July 2012


Author: Kitty Bartell | Photographer: Photography by Anne

When I first heard the story of Mr. Edsel Ford Fung, I thought it had to be an urban legend; his name alone gave me reason to pause. However, in the history of service industry workers, he may actually hold the title as the world’s most famous and rudest waiter. It is hard to imagine that Fung ever earned a single tip, much less a living as a waiter. Fung worked at Sam Wo restaurant in San Francisco until his death in 1984. He was known to berate, insult, ignore, and criticize the patrons of Sam Wo and, ironically, managed to parlay these skills into a lucrative career as a waiter and tourist attraction.

San Francisco amusingly claimed Fung its own and leveraged his “skills” to generate tourism; however, we are fortunate to have the many charms of the Lowcountry as a more inviting and effective way to bring visitors to our shores. Ready to make these visits more enjoyable is an army of individuals who attend to the details of each experience and depend on being financially rewarded for their efforts. Lowcountry visitors play a pivotal role in providing the livelihood of restaurant, hotel, and club staff, drivers, guides, and personal service providers, and tipping is the primary mechanism by which this happens.

Virtually no industry relies more heavily on tip income than restaurants and bars, with employees depending almost exclusively on them for their livelihood. Much to the chagrin of wait staff everywhere, no laws have been written to guarantee tips; however, there is one universal principle: tips should be calculated based on the level of service received. From this point, the rules for tipping can be a bit murky and will vary depending on the type of services provided.

In the restaurant and bar business, it is as though an unwritten contract exists between servers and customers: servers are tasked with making customers feel comfortable and meeting their needs; customers are responsible to compensate servers for their efforts. It’s not as simple as it sounds. The server must have the dexterity of a circus juggler, the patience of a monk, and the good humor of, well, the Good Humor Man. Sunburns, rainy days, tired children, weary wallets and cranky co-workers loom around every corner. The really good ones turn these obstacles into great experiences and earn tips equal to their efforts.

Customarily, food and beverage tipping is 15% of the bill (excluding tax) for adequate service, 20% for very good services, with no less than 10% for poor service. In an effort to aid customers when calculating tips, some restaurants are even including tip percentage suggestions on the bill. Remember, not every part of your experience is under the control of the server, so even if the service seems under-par, still tip 10% at the very least, as the hiccup that occurred may not be the server’s fault.

Many other service providers depend on tips as well, and visitors may need a bit of tipping guidance for these not so every-day activities.

Indulging in spa services is becoming a more common way for visitors to enhance their vacation experience. According to Spa Finder Inc., there are now more spas in the United States than there are Starbucks. Hilton Head Island and Bluffton are on-trend and dotted with places to be pampered. According to Alexis Sargo, general manager of FACES DaySpa in The Village at Wexford, spa services can vary greatly; however, tipping on these services should be at about 18%. When it comes to knowing who, when, and how much to tip, “Some clients ask, because they’re simply not familiar with what is customary,” she said.

Wayne Mutterer, owner of Camelot Limousine and Transportation says, “Almost all limousine companies have a standard 20% tip included in the bill.” Being an industry where suggestive-selling isn’t an option to increase tip revenue—think dessert at a restaurant—Mutterer’s 21-year-old transportation company stays competitive by including a lower 17% tip rate and hiring drivers who understand that superior service will increase tips. It is always wise to ask any service provider if the tip is included in the bill, whether for a large group at a restaurant or for other services.

Lowcountry visitors may need to tip in a variety of other settings. At hotels and resorts, the concierge should be tipped for services such as obtaining event tickets or making reservations. Parking valets and bellhops should be tipped for their efforts, after all, no reward is too great when the humidity is 90% and you’re wearing new Jimmy Choos.

Visitors enjoying a round of golf will have the opportunity to tip golf club attendants. If your clubs are well cleaned, in addition to a nice tip, you can thank the club attendant for shaving a shot or two off of your next round by increasing your accuracy.

Mike Overton, CEO of Outside Hilton Head says their company encourages customers to provide a gratuity based on the level of service they receive. The adventure water sport and nature guide and rental company understands that as guides and clients connect, and as visitors become friends, there will be desire on the client’s part to reward a great experience.

While their approaches couldn’t be more divergent, Fung and businesses in the Lowcountry do have something in common: they understand that great experiences will be rewarded, and that there is a living to be made providing them.
Some guidelines for tipping on services you might enjoy during your time in the Lowcountry:

Restaurants & Bars
15% of bill (excluding tax) for adequate service
20% for very good service
No less than 10% for poor service

Parking Valet
$2 to bring your car

Taxi Driver
15%, with an additional $1 to $2 for assistance with bags

Spa Services
18% to 20%

15% to 20%


Golf Course Club Attendants
$2 to $5 per bag, depending on level of service provided

Activity Guides (golf lessons, tennis lessons, kayak and watersports, zipline guides, fishing guides etc.)
20% and up

Airport Skycap
$1 per bag if you use curbside check-in
$2 per bag if skycap takes bags to counter

Hotel Bellhop
$1 per bag for bringing luggage to your room

Hotel Housekeeper
$2 to $5 per night

Hotel Concierge
$5 for arranging tickets or reservations; No tip required when asking for directions

Car Wash Attendants
$5 and up, depending on services provided

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