My stance on tipping hotel housekeeping…

A couple of weeks ago I posted a new poll question asking whether y’all tip housekeeping when staying at hotels. The results so far?

44% Yes
36% No
20% Only for special requests

Anyway, the reason I asked the poll question to begin with is because this is a question I’m often asked by readers. I wanted to see how you guys felt before sharing my stance. As I expected, the topic caused quite a bit of heated discussion, much like discussing seat recline in coach and infants in first class.

Let me start by saying this — unlike most, I don’t completely hate the tipping culture in the US, at least for customer facing jobs. In the example of waiters, they have to be paid somehow. Either their wages will be incorporated into the cost of food (as is the case in Europe) or they won’t be incorporated and the consumer has the discretion as to how much they tip. This results in, for the most part, good/attentive service. Compare that to Europe, where it can often take a long time to flag down a waiter.

I’m also a very good tipper in situations that I think warrant tipping.

All that being said, I don’t tip housekeeping unless I have a special request or my room is especially dirty. So I guess I’m with the majority of you (56%) that don’t think “normal” housekeeping services warrant tipping.

What it comes down to for me is that I don’t believe in tipping if an employee:
a) makes at least minimum wage
b) isn’t providing a “skilled” service
c) isn’t in a customer facing position and goes out of their way for me

What I guess I don’t understand is why housekeeping should be tipped but not the front desk clerk that checks you in? I’ve never heard of anyone tipping the front desk clerk unless they’re trying the $20 trick for a room upgrade. Or what about flight attendants (especially in first class)? They literally serve you for hours and aren’t paid especially well, so why shouldn’t they be tipped?

For me it’s all very similar to airline fuel surcharges. Airlines sell you tickets to Europe where the fare is only half of the cost of the ticket. The base fare might be $400, while there are $400 in fuel surcharges on the ticket. You can’t fly a plane without fuel, so the concept of unbundling the two is bizarre to me.

Similarly, when I book a hotel room, I buy a room that has been serviced. It’s the product I’m buying. I understand housekeeping is often poorly paid (though makes more than minimum wage), but at the same time where does one draw the line between tipping an amount that reflects the service provided and feeling sorry for someone and essentially making a “donation?”

Anyway, just my two cents. The discussion was honestly eye-opening for me since I didn’t realize so many people tip. I’ll certainly view housekeeping differently, and at the very least be sure I continue to tip if my room is a bit messier than normal or I have a special request. But I just can’t rationalize tipping them for a serviced room without any special requests, at least not before I start tipping flight attendants, gate agents, or TSA agents (after all, they provide me with a bi-weekly massage).

Comments

  1. I appreciate your approach to this subject and cover the topic in the first place. There are many times I’m rushing out the door of a hotel because of poor time management skills before a departing flight. However there are times where I have a leisurely departure and the idea of tipping hotel housekeeping registers. More often than not I do not leave a tip: I booked the hotel as a “package” that includes x, y and z (one being a well kept room). If I ask for something that I personally feel wasn’t included or I might have abused keeping the room clean, a tip should be and is left.

    It’s funny that you mention the fuel breakout in airfare. As I’m sure you know it’s just an airlines’ revenue management department “massaging the numbers” so when you compare the two based on price on a travel agents’ screen or some OTA’s they “appear” to be cheaper.

    Safe Travels.

  2. While I agree with you in terms of my own tipping habits, I don’t quite follow the reasoning.

    For one thing, I can’t claim to be knowledgeable about the wage situation in all the places I visit. In fact I suspect that, more often than not, houskeeping wages are way below minimum (if they even have such provisions in that country).

    Also, how is the serviced hotel room any different from an eating out experience, where being waited on is just as much part of what’s expected?

    And wouldn’t an unskilled worker be more deserving of (and dependent on) a tip than a skilled one who takes great pride in her skill and might feel more patronised than appreciated by it?

    Having said that, I do seem to tip pretty much the same way you do, I just don’t think there is much sense behind it other than habit and local custom.

