being served.

Whatever your hang-up, it helps to know roughly what's a reasonable range within which to tip for a given service, not to mention when a tip is not required. (For travel and summer-related activities, check out our summer tipping table.)

Then there's the issue of having a finite number of dollars with which to reward others for a job well done, or "To Insure Prompt Service," as countless readers have reminded me. That's why Krajchir recommends you think strategically about how you use your tipping dollars when on holiday to insure you benefit the most from the services you want.

For instance, you might skip the bellhop's services if you don't mind carrying your own luggage. But if you want help snagging hard-to-get show tickets or restaurant reservations, you might want to tip a hotel concierge when you first arrive at the hotel.

Reduce your stress

You can take a few steps in advance of a trip to lessen the anxiety that can come with tipping.

First, "budget tipping into your travel," Krajchir said.

Second, work through your separation anxiety. That is, make your peace with the cash you're parting with before hopping a cab to the airport.

Tipping revisited: Readers respond
Tipping not optional

Third, keep a stash of $1s and $5s set aside specifically for tips so you don't have to rifle through your pockets every time you want to tip someone.

And, lastly, if it helps, pack a cheat sheet. The CNN/Money summer tipping table would work. Or, if you want a more detailed rundown, "The Itty Bitty Guide to Tipping" is useful.

True to its title, it's the size of a notecard, but packs in more than most guides. For instance, ever wonder what to tip that body piercer, casino slot attendant or lap dancer? This is your source.

It also includes job descriptions of service providers and examples of when stiffing someone is justified. The authors drew on their own and their friends' experiences in the service industry (Krajchir was a waitress for 6 years). And they interviewed service employees from high-end to low-end establishments.

As a bonus, they have a quick rundown on the tipping etiquette for 52 countries other than the United States.

Of course, if it all seems a little overwhelming, there's always Club Med.

Jeanne Sahadi writes about personal finance for CNN/Money. She also appears regularly on CNNfn's "Your Money," which airs weeknights at 5 p.m. ET. You can e-mail her at  Top of page

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