Sometimes it seems like people view tipping as a four-letter word. For some reason it makes them uncomfortable, awkward, or maybe they're just cheap. It's hard to know how much to tip a service provider, I suppose, especially when you find yourself in a new situation. Pretty much everyone knows to tip a server at a restaurant 15 – 20% of the bill or to offer a couple bucks per bag to an airport skycap or hotel bell person. But how much do you tip at a wedding chapel or at a spa? And can you get a better table at a restaurant or a better seat at a show if you tip at the door?
Las Vegas is a town that thrives on tips. Almost every hospitality worker you come in contact with works for a modest hourly wage and relies on tips, from the housekeeping staff to the concierge. My husband is a tour guide who spends his day showing Las Vegas visitors the natural side of the area. His tour vehicle holds 10 people, and one of his rituals as he picks up his guests is figuring out what kind of tip they might offer. He profiles his guests and works off stereotypes…people of certain ages from certain cities/countries staying in certain hotels are apt to tip more than others. He's pretty good at sizing people up, but he is often surprised. His company will not allow him to solicit for tips, but the safety brochure he goes over with people early in the tour has a section at the bottom encouraging guests to tip 15% if they are satisfied with their experience. Most people give much less than that.
In my husband's case, he is offering a personalized tour to a small group, and as such, he should be tipped more than a bus tour guide who shares canned information with a crowd of 45-50. Most sources tell you to tip the bus guide $2.00 a day. My husband is always disappointed with a $2.00 tip. He'll tell you it's better than being stiffed, though, and that happens quite a lot.
So here is my advice on whom you should tip and how much in non-gaming situations. For tipping in the casino, follow The Wizard's advice.
Restaurants and Bars
Your dining and cocktail servers should receive 15-20% of the pretax food and beverage bill. Consider even more if they provided you with special accommodations or were particularly attentive and amiable. A bartender deserves $1.00 a drink at a minimum or, if you run a lengthy tab, 15-20% of the pretax bill. The going rate for a sommelier is 20% of the cost of the wine before tax. Bus staff and coat check agents are usually not tipped. Bathroom attendants should be tipped a $1.00 if they help you with a stain or provide you with a replacement for a lost button. A tip is not customary for hosts/hostesses and maitre d's; however, slipping such a person a crisp bill may help you to secure a better table. The same is true if you want to get a better seat at a show. A lot of showrooms keep empty tables/seats up front, so if you slip the usher a little green, he is apt to improve your view. I've also found a low-cut dress and a sly smile will persuade an usher just as well.
Since servers at a buffet have less of a workload than servers at a full-service restaurant, it makes sense that they be tipped less. Around $2 – $4 per person at the table is generally appropriate, and the amount per person should be based on the cost of the buffet. In other words, if you paid just $5.95 for your buffet entry, you'd tip less than if you paid $29.95 to get in.
Live cooking stations are becoming common in Las Vegas buffets. From pasta to sushi to omelets to salads, you are apt to run across a buffet worker who freshly prepares your food for you. In such situations, you should consider giving the worker $1.00. These means walking up to the buffet line with money, though, so you'll have to plan ahead. I've been known to swing back by the station on my next trip to the buffet line so I can leave a tip, since I usually leave my purse at the table and am not all that good at planning ahead.
Let's start with the ever-present cab driver. 10% of the fare (with a minimum of $3) is a fine tip for a cabbie who simply took you from point A to point B. If he assists you with your bags, gives you some helpful, insider advice, or makes extra stops at your request, bump that up to 15% or 20%. Shuttle bus drivers, say from the airport to your hotel, are deserving of a 15% tip, based on the cost of the ride. Throw in another $1 - $2 per bag if the driver lends a hand while loading and unloading your luggage. $2 per bag is fair for an airport skycap. Limousine and car-service drivers should receive 15%-20% of the total fare. In the case of a party bus, 15% - 20% of the final bill before tax is customary. If you partied a little too hard, though, you may want to throw in something extra to buy the driver's silence.
