The question of whether to tip in airline lounges is a difficult question, especially in more premium ones like AA’s Flagship Dining Rooms or United’s Polaris Lounges.
I personally hate tipping…I view it as a dirty stain on American culture. It has become such an entitlement that even a 15% tip for mediocre service is considered by many to be stingy. It bothers me to see tipping, beyond rounding up to the nearest Euro, spreading in Europe and I think what bothers me most is that good service is conditioned upon what amounts to a bribe from the customer.
It is what it is. I choose not to fight the system and tend to tip fairly well. But then there’s the issue of airline lounges.
Both American and United offer sit-down dining and bar service to their most premium customers at lounges around the country. Should you, as an airline passenger that paid a substantial premium for a ticket that granted access to one of these lounges, tip these waiters, waitresses, and bartenders? After all, they often provide better service than you get in a restaurant or bar outside the airport.
Jobs Are Advertised As “Non-Tipped”
At least for United Polaris Lounges, staff are paid a living wage and the job positions are explicitly advertised as “non-tipped.” For example, here’s an opening for a mixologist at United’s SFO Polaris Lounge:
The jobs are filled by Sodexo, a French food and facilities management company. The company advertises the following benefits:
- 401K Plan
- Dental Insurance
- Employee Discounts
- Health Insurance
- Life Insurance
- Vision Insurance
So, a good hourly wage, benefits, and no expectation of tipping. Should you still tip?
My reaction is no. That I don’t have to tip out of guilt and that there should be no expectation of tipping with jobs like this. In other words, “tips” are included in the price of your ticket like an all-inclusive cruise.
Sadly, the expectation of tipping does not go away even if it is deliberately excluded from the job description. Here’s one review of the open position from a former employee:
I was a Bartender in the brand new Polaris Lounge at SFO. (though the job title is Mixologist LOL!!) There was often little to no communication between management and staff. We ran out of product and supplies often. We were not allowed to have any tips remain on the bar top for more than a few seconds. The tips were to be pulled down immediately and hidden. Most Bartenders that were skilled quit right away. New staff was just brought in with little or no experience. I am not wanting to burn bridges (though I know this will), but I really wasn’t happy working there.
In marking “cons” about the job, this bartender also complained about “no tips from many guests.” Though reading this it appears it was company mismanagement that drove him away.
Should You Tip?
Again, should you tip? That’s up to you. I’m only trying to make a point here that you should not feel compelled to tip in a premium airline lounge because workers are paid well and applied for the position knowing that tipping was not part of the deal.
Perhaps tip if you are truly dazzled by the great service, but please do not tip out of guilt that the worker’s are not paid enough.
A good bartender can do far better in a tip-based environment than one with a decent hourly wage. That has to be one reason why the Polaris Lounge in SFO lost some of its early bartenders. Just understand that as ubiquitous as tipping is in American culture, it does not have to spread to premium airline lounges…or airplanes.
> Read More: A “Real” Review of the United Polaris Lounge in SFO
> Read More: Frontier Airlines Wants You To Tip Flight Attendants