The Tipping Point

Should planners tip suppliers? Here’s what happened when I did it.

This is a true story about tipping gone wrong that happened to me long ago at the beginning of my career. I was on a fam trip to a European destination that shall remain nameless. I was the only meetings industry journalist on the trip. The rest of the attendees were meeting and event planners who all had put more time in the industry than I did. We spent about five days traveling around the country doing site tours of hotels, dining at fine restaurants, and enjoying the sites and attractions the destination had to offer. We all got along famously with each other and with our two hosts: one was from the tourist board and the other was from the country’s national airline.

On the afternoon of the final day, we decided to tip the both of them. Right from the start I felt uneasy about it. I suggested we get each one a gift from one of the nearby shops. But the planners were all confident that it was perfectly fine to give them cash and that I shouldn’t be concerned about it. Being new in the industry, I figured they all had more experience than me, so they must know. They also asked me to do the presentation of the envelopes at dinner. I agreed and didn’t think anymore about it. 

Well, towards the end of the final dinner, I got up, tapped my water glass with a knife and dived head first into my presentation. I thanked them for all their kindness, for showing us such a great time, and as a token of our appreciation… Then I handed the first envelope to representative from the tourist board. I could tell from the look on her face that she was embarrassed. As she accepted the envelope she smiled sheepishly at me with a look that seemed to say, “Oh well, Americans.” Then I turned to the gentleman from the airline and offered him an envelope. He looked at me like I had just spit in his hand and said curtly, “I can’t accept this.” After an unbelievably long and awkward pause, the woman from the tourist board handed me back her envelope. I was glad it was at the end of the dinner because all of the air was sucked out of the room. It was a very somber note on which to end what had been a very enjoyable trip and productive networking experience. 

If we had bought them each a small gift it would have been an acceptable gesture of appreciation and would have contributed to the spirit of building a continuing relationship. Giving them money was signaling the ending of an encounter with someone who had just performed a service. 

Any thoughts, opinions, or news? Please share them with me at

Photo by Jp Valery on Unsplash

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