Whatever you feel might be a fair amount of severance pay for the clerk, if it happens in my barn and I find out about it later. Or at least enough to compensate him or her for the written warning and the several days off he or she is going to get -- if the clerk is new and inexperienced, and I think he or she might be salvageable with a better understanding of how the business works and the occasional issues of ethics involved, and he or she still has a job there at all.
Upgraded and upscale rooms are priced a little higher for a reason.
We give out upgrades (Shoot, we do that more often than we rent the rooms at the full, upgraded rate.) We give out discounts. (Sometimes, I wonder why we even bother having a regular rate: see). But when we do, that's always done for a reason: it has to benefit the hotel in some way. An upgrade or a discount is, when given, the hotel's gift to give, not the clerk's. The clerk is only - or at least only supposed to be - acting on behalf of and in the interests of the hotel.
Even if it doesn't benefit the hotel directly for now (e.g., this year), your goodwill toward the hotel is worth something to us; a great deal, in fact. We want you and our clerks to like each other, too: that means a great deal to us. But when your goodwill toward one of our clerks (as distinct from the hotel itself as an entity) is expressed in the form of an apparent bribe, that's, frankly, something we feel a little uncomfortable with. Such conflicts of interest are laid out in a company policy that we have every employee sign off on on their first day - which is why the outcome for the clerk is more likely going to be termination than a writeup, a talk, and some days off to think about it.
We even let eight-dollar-an-hour clerks give out upgrades, or give out discounts, at their own discretion (within varying limits, depending on the individual). But every time it happens, I'm going to ask why, and I'm going to need a better reason for it than the guest was paying the clerk off.
Housekeepers and room attendants have an established history of being tipped employees. (So do bellmen, concierges, valet parking attendants, and waiters, in upscale properties that have any of these people.) Desk clerks don't. Say "thank you" if you feel the need, give the hotel a nice review on TripAdvisor, or send a complimentary letter to the manager or the hotel's franchise organization; but never offer a tip or anything of value for an upgrade that could make it look like an express or implied exchange, or something done behind management's back, or an abuse of discretion on the part of the clerk.
You might mean it for the best, but I'm never going to look at the clerk the same way again, if I care to see him or her there at all. And on your future stays, I'm going to be watching you. :-)
Tipping a desk clerk in exchange or as a reward for a room upgrade would go over with hotel management about as well as heading up to your local precinct with a gift box or bottle, and a thank-you note with a few bucks enclosed; and giving it to the desk sergeant to pass along to the nice officer who let you off with a warning for the seat belt violation last night as you were driving home from the drunken party feeling a little tipsy.
We appreciate any good-intentioned desire to acknowledge our clerks. It's obvious from the range of answers here that many people like to do it and actually mean well by it; and thus, stepping into it on this question (and seeing the comments and responses by others) has been a learning experience for me: I do, after all, want to be fair to my people if an apparent problem comes up.
But we really can't encourage doing it in this way . . .
Originally appeared on Quora