  3. Lucky, I’m guessing your a nice fellow who follows the rules, not all of us do and the odd fiver a night well………… Anyway love the blog.

  4. After reading the posts, survey results and comments, I STILL have reservations about an absolute policy. Hotel housekeepers are poorly paid, but far better than food and beverage servers. I’m still hung up on the idea that a TIP is an EXTRA, a gratituity, an expression of thanks for something better than minimum basic service. (I understand that it does NOT work this way in the food industry, but it still irritates me that a gratituity is mandatory in that venue.) When I do tip, I’m usually generous, save those mandatory settings. Here’s a summary:
    **Hotels and similar**: No, unless the housekeeper herself has honored a special request.
    **Taxi**: Taxi use is rare for me. If the driver helps with bags or opens the door (gets off his butt for any service reason), probably ~10%
    **Consierge or non-desk personnel**: If the service is small, no. If involved, or requires any significant effort, some money moves. To be continued…

  5. I agree. I tip when special service is provided, and when it isn’t, only in exceptional circumstances. A new pizza place opened down the street recently. The first time I went I hadn’t ordered ahead but they were friendly, chatted while we waited for our food, and overall gave great service. Even though we took the pizza to go, I tipped 20%. Today, I went back having ordered in advance. I was there for 2 minutes to pay and leave. I was prepared to tip nothing because there was no service opportunity this time, but the clerk remembered my face, so I left a couple bucks extra. A server can serve, or she can just bring you your food. That’s why tips vary. Housekeeping, desk clerks, and FAs are all pretty much mandatory and unvarying (FAs do vary, which is why I have other ways of rewarding them besides cash).

  6. Tipping Continued:
    **FAs** (Other than coach): I’d like to, but it is discouraged. Modest gifts of a rose bud for each or a *wrapped* treat are appreciated, but given only on regularly flown routes where I’m +/- known.
    **US AMTRAK, Western US/Coast Starlight**: I travel the Starlight’s full length several times each year, always buying a premium bedroom space. Sadly, unless one pays a substantial fee soon after boarding, there won’t be much service. (Don’t know why I do it becasue the drains are dirty, smelly and functions/features are often dead for months. I enjoy the train, but need a thorough wash, even after a shower when leaving. Disgusting!!)
    To be continues, only one more:

  7. Last Comment on tipping:
    **Food and Beverage**: Not too long ago, the 15% target was ‘normal,’ but could be adjusted per the service. Then the TAX PEOPLE got into it an allowed less than minimum wage for servers. Someome slipped in a 20% norm without telling us. Refusing to tip more than $1 per plate for simple breakfast, as a protest is NOT FAIR to the server; They did not make the stupid rule! I tip at least 20% of the normal value, excluding discounts etc. I tip the bar on my own. I also dislike Tip Pools as I’m obligated to pay ONLY My Server. My blood boils when I see “gratuity” added to the bill and I always complain to management about the practice. Food service tipping is a 1:1 relationship and no server should ever expect to beging at 20% work their way up. They start at zero and EARN their way. When the service exceeds my expectations for a given house, the sky is the limit. Let’s say that earned dollars are happily paid and with verbal thanks as well.
    Another time, we’ll talk about Food Service Customs in Europe. I like them much better, but they are changing. I’ve said enough.

  8. …and when I buy a meal the product I am buying is a plate of food as described in front of me on the table. Following your argument then why “unbundle” it? I’m hardly going to be welcomed in the kitchen as I go to fetch it myself…

    Separately – as one who have lived the last 10 years with literally equal amounts of time spend in North America and Europe, with frequent travel back and forth, I can honestly say that I encounter just as much crap service in US restaurants as EU ones. I think people tend to find what they’re looking for…

  9. >>What I guess I don’t understand is why housekeeping should be tipped but not the front desk clerk that checks you in?>>

    I have been asking that question for a long time and have never gotten a reasonable answer (other than “tradition” which doesn’t really answer the question).

    As tonrob says, I haven’t found any difference in service in the US and Europe.

