Orvis Guide to Adventure
Gratuity Guidelines for Fishing Guides and Staff
You hire a professional fishing guide to help you have a great day on the water. After all, the guide has the knowledge, skill, equipment and local history to ensure your day on a river or lake is the best it can be. So, what happens at the end of a day of great fishing when you step out of the river and remove your waders? You prepare to part ways with the guide who has rowed his heart out, tied dozens of flies onto your leader, given great advice on how to get your offering into the right spot in the current seam, whipped up a spectacular shore lunch, and even managed to get a great photo of you and that huge trout just before it wiggled out of your hands and released itself back into the river. That’s right, you pull out the wallet and reward the effort.
Tipping is a way of rewarding good service, whether it’s a service industry worker who performs tasks efficiently with a smile, or a fishing guide who goes out of his or her way to ensure your needs are met. Superior service can be preparation to make a day on the water the best it can be or to correct a situation when things have gone wrong. But we also understand that these workers are earning a pitifully meager wage in most cases and our tips are how they pay their bills. In the United States, we are accustomed to tipping.
Tipping Your Guide is Like Tipping Your Server
Everybody knows that part of dining in a nice restaurant is tipping the server at the end of the meal. Some people will press a twenty into the hand of a hostess who goes out of her way to secure a better table in a nice restaurant. When traveling, Americans are also accustomed to tipping the skycap at the airport for assistance getting their luggage to the check-in counter, or the concierge for help in making dinner reservations. In fact, it’s almost expected in many circles. But many anglers consider tipping the guide at the end of a day of fishing only as an afterthought. The guides very much rely on tips as part of their earnings and count on receiving something.
When you go to a restaurant for dinner, you know the expectations when it comes to tipping. Some people tip at the low end around 10 percent, and about 20 percent toward the upper end. Some anglers might not think anything of putting a $20 tip on a $100 bill, even though the time spent taking care of you during the meal is measured in minutes and your server’s time is split among several tables. Put that same person in a drift boat for eight solid hours under the hot sun and suddenly 20 percent seems like a lot of money even though you have your guide’s undivided attention for the entire day.
Anglers Remain Confused About Tipping
The problem is that many anglers don’t know what is expected and what etiquette calls for when it comes to rewarding their guide for great service. It’s not that they don’t want to tip, but they simply don’t know if they’re supposed to or how much. It’s easy to understand why. Different types of guided fishing trips carry different methods of rewarding a guide for a job well done.
When you book with an independent guide, you know that the owner is the one doing all the work. He is also the one making the boat and insurance payments and filling it with gas, providing high-end gear and tackle, and shopping for the groceries for lunch. If you pick the right guide and play your cards just right, you might also become a better angler by listening to what the guide says about reading water, casting, mending line, and other skills. A tip in this case shows the guide you appreciated the service and recognize his many years of experience. It also shows you want him to be in business next year so you can book with him again.
Sometimes your guide will be an employee of a lodge. Maybe you requested the guide based on past experience or reputation, or maybe the guide was randomly assigned based on who was available the day you wanted to fish. Either way, these fishing pros are paid a base wage that probably doesn’t pay the bills. Not unlike the server in a restaurant, a guide expects a tip as part of his or her income.
How Much Should You Tip Your Guide?
Now that you know you’re supposed to tip your guide, what is an appropriate tip? In many cases, you can follow the same standard you would in many other tipping situations. Reward your guide with about 20 percent for good service, more if you’re really happy and can afford it. If you’re not thrilled with the service, drop it down to about 10 percent. If you’re bad at math and/or don’t want to mess with it, you can tip about $50 to $100 per day depending on how attentive the guide was, how hard he worked, and whether he was friendly and tried to meet your needs.
The thought of not leaving any tip can seem like a motivator to teach a lesson, but in reality, it’s likely your name will get passed around among other guides and you might find the dates you want next year all mysteriously filled up. Guides do share information about their clients with other guides. Tip well and you’ll earn a reputation and create competition among guides who want to work for you. That means you’ll end up with the better guides. If you really want to send a message about poor service, you’re better off tipping 10 percent and then speaking privately with the outfitter or head guide about your dissatisfaction.
Sometimes a simple percentage doesn’t make sense. If you book a $5,000 multi-day, all-inclusive package at a destination resort, how do you determine what kind of a tip to leave for your guide? Occasionally, you’ll find some tipping guidelines listed on the website right alongside the other prices. Unless otherwise stated, a suggested tip is just that. But such a recommendation is intended to help you decide what is considered fair. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t tip a little more for great service, or a little less if the service didn’t meet your expectations.
Other fishing adventures bring different tipping expectations. An offshore trip might include several anglers, and the boat might have a mate or two in addition to the captain. Clearly, you can’t tip $100 each. Consider tipping the captain $50 and each mate $25. Some will say to tip the mates more than the captain because on some boats tips is all they’re working for. It is something to consider, but the captain is also the one with the boat loan, insurance, responsibility, and liability. In Central or South America, a $50 tip per day may be appropriate for your guide, whereas in an affluent country, $100 per day may be more appropriate. Consider the cost of living where you’ll be fishing. A dollar goes a lot further in some places, so take that into account.
It’s also important to remember, no matter how much you paid for your day on the water, there are many factors the guide can’t control. Bad weather, changes in water flow rates, temperature, rain — all can conspire to ruin a good day of fishing. Your guide’s job is to work hard for you and if he busted tail all day and you still didn’t manage to catch the number of fish you expected, that’s not really his fault any more than it’s your server’s fault if the food doesn’t taste good or is not cooked to your liking.
Don’t Forget the Lodge Staff When Leaving a Tip
Many lodges also include tip guidelines for lodge staff, whose tips are likely to be pooled and split among everyone. If you’d prefer to tip individually, don’t forget the housekeeper, the person who cleans your fish, drivers, and others whose work makes your stay possible. If the lodge asks that all tips being given in a package be distributed among all of the staff, consider 7 percent to 12 percent. At 12 percent, a tip for that $5,000 trip is $600, but that’s spread over many days.
Cash is King When it Comes to Tipping Your Guide
Whatever you decide to tip, try to do it in cash. In a few cases you may be able to put a tip on a credit card back at the shop. That’s entirely appropriate at a destination lodge, or where you’re tipping for all services. But standing at the boat landing, your guide likely won’t have a credit card reader handy. Technology is changing that with cell phone card readers, but don’t count on your guide carrying one. In most cases, using a credit card or writing a check won’t be appreciated and there is a chance you’ll have to pay a surcharge to do so. In many locations, a check may mean your guide has to take a long trip into town and may even have to pay a fee to cash it. If you must write a check, add a little more to it to make up for the inconvenience.
Also, if you’re the one organizing a trip with a buddy or group, make sure they know the expectations for tipping. In a group setting, anglers can split tips, but help out your fishing partner with advanced knowledge to keep them from being embarrassed at the end of the fishing day. It doesn’t hurt to be prepared to assume the tip in case someone forgets. Just make sure he knows dinner and drinks will be on him that evening.
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