Service


Judging from recent debates on the Tripadvisor Vietnam forum, tipping is a hot topic amongst travellers to Vietnam. Should I tip? If so, who should I tip? And how much?

 

In some parts of the world, particularly the US, tips are expected and taken for granted, and in some establishments a tip is even included in the bill, meaning the customer is obliged to tip even when they might feel that it is not deserved.

 

In Vietnam, this isn’t the case, and the culture of tipping is still in its infancy. The Vietnamese rarely tip in restaurants or bars, though women usually tip in hairdressers or spas.

 

So what to do? In my opinion, you should tip to reward good service, polite/friendly/professional service, or service that exceeds your expectations. Such service, outside international hotels at least, is sadly all too rare in Vietnam so I always reward it when I experience it.

 

Here are my guidelines for tipping:

 

Restaurants

You will find that the standard of service in Vietnamese restaurants is way below what you would get in other tourism destinations, such as Thailand. If you do get good service, then 5% of the bill is a reasonable amount, which will usually equate to between 15,000-30,000VND. Less is too little, more is too much!

 

Bars

Bar staff are generally paid very little and make up their wages with tips, so if you get good service, tip by rounding up your bill – again, 15,000-30,000VND is reasonable.

 

Hotel Porters

10,000-15,000VND is the usual amount for a helpful porter who has escorted you to your room and/or delivered your baggage. I personally find that tipping porters/concierges ensures you get excellent attention and service throughout your stay!

Taxis

Polite, friendly, honest taxi drivers are a rare species in Vietnam, so if you get one, reward him with a tip – rounding up your bill is the best way, or if he has really gone above & beyond the call of duty, hand him 10,000VND to let him know his efforts are appreciated.

 

Please note that some taxi drivers may assume you want them to keep the change if it’s a small amount and not bother to give change. If the driver has given you good service, then by all means let him keep it. But if he’s been surly, uncommunicative or generally indifferent, insist on getting your change in full. If he claims he has no change, take your money back or stay put in the cab. You will find the change will miraculously appear!

 

Spa/Massage

Many massage parlours of dubious repute pay their staff so little that they live off tips, and will consequently openly ask for tips. I have even heard cases of masseuses refusing to allow customers to leave until they have paid a tip! Obviously such practices should be discouraged – generally, if a spa or massage parlour is touting for business by handing out leaflets on the street, it is best avoided. Most reputable spas (including our own) discourage their staff from asking for tips, but if you have had good service, then 50,000-100,000VND is the usual amount and will be gratefully received.

 

Tour Guides/Drivers

If you’re on a tour with a guide & driver, and you feel they’ve really done a good job of making your trip memorable, then a tip of $10 per day (total) is reasonable. Tips probably account for 60% of their earnings and they have a hard job, being away from home for long periods of time. However, if the service is indifferent or unremarkable, or if they openly ask for tips, give them nothing.

 

 

In all the above cases, you should only reward good service. Tipping for poor or indifferent service provides staff with little motivation to improve the way they treat customers. If the message that great service = big tips starts to get across, the country’s currently poor standards of service will hopefully improve, and more tourists will come back for repeat visits. However, if the message is foreigners are going to tip me whatever I do, things will not improve and Vietnam will continue to have a reputation for offering poor service, whilst restaurateurs will cut wages and expect staff to live off tips. So, please tip with care and only when it’s deserved!

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Popular travel community website Tripadvisor has just released the results of its annual hotel visitor survey, and for us at the Duxton the results make heartening reading!

When asked what makes a hotel great, the most important factor (chosen by 30% of respondents) was location. Our guests often comment that they stay with us because we have the best location in Saigon, and it’s also good for our banqueting business. There are other international standard 4* hotels in Saigon, but none of them are in district 1!

24% of respondents cited hotel staff/great service as the most important factor in a great hotel. This is an area we take very seriously. We know we may not be able to compete with our 5* neighbours in terms of number of rooms, extensive facilities or brand awareness, but we CAN and DO match them for service, as our guest feedback will confirm.

The Duxton also scores well in terms of rate, with 54% of respondents saying they prefer to pay between $100 and $200 per night for their hotel stays. Our internet rate of $150 sits right in the middle of this band.

All in all, the survey bears out what we at the Duxton see as our strengths – the best location in the city, fantastic service, and competitive, realistic pricing. Thanks Tripadvisor!

That’s the issue raised in this amusing news story, about a ‘real-life Basil Fawlty’ who was assaulted by one of his hotel guests. The hotel manager in question states Whoever said the customer is always right has clearly not worked in the hotel industry.”

 

Or any other service industry perhaps, where staff regularly have to deal with guests whose demands, complaints or general behaviour go beyond what is generally deemed as acceptable. If you’ve been trained to think that the customer is always right, what do you do when the customer is plainly and obviously 100% wrong?

 

We’ve had a couple of incidents recently where the customer has very obviously been wrong. In the first, two very drunk guests returned to their room at 4am and decided they fancied a swim. Finding our pool locked up for the night, they knotted their bath towels together to form a rope, and climbed down the wall of the hotel, straight into the pool! They even managed to climb back up again after their swim, but not before they had awoken several angry guests whose rooms overlooked the pool. The result? A damages and cleaning bill. Sure, we could have waived it – the customer always being right – but that isn’t really the sort of behaviour we want to encourage at the Duxton!

 

In the second, one guest, who had also obviously been enjoying Saigon’s nightlife, got lost on the way from his bed to the toilet and ended up using the fire escape. Another cleaning bill, presented to a guest who was quite clearly not in the right!

 

Of course, these are extreme examples and, on the rare occasions when our guests have reason to complain, they do so politely and are politely received. But there are times when someone’s attitude or behaviour goes a little too far, and the hotelier has to defend his property and his staff from unreasonable complaints and demands.

 

In the ‘Basil Fawlty’ story, it sounds rather like the guest had a legitimate complaint – his room was noisy. However the way he approached the complaint – refusing to pay for his room and then attacking the hotel manager when challenged (albeit somewhat brusquely) – overstepped the mark by a considerable degree.

 

There’s a lesson for both of us, hoteliers and guests, here. A polite guest complaint will be much more effective than a rude or aggressive one, and a hotel that handles complaints politely and effectively will probably create a loyal customer. But if the guest is ‘wrong’, most hotels will cut their losses and wave that guest goodbye, while if a hotelier mishandles a legitimate complaint, the guest will never come back.

 

I once did some consultancy work at a South African tour operator, where all staff had the motto The customer is always right – even when they are wrong pinned above their desks. Do I agree? It depends how ‘wrong’ the customer is!