Travelling for business invariably involves using a number of public-sector services ranging from; dining out, to using a chauffeur or taxi service, or interacting with bar staff and/or hotel concierges. The Western hemisphere in particular is socially-accustomed to leaving a tip, of varying amounts, alongside the basic price of the service. Depending on the geographical location, the gratuity could range from as little as 3% of the overall service cost as seen in Croatia, to as much as 15-20% as in the United States. Some countries such as Iceland and Denmark do not expect a tip at all and often include a standard ‘service charge’ into their basic pricing and places in the Far East, such as South Korea and Japan, find leaving a gratuity as inappropriate, offensive behaviour and will often respond with confusion and or perhaps even insulted by the gesture.
Tipping is definitely something of a grey area in terms of etiquette but thankfully there are plenty of apps that can assist with that challenge. Globe Tipping, Tipping Bird and Tip Check all do exactly what they say on the tin – they’ll calculate the service charge depending on your location and the cost of the service itself, ensuring you adhere to social etiquette every time.
But what’s the etiquette about leaving a gratuity on a business travel trip?
Whilst no one will likely deny the fact that leaving a tip is a custom everyone should partake in, especially when you’re representing the company abroad or at a business lunch with a potential new partner or prospect; there is a big grey area on how to manage tipping expenses. There are some organisations that may argue that it is a personal choice to leave a tip and thus should not be made at the expense of the company, there are others that simply wouldn’t question it at all, and then there are potential issues as to whether the tip was made in cash and consequently has no auditable receipt. What happens then?
A recent article in Buying Business Travel Magazine (BBTM) on the subject of tipping and expenses gave an example of Marriott International introducing ‘gratuity envelopes’ in some of their North American hotel rooms in 2014. This was to encourage business travellers to leave a tip for their daily room cleaner for their efforts and it sparked worldwide criticism and confusion, with many feeling pressured into leaving cash tips for behind-the-scenes work. BBTM then continued on to postulate that overall tipping practise has changed and is rising up the corporate agenda, with some U.S. restaurant chains abolishing the 20% service charge in its entirety and simply choosing to raise their overall meal prices to cover the cost and others including it as mandatory in their billing. It’s a really confusing area of corporate travel and it’s often completely missed off travel policy agendas.
So, without further ado, here’s our best practice tips on tipping:
1. Ensure your policy reflects the organisation’s stance on leaving a gratuity, with particular focus on which services your travellers are able to tip for and by how much.
2. Detail the exact expense process by which your travellers can be reimbursed for any gratuities left on the trip.
3. Encourage your travellers to make all payments by card, as statements can be supplied as proof during the expense process. Cash tips are hard to trace and many would argue that without an auditable trail there’ll be no reimbursement. Considering that a meal in the U.S. for 4 people at a high end restaurant could be around $350, the 20% service charge doesn’t seem quite so small, and understandably, a traveller will feel some level of frustration to find that he or she won’t be getting that back.
4. Make sure your travellers get into the habit of splitting up their business trip expense claims in to appropriate sections – public transport, meal allowance, gratuity etc. as this will enable your finance team to have full transparency into trip spend.
5. Mobile technology can make a big difference to your expense management programme. Many expense platforms enable the user to photograph their receipt and upload it for processing instantly, minimising the amount of paperwork for your finance team and will often include a tip amount in the claim. This seamless automatic approach to expenses will enable you to have greater insight into just how much your travellers spend whilst they’re away on business.
6. To ensure your travellers are not unnecessarily leaving tips, encourage your travellers to look up the social custom prior to leaving for their trip. It’s a simple way to save the pennies and adhere to local etiquette.