In Confessions Of a Tour Guide: Part One and Part Two, I gave some advice on how to be a good guide.

Here, in the third and final installment, I discuss how to be a good tour guest.

Good tour guests don't complain about the weather. Photo by DW Rhodes.
“WHAT?” you exclaim, loudly and with great surprise. “Why do I have to be a good guest? You’re the one who’s job it is to entertain and inform ME, Sparky!”

First of all, why are you calling me “Sparky?” Also, yes.

BUT, tour guides are human beings. Mostly. I’ve known a few where that’s questionable but, for the most part they’re humans who are saddled with those icky “feelings,” just like you and me. This means they can get sad, angry, or upset at something you say, do, or throw at them.

YES, most should be professionals. Yet some aren’t very professional and, when you take a tour, it’s sort of the luck of the draw concerning which guide you’re going to get. Since guides are only celebrities around the office, it’s not like you’re trying to choose between Jimmy Fallon and Will Farrell. (I’d go with Fallon.)

In part one, I talked about a guide who billed herself as "The Best Guide In The World!" but she seemed to have never cracked open a history book. So, there are some crummy tour guides but hopefully you’ve landed a good one and you’re finding him/her/unknown (welcome to San Francisco) to be very entertaining. Here’s how you keep it that way:

Be nice!

OF COURSE the guide should be nice to you, but that goes both ways. It’s really tough to give a live presentation on anything if someone is talking loudly, or shouting questions and comments at you, and interrupting your presentation.

Are you ready for an actual “confession?” I never blew anyone off but, if someone insisted on being a jerk, I just wouldn’t give them my ‘A’ game. My best performance took a lot of energy, so the ‘B’ game had a lot more pauses, way fewer jokes, and less engagement.

It’s known in theatrical circles that the audience won’t miss something if they didn’t know it was supposed to be there, which generally applies if a stage actor forgot some lines and managed to smooth it over with skill. The audience won’t notice, but it’s not how the scene was written – which was probably way better.

You’ll be missing out if you’re a jerk. You’ll get a tour, and I’ll still tell you about The Castro District, but you’ll miss my joke about nude grandpas because you’re an interruptive idiot who thinks it’s okay to blabber while I blabber.

Follow The Rules

There aren’t many rules on a tour, unless it’s a SEGWAY TOUR in which case you have to actually have a training session before you go. They really don’t want you to get squished by a truck, it’s bad for business.

Photo by Elizabeth.
While riding around on an open-top bus, there is only one rule, and that’s no standing up. This is for your personal safety because tree branches can really do some damage when they’re traveling at 35 mph.

You also can’t go up and down the stairs while the bus is moving, which is basically the same rule because you’d have to stand up to get to the stairs. That’s a good way to get yourself kicked off the bus and, yes, I know you paid forty bucks to take the tour but no one wants to explain to a judge why a tour guide let you get beheaded by power cables.

TIPS can make up for a whole lot if you decide to be a jerk, or even if you don’t.

A lot of you who don’t live in the United States aren’t going to like hearing this, but tipping for good service is part of the culture here and is expected. As mentioned previously, most visitors are aware that it’s customary to tip taxi drivers and wait staff, but seldom include tour guides in their generosity.

The typical feedback I heard (or overheard, since people are generally too polite to complain directly – especially if they’re Canadian) would be, “Don’t these guys get paid? If I bought a ticket and they get paid, why should I pay extra for them just to do their job?”

The answer is, because tour companies here – much like restaurants, cafes, and bars – pay their staff at minimum wage or just above, which is NOT A LIVING WAGE.

Especially in a ridiculously expensive city like San Francisco.

The tour companies are like, “Yay! We don’t have to pay our people shit because it’s a ‘gratuity-based’ position! We’ll save SO MUCH MONEY! YAY!” It’s really weird to see managers giggle and dance around whenever the subject is brought up.

My previous employer is based in London, and an employee who’d been transferred to San Francisco told me the London tour guides don’t take tips but get a decent living wage. I had my bags packed within the hour but soon found out I should have consulted my wife before making a decision like that, so I ended up not going.

I’d also have to learn things about London other than where it is, which is basically all I know now. Also, I know it’s been there a long time. Yeah, that’s pretty much it.

So that’s why you tip. A good way to look at it is just to add a few bucks to the price of anything that provides a service. A guideline often used here for dining out is to double the sales tax on the tab for your meal, and that’s the tip you should leave. For tour guides, if you’re doing a 2-hour tour around town, just count on five bucks extra.

Of course, you’re not expected to tip if the guide was awful, but most of us aren’t awful.

If you’re visiting from a non-tipping country, which seemed to be a helluva lot of my guests as a tour guide, here is a handy list of service positions where tips are expected:
  • Waiters and waitresses
  • Bartenders
  • Hotel bellhops, valets, housekeeping, and room service
  • TOUR GUIDES and BUS DRIVERS (We would split the tip tally 50/50 at the end of the shift.)
Yes, it’s going to cost you a small fortune to visit us, but we’re worth it.

Though sadly, most of us can't shoot fireworks out our boobs like Katy Perry.
In summation, there’s not much to being a good tour guest. Just BE NICE, FOLLOW THE RULES, DUCK, and FORK OVER SOME CASH. Then you’ll be golden!

It’s also a cool gesture to hit up one of those user-review sites and give a talented guide some good press if you’re so inclined. It won’t personally net you anything except good feelings for the karma.

One thing I'd ask.. if you do decided to write-up a user review, please only do so to praise, not to bitch. When people bitch on Yelp and stuff they generally exaggerate, which makes for a great read but it hurts all those people making a living who count on those tips I just mentioned.

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