  10. Since this devolved into a tipping thread, let me say my pet peeve is room service where a tip is already in the bill and there’s a line for a tip on the receipt to sign.

    Also, when in a hotel restaurant and having made a res with my room number, I pay cash for meals to keep them off the expenses bill, and mark the receipt as “paid cash”. I’ve had a few dinner bills on the check out receipt even after paying cash….

  11. Vomit in the room? Leave tip.

    Want a gigantic soap collection if you like the soap? Leave tip and note that states “MORE SOAP PLEASE”. Increase tip until desired quantity of soaps has been reached.

  12. In almost 5 years of working the front desk at a 300+$ a night hotel I was tipped for doing my job exactly twice. Both times were Americans who couldn’t believe how friendly I was.
    In higher end North American hotels it is not uncommon for a room attendant to make more than a front desk agent if you factor in tips (especially if they’re not declaring 100% of their tips).

  13. Don’t agree with your argument that tipping in the US results in “good, attentive service” compared to Europe, where there is no tipping.

    How do places like Japan fit into this construct? Japan is probably the only country I’ve seen with consistently good, attentive service; not only do they lack a tipping culture, but the act of handing someone unsolicited cash would actually come across as rude in many situations.

    I think service levels are more a phenomenon of cultural attitudes than of tipping customs. The attitude of working hard at and taking pride in what you do doesn’t exactly permeate Europe, whereas it’s the lifeblood of Japan. The U.S. probably falls somewhere in the middle.

  14. **sigh**

    I’m so tempted to say so many things, but I’ll bite my cybertongue and keep this simple.

    The reason to leave a few bucks a day for housekeeping is quite simple: Someone is paid close to nothing to perform a personal, luxury service for you, and the decent, human thing to do is leave a tip. It’s not complciated, folks. Do any of you have any idea what pay is for the average housekeeper in a U.S. hotel? It’s basically the minimum wage. That’s $16,000 a year. If you feel that leaving a couple of dollars on the nightstand is somehow morally objectionable, then, frankly, you’re a jerk. And you can forget about even these kinds of wages in the developing world. Honestly, those people who spend thousands of dollars to travel to the developing world, then don’t tip the housekeepers ought to be ashamed of themselves. You can tell yourselves all you want that it’s “included in the room” or what not, but really, it’s just you willfully ignoring the uncomfortable reality that you are a thousand times wealthier than the person cleaning your room.

  15. Why does the US have this horrible system in which you need to add the tax whenever you buy an item?

    That is simply silly. Post the final price period.

    Same for all of these services. Hotel + Bell boy + Maid + Resort + Tax + ….

  16. @ Jason: Why does Europe have this horrible system in which the amount of tax you are paying is hidden in the price whenever you buy an item?

  17. I worked front desk at hotels for years. No one ever got tipped. I question those who say they tip waitstaff because people in that profession make poor wages, but won’t tip people in other service industry roles where wages are low.

    Do we have a moral obligation to tip people who don’t make a living wage? If so, we should be tipping a lot more people.

    Donald
    Travergence

  18. I heard if you dont tip the maid, she might do something dirty “in revenge”. Could that be the case? Normally I tip if staying in the same room for more than one night just in case. How about bellman, doorman, these clerks? Anyone tip advice on that?

  19. @Donald – If you tell me you made $16,000 a year working the front desk, I’ll agree you should receive tips.

    To answer your question, I think we should indeed be tipping a lot more people. But that’s not what bugs me about some of the posts here. What bugs me is that in the context of a blog basically about first class travel, people seem to have a hard time giving a couple of bucks to the person who has to scrub the toilets. For goodness sakes, it’s chump change…

  20. @as219 It’s not just Europe, most of Asia do that too. it’s because people like to know that they are paying 99¢ total for a 99¢ burger as advertised, not $1.09. I actually like it that way

  21. Don’t pay a tip or gratuity if the hotel is including it as a line item on the bill – probably only a fraction of that if any will get to the staff.

    If you are going to tip make it cash that actually gets to the people concerned – don’t let the establishment take a cut or use it in lieu of wages.

