A confession: I'm really bad at tipping.
It's not that I'm deliberately ungenerous, but simply that I never know how much to give. The UK isn't really a nation for tips: outside of restaurants, it's not something that's particularly expected, which means that here in the US I'm a complete novice at the art. The result is that sometimes I lavish cash like Sinatra on surly and unhelpful staff, while at other times I completely blow an opportunity to recognize excellent service.
To my embarrassment, I've only lately realized that it's polite to tip housekeeping staff at hotels. I determined to rectify my error this week while staying at the Venetian hotel in Las Vegas for an event, and so I dutifully left a small amount on my bed when I left for the day. To my surprise, when I returned to my serviced room, I noticed that my toiletries had been "upgraded" from the uninspiring generic items that first adorned my room to some rather impressive high-end replacements.
Next morning, I determined to show my gratitude for such thoughtfulness, and left a slightly larger amount on my bed. On returning later, I discovered that not only had the toiletries I'd stashed in my suitcase been replenished, but that I'd acquired still additional items, including a "gentleman's kit" of useful travel accessories. This turned into something of a game: the third morning, I excitedly tipped a little yet more out of fascination to see what would happen (a small vase of flowers and a Loofah sponge). For once, I was rather disappointed that I had to check out; it would have been very tempting to have upped the ante dramatically further to see what the ultimate reward would have been!
As well as discovering a new aspect of the service culture in the US, I also discovered that there are a lot more fun ways to "gamble" your money in Las Vegas than putting it into a slot machine. And just so I don't come across as bragging about my largesse, I should note that the very same evening I horrified a colleague of mine for innocently tipping just 5% on a bar bill (I figured this was a pretty good wage given the size of the bill, but I was apparently so far out that I could have had the dregs of my drink poured over me!). I've still got plenty to learn, it seems.
Yes I know exactly what you mean. Still I did find a useful pocket card called "ez tipping" was a helpful guide. I brought my card in a store called "America!" for $1.49. Digging it out of my wallet right now it seems to be made by a company called "Al Littleton" (possibly now called Cardit?) - some data mining located it here:
Al Littleton Sales Co. Dba Card-it
Po Box 250
Bronston, Kentucky 42518
Phone : (606) 561-6866
I live in Las Vegas, NV... Firstly it is easily one of the most exciting cities in the world being as you people (thats right I said you people!!!) come here to blow vast sums of money and party your asses off!! Which, well, F'n Rocks (thats right I said F'n!!!) But as a former bartender at ____, I will be the first to say that tips are what make this city so awesome (you really can do anything that you want as long as you have a dollar) whether it be the extra $100 dollars for your party of 6 to skip the lines (2 hr)outside of a club to that extra $2 that makes sure the cocktail waitress is never out of sight! Moreover, having been a part of our world leading service industry ... I learned as we all do to judge... if you look like a canadian (code for poor tipper) then you will get poor service and please we remember the canadians as much as we remember the big tippers and should you return don't plan on recieving... well anything for that matter but remotely as good as what you could have if you just went that extra dollar!!
Sidenote: due to showboating winners raising the bar 25% is more the vegas expectation for tipping in your favorite Bar, Restaurant, etc.
The whole tipping 'system' is an exercise in generating confusion, guilt, anger and embarassment. Just pay the people what they deserve for the job they do and stop expecting them to beg from the customers. Expecting tips in the UK would be extremely demeaning and would be interpreted as "here, I don't need this loose change, but you obviously do".