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April 1997 Vol. 12, No. 4   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Tipping the Boat

How to reward friends and make enemies

from the April, 1997 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

In February I asked readers how much they tipped on a dive trip. The question struck a chord. Confusion, aversion, and just plain bad feelings were common responses. These are just a few of the comments.

Subscriber C. McClure (Atlanta) wrote: "No matter how I approach tipping, after a dive trip I wind up with a sick feeling in my stomach. If I tip what I think is fair and this doesn't match with the percentage they demand, then I'm a jerk. If I tip the recommended percentage but think it's too much, I also feel like a jerk. If I tip the recommended percentage and other passengers don't, the crew doesn't know the difference. They think we're all jerks.

"I don't mind showing my appreciation, but tipping ceases to be voluntary when you are told in no uncertain terms how much to tip. My suggestion: add it to the up-front cost and let me leave my dive trip with warm memories of good diving instead of feeling like I have been suckered."

Perceived tipping coercion raised emphatic responses. A sign on a boat in the Virgin Islands -- WIND AND WAVES CAN TIP THE BOAT, BUT ONLY YOU CAN TIP THE CREW -- prompted Laurance Jones (West Virginia) to give the crew a different tip: "Earn your tip, don't hustle it. In Las Vegas casinos, anyone who hustles tips will be fired immediately. It has no class."

Last year Gilda and Warren Sprung (Houston) noted that Florida's Tilden's Dive shop had three posted notices asking: Did you remember to tip the crew? After a bad experience, "we got the last laugh."

Martin Raffauf wrote that "tipping coercion tends to be a turnoff -- and I usually react with no tip," and Samuel Wheatman says, "Tipping coercion guarantees lower tips."

Suggested tips often create a different problem. Jane and Fred Siems had "no problem" with the Belize Aggressor's suggested tip -- 10 percent of the total cost of the trip, which apparently including transportation to and from Belize -- "as long as the crew shares a portion with the flight attendants of the airline that carried us to Belize. After all, how many people who dine in restaurants tip the waiter on the cost of the taxi ride?"

Harold A. Davison was also emphatic about subtracting the cost of the taxi ride. "I recently took a trip with Blackbeard Cruises and I tipped 10 percent ($60) on the $590 dive package, but not my airfare and cab fare to get to the dock."

Several readers shared my uneasiness about putting tips in an envelope to be delivered to the staff by a third party or pooling the group's tips. Jerry Loveless (New York) wrote, "On a recent trip I gave the envelope to the group leader but then heard comments from several staff about how stingy the guests were. This didn't ring true, because I judged most of the guests to be fair tippers. Did some money get 'lost'? Since there's no accounting, the temptation to dip into the pot could be irresistible."

Or does it cover more than individual gratuities? For example, Ben Davison told me of a pricey Arizona spa where the workers complain because an 18 percent service charge funds gifts for repeat visitors, fruit in the rooms, etc.

Roger Roth (Cincinnati), who tips 10-15 percent of the cost of live-aboards, shows his caution. "If it's to be put in a hat from the group, I dole out some to crew members who went beyond the normal call of duty for me."

"The problem is that
organizations minimize
salaries to maximize profits,
then expect customers to
make up the difference."

Samuel R. Wheatman thinks "tips communicate with emphasis. Words add clarity. So, my wife and I no longer participate in tip pools, because it dilutes our message. We put our tips in envelopes labeled with individuals' names and give it to them directly, along with praise and a handshake. Where tip boxes are provided, we put money and personal notes in envelopes addressed to each person. Sometimes when there is an 'all crew' box and there was a good team effort, we'll use that. When we go back to an operation and find improved service, we believe it is partially because our message got through."

The Hartmans, like other readers, believe that crews often appreciate other items too. "If we return to a destination, we might bring T-shirts or baseball caps." Jack E. Steinberg (Portland, Oregon) believes that if someone makes his life interesting, easier, or fun, then he should return the favor. "I sent one divemaster a box of cigars because we had a mutual interest in cigars and he had a difficult time obtaining them. Once I sent CDs to one who turned me on to some of her music."

Many readers asked, "Why do we have to tip at all?" Harry Pearson (Cape Canaveral) wrote that "tipping makes no sense, whether it's in a restaurant or on a cruise ship. The Wave Dancer's recommended tips for the 20- passenger boat would produce income equivalent to two additional divers. Tipping has virtually disappeared in Europe; it's so expensive that diners and travelers can barely afford the basic service, let alone a gratuity. Pay everyone the wages they deserve for the work they do, price the trip to achieve a competitive profit, and stop harassing the passengers."

Adie Miros (Pittsburgh) asks, "Why is it necessary to tip someone who is simply doing the job he was hired to do? One doesn't tip the travel agent who booked your fabulous vacation or the pilot who transported you there safely. Why should I tip the boat captain or crew who was hired to ensure that their divers have a safe and enjoyable vacation?

"Organizations minimize salaries to maximize profits and expect the customers to make up the difference through tipping. I give generous gratuities but resent the employer. The dive crew would probably have a better attitude if they did not have to worry about making a minimum salary based on someone else's generosity. For excellence in job performance, give raises, incentives, and promotions."

Ron Ross thinks boat operators might be asking us next to chip in on the gas money. "When you spend $1,800 for a one-week trip, you shouldn't be expected to pay for the ship's crew. Maybe no tipping would result in higher prices, but at least it would be an honest transaction. Tipping should be for service beyond what we have a right to expect as paying customers. Do I really want to pay the divemaster $10 to carry my tank 20 feet? PS: I Enjoy your newsletter, but don't expect a tip."

Okay, no tips for me, but the other side of the story was sent from R. K. (Hawaii), who has a two-sided perspective: "I am both an experienced live-aboard diver and, for part of the year, a professional dive guide and instructor. As a traveler I am aware that 10 percent of the charter price is an acceptable tip; that guideline often appears in pre-trip information. For a $3,000-plus charter in the South Pacific, 10 percent might seem excessive; I usually tip $150-$200 if the service and attitude were excellent, although I don't think 10 percent is actually too much.

"Most live-aboard divers are aware of tipping protocol and are financially able to handle it. Operators that give tipping guidelines not only help guests determine an appropriate amount, but they also are looking out for their crew, who depend on tips for good service to augment their meager salaries.

"When I work, I set up gear, give naturalist briefings, find unusual critters, and provide a great experience. I may, if lucky, get a 'thank you.' Sometimes someone will put some money in the tip jar (it's tucked away in an obvious place), but not often. I wish dive operators would ask wholesalers to communicate to their customers that tipping is not included. This would show concern for their staff and educate divers to proper etiquette."

Etiquette or not, tips from our readers for a week of diving range from nothing to $350, but average $5 to $10 a day, with liveaboard crews receiving more than land-based operations.

I'm not much different. For a land-based operation, I usually tip the boat crew $10 a day for good service, a bonus for excellent service; for live-aboard crews, $150 for good service, more for excellent service. For housecleaning staff, I leave $1 a day in the room. For restaurant and resort staff on a package deal, I leave up to $50 a week. I may single out individuals for a larger amount, and put the rest into an envelope to be divided among other staff.

While in some parts of the world, tipping is a way of life, I like the approach in Fiji. No tipping, but at the end of the trip one may contribute to the Christmas Fund, which goes to staff members and, because of strong family ties, really to their village -- the kids, elders, whomever. Most resorts carefully write the guests name and the amount of the tip in a book, then distribute at year end. That always gets my attention.

J. Q.

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