For obvious reasons, this one is close to my heart. I would say tip your guide $5 - $10 if the group is large (more than 15 people). For a smaller group or for an adventure excursion (like a privately-led kayak trip through Black Canyon or a day of fishing on Lake Mead), offer 15% - 20% of the pretax cost of the tour. More should be offered to a guide who made a point of customizing your trip and less to a guide who did the bare minimum.
The first person you'll probably see is the valet as you arrive at your hotel/resort. In Vegas, valet parking is almost always free. A tip is customary, though, and should be delivered when you retrieve your car. $2 is usually right for a low to moderate priced hotel/casino, but you should consider giving $5 at a higher-end joint. If you want your car kept close, a $20 bill when you drop it off will probably unsure you a primo spot. You may run into a doorman during your hotel stay, and that individual should be tipped $1 - $3 per service (i.e. getting you a cab, offering directions, delivering your luggage or packages). $1 - $2 a bag is the rule of thumb for the bell staff, and $2 - $5 is right if they deliver packages or boxes to your room. An often-overlooked service provider worthy of a tip at lodging establishments is the housekeeper. $2 a night, or $3 - $4 a night at a high-end hotel/resort, is appropriate. Leave the tip in the room the day you check out. If you stay in a suite and have a guest room attendant at your disposal, $5 a day is recommended. Also, tip at the pool if an attendant brings you extra towels, reading materials or sunscreen. $2 - $5 seems right. If you order room service, be prepared to tip 15% of the bill when it arrives, and give the concierge $3 - $5 for making a reservation for you. Consider more like $10 or $20 for that concierge if the reservation is for a hard-to-get-in restaurant or a sold-out event. It is not customary to tip the front desk clerks.
For the most part, you should tip 15% to personal care and spa staff. This includes hair stylists and colorists, manicurists and pedicurists, facialists and estheticians, and massage therapists. If you're spending the day at the spa, you can submit the tips at the end of the visit while checking out. That way you don't have to try to stash cash in your terry robe.
Las Vegas wedding chapels usually offer all-inclusive pricing packages and most have a staff for everything. If you're using outside vendors, however, you should tip. This might include the limo driver ($10 -$25 depending on how long you are in the vehicle) or floral and other delivery persons ($10 per delivery).
Adult entertainment professionals
A great time at a strip club doesn't come cheap, and the more you tip, the more attention you'll get from the performers. Dancers on stage should be tipped $1 - $3 per song, and if you hand over $5 - $10, you will probably get a tableside visit. Performers working the floor ought to receive $1 - $10 if you want them to spend some time with you. Lap dancers should garner anywhere from $5 - $30, depending on the establishment. And don't forget to tip your cocktail servers. If you hire a dancer to come to your hotel room, a tip of 15% - 20% is customary.
Do the right thing and tip when you use your comps at a restaurant, spa or other establishment. The comp reward does not cover the tip, and let's face it, whether you're paying the tab or getting the service for free, the employees are still doing their job. Find out how much the bill would have been if you were paying, and tip accordingly.
If a tattoo or body piercing is on your Vegas agenda (planned or otherwise), a tip of around 10% - 20% is a nice gesture, but not expected.
So are there situations that warrant not tipping? Sure, if you receive very bad service or encounter someone who is disrespectful or surly, it is your prerogative not to tip. And your tip might be diminished in certain situations, like if your tour guide doesn't know anything about the Hoover Dam or your taxi driver gave you a white-knuckle adventure through the backstreets off Las Vegas Blvd. Consider talking to the manager if you are dissatisfied, though. And keep in mind, in some situations you may be impacting more than one person if you decide not to tip. For example, many restaurants require tip pooling – the gratuity you leave on the table is split between the server, the bus staff and sometimes the cooks and the host staff. If your dissatisfaction stems from an honest mistake, rather than a purposeful action, and you are offered a sincere apology, you should still be willing to tip.
A last word of warning: Be mindful of “gratuity included” situations as you spend time in Vegas (or anywhere for that matter). In some cases, your final bill will include the tip, usually at a generous rate. Examples include: high-end car/limo service; a large party at a restaurant; a large group tour or excursion; room service delivery; or redemption of a gift certificate.
So as you enjoy your Vegas trip, keep some small (and in some cases large) denomination bills handy for tipping the hard workers you come in contact with.