Tipping the Hotel Valet

Tipping the Hotel Valet

Temporary Shift is a series of brief dispatches from the front lines of the service sector, where I attempt to wring some sort of meaning out of the inevitable dirty dish rag.

Since May, I've found myself working as a valet at an upscale, mid-luxury hotel in Richmond, Virginia. What this means is, on most days, I bounce around in a working-class cultural vortex, where the service economy meets the hospitality industry at the intersection of a neat polo, poly-blend pants and slip-resistant Sketchers. Of course, there's also the name tag that costs more than my hourly (non-living) wage to replace if lost.

A few weeks in, I was told that our particular hotel is the kind of place where 48% of the clientele averages a combined family income between $100,000 and $200,000. In other words, the global financial crisis and the American economic recession really hit some of our guests quite hard. Like a Jacuzzi jet to a tanned lower back!

As a valet, I've been given an extraordinary and extended glimpse into the makes and models of all kinds of cars. Not to mention the makes and models of all kinds of people. Consider what follows, then, an unmitigated public service announcement for the common good.

Tipping the Hotel Valet

An Unorthodox Guide for Those Who Need It


If, while getting out of your car and being greeted by the hotel valet, you are caressing a half-finished Starbucks latte or frappuccino, or, if you have placed the drink in the valet's hand in order to have him toss it into the trash, the suggested tip is $4.*


  • The Calculus: $2 standard rate + $2 upper-middle-class conformity tax = $4

*$4 is the approximate going rate for a Starbucks latte or frappuccino. You might consider bumping it up to $5 if, by your own admission, you tend to throw away half-finished Starbucks drinks more than once a week.

If you belong to the professional business class, and, while dropping off your weekly rental car with the hotel valet, you find yourself saying robotic things like "Thank you so much" (very common among the female population) or "I appreciate it" (unusually common among the males) all the while you are consuming services for which you will be reimbursed all the while not tipping, the recommended tip is $4-5.*


  • The Calculus: $1 for every word ("I appreciate it" or "Thank you so much"), which, so far, has never payed an actual valet's actual bills + $1 surcharge = $4-5

*Unfortunately, there is a $1 surcharge for obvious and blatant "willful neglect," a noticeable epidemic among the professional business class. An important note: Handing the valet a $10 or a $20 is a perfectly acceptable way to escape the dread of making eye contact or expressing other relatively human gestures.  

If, as fate and/or privilege would have it, you happen to drive a car that retails for twice the amount of a full-time valet's annual Adjusted Gross Income, the suggested tip is $10.*


  • The Calculus: $5 standard rate x 2 = $10

*For cars which cost three times (or more) the amount of a full-time valet's annual Adjusted Gross Income, simply take the $5 figure and multiply it by 3, 4, 5, or whatever number best applies to your car at the time of its purchase.

If, no matter your socioeconomic class or financial situation, you regularly and proudly hand $1 (i.e. a single George Washington) to the hotel valet, the recommended tip is $2.*


  • The Calculus: $1 (your preferred tip) + $1 historical assessment fee for knowing what the Internet is but for not knowing that the year is 2015 = $2

*If the average price of regular unleaded fuel drops to under $1 per gallon or if you can score a pack of M&Ms for 25 cents, then, by all means, please feel free to return to the $1 tip. Also, and this might come as a surprise, if $2 starts to feel pretty good (I mean, it feels good in the deep places of the soul), then go ahead and experiment by tipping $3. Your soul will thank you.  

If, for any number of possibly good reasons, tipping the person who is providing a service for you is not a prevalent value in the economic or social contract of your primary country or culture of origin (see: most Europeans and most South Asians), the suggested tip is $3.*


  • The Calculus: $2 standard rate + $1 fee for displaying an egregious lack of cultural awareness in an unprecedented era of globalization = $3

*I suppose you should add a dollar or two (bumping it up to $4-5) if you consciously expect Americans to be appropriately culturally sensitive in, say, France or India, while you get to play innocent or naive to what most American corporations typically pay their Guest Services staff in relation to profits.  

If, by all accounts, you are an extremely attractive woman, congratulations: most valets certainly appreciate true beauty. However, what a valet most appreciates is sincere, tangible appreciation. Here the recommended tip is $ [variable].*


  • The Calculus: Take $1, then multiply it by each designer handbag or stylish black dress that you own (whichever number is greater)

*Please consider tipping more if you've ever winked flirtatiously at a valet while saying "Thank you so much," and, while walking into the hotel, mistakenly thought that that would suffice. 

If, perchance, you have ever uttered these words to a hotel valet, "I'll get you later," the suggested tip is $20.*


  • The Calculus: $5 standard rate x 4 seasons of the year in which good intentions pale in comparison to realized follow-through = $20

*No need to make change for a $20. The valet who is currently in your presence will gladly accept the $20 on behalf of valets everywhere.

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