  22. What as219 said.

    Frankly, Ben, even though I do really like your blog for the most part, this post just makes you sound cheap, and makes you seem like a spoiled brat.
    It is clear that you have never had to work hard a single day in your life.
    I used to work in the hotel business. I did a rotation in housekeeping and it was absolutely back-breaking. I know for a fact these people work harder than anyone else in the hotel.
    The fact that you are unwilling to give them a few bucks, is frankly, despicable. You should be ashamed of yourself.

  23. @ aisleorwindow — For me it’s not a function of money. It’s not a function of me somehow looking down on them. I know they work very hard, and I respect them for what they do.

    You can certainly approach my post the way you do and I respect it if you do, though it’s really not my intent to come across like that.

    My question centers around where you draw the line? Regional jet pilots start off making ~$18,000/year. Flight attendants start off making ~$15,000/year. They’re all not tipped.

    I don’t feel like they’re performing a service that warrants tips.

    They have less than me and I’m blessed. But I just got back from India where people have a lot less than housekeepers. Should I have given everyone in India $5 because they’re poorer than me?

    As far as your comment about me never having worked hard a day in my life, I guess you win there. Other than school I’ve never really worked hard. I’ve always done what I’m passionate about, and I occupy myself with it 16 hours per day. Through doing what I’m passionate about I paid for my own college, travel, apartment, health insurance, car insurance, etc. I don’t think I’ve taken a single thing from my parents since I was 18.

    Anyway, I appreciate your perspective.

  24. I’ve spent too many hours these past 3 weeks of international travel looking up the differences in tipping in each country. I wish the US would adopt the EMEA standard, including the metric system!

  25. @aisleorwindow: Having lived in other parts of the world, it’s only in America where gratuities have evolved to an expectation versus a bonus. While I can appreciate the difficulty of the work, in principle the rate we are paying should cover that and the onus should not be on the customer to make up the difference. Your attack on Ben is presumptive, unnecessarily harsh and, quite frankly, makes you sound entitled. Understand the type of work you are signing up for, endeavor to do your best, and don’t expect and make it incumbent on the customer to cover the difference. After all, we have to work for our money too.

  26. What as219 said.

    There sure are a lot of cheap bastards on this site…

    Anyway, love the blog, hate the tipping policy.

  27. I heartily agree with as219 and aisleorwindow! Housekeepers have the hardest, most difficult and dirtiest job in a hotel. They rarely get recognized or thanked for their efforts. A few dollars left on the nightstand is nothing for most of us and can mean a lot to the housekeeper’s quality of life. They are breaking their backs for us…isn’t it the least we can do?

  28. What people don’t understand is that when they say “don’t put the onus on customers”, it’s on you either way. The alternate to tipping is that you pay marginally more for your room rate (to ensure quality service).

    That aside, for all you cheap non-tippers out there, just think for a second. Yes, the person gets paid “at” minimum wage, but they surely work harder than the majority of minimum wage employees. Let’s not get into the question of if they should opt for an equally poor paying, less difficult job–in the current economic situation we’ve found ourselves in, well, employment options are obviously limited–and we’d obviously be better off if every minimum wage hamburger-flipper cared as much as your average housekeeper.

    So, basically, do I want to show my appreciation for the housekeeper for actually bothering to do a good job–compared to the lackluster service you can often expect at many restaurants, given that for many people the question of a tip is a mostly inflexible rule. (I say this, also, being a server). I’d guess that the average hotel user probably leaves the room in complete disarray, with comforters amok, used condoms strewn in garbage cans, and random garbage piled up. This person is there to tidy things, provide new towels, and make beds–not dutifully scrub your filth. Obviously not everyone takes advantage of the away-from-home situation to the hyperbolic extent I’ve described, but regardless, someone is cleaning up after you for a wage which is inadequate to raise a family.

    As for the question of “why should we tip so and so if this or that is paid equally abysmally”, all that point to is the need for hiring wage standards in the U.S. for career-level jobs. Flight attendants at the lower end make horrible money. On the plus side, they have fairly good job security and also perks like free travel. Still, there should be less wage disparity in the U.S. Obviously many positions are paid at a fare market rate, without obvious need of augmentation. Either they are actually jobs which pay well (such as your bank teller, for whom it’d be really weird if you handed back a single every time you took $20 out), or, alternatively, they’re jobs which typically (i.e. not in this economy) are expected to be filled with those for whom the wage is sufficient and the job experience is crucial. The fact that a kind of “underground” system of compensation has arisen in the US is just a cultural peculiarity.

    To just sit back and go on luxurious vacations (and make inane complaints like “my suite wasn’t nice enough” in order to get benefits or whom complains when a per-deparature beverage isn’t offered) and not bother to give an honest, hardworking employee who keeps your little luxury hotel’s cogs oiled is beyond cheapness.

    I don’t know, I’m just kind of ranting here, but I think there’s a crucial necessity for we, as Americans, to return back to a level of civility, humility, and kind commerce. The marginal increase in wage you pay helps to improve someone’s life, which, in turn, helps to improve the community of which you are a part either permanently or just temporarily. It’s nice, and it makes a difference–to them, not to you, not to your wallet.

  29. I just thought of two more points to add:

    For those of you saying that “it’s” in your room fee, what exactly do you mean by it? I’ve never once read a hotel promising to clean up to Howard Hughes’ satisfaction, nor to make your messiness disappear as if you had just arrived. So, again, the expectations of “what” exactly you’re paying for are surely skewed in favour of a very high level of service, but the system is one in which the staff are paid for very basic duties. Have you ever noticed how the housekeepers are almost always running about? It’s because their job is hard, physically demanding, and takes hours to complete. These long hours result from maintaining the high level of service that we’ve come to expect–and in this travel community, service that we immediately complain about (my mini-fridge was poorly stocked, the proper pillows weren’t on my bed as per my request, etc., etc.).

  30. Found this article by chance during a google search about tipping.

    I think tipping depends on the situation: is it “function” based or “service” based. A “service” corresponds to an experience while a “function” corresponds to a repeatable duty. One way to decide which category something falls into is to ask yourself this question: “Do I care *who* performs this task for me?” If you answer “yes” because you know a particular person will provide the particular service you desire, then a tip is probably appropriate. If you answer “no” because the service can be reliably performed by anyone, then a tip does not make sense.

    Here’s my breakdown:

    Hotel Housekeeping (“function”):
    – is my bed made?
    – do I have enough soap and shampoo to clean myself?
    Tip: NO. Personally, I’m a tidy hotel guest. I don’t take advantage of the room service. In fact, I often leave the “do not disturb” sign on all day to save the maids time from cleaning my room. I don’t really care if I get “turn down service” every day. In fact, it’d be fine by me if hotels started paying extra for turn-down service. I would gladly decline it. However, I do agree with the comment about, “Vomit in my room. TIP!” Extraordinary circumstances are always the exception.

    Restaurant Waiters (“service”):
    – water refill please?
    – dropped my fork, can I get a clean one?
    – ice tea refill please?
    – more napkins please?
    – suggest a wine for this entree
    – what appetizer is your favorite?
    – can you substitute this for that?
    – more bread please?
    – check please?

    Tip: YES. 10% for bad service, 15% for normal, 20-25% for good. There is a noticeable difference between good service and bad and it definitely affects your enjoyment of the dining experience.

    Hair Salon (“function”):
    – is my hair shorter than when I came in? better be
    – is my hair evenly cut? better be
    – was my haircut painful? better not be
    – are there clumps of hair down my shirt? better not be
    – is the back of my shirt soaked from the shampoo service? better not be

    Tip: NO. In fact, I wish I could “negative tip”. Your job is to cut my hair the way I request. If you cannot do this, then you are not doing your job. If you succeed, then you have performed the service I have paid for. I suppose if you want a scalp massage, extra conditioner, and a chatty-Cathy talking your ear off, then a tip might be appropriate, but I pay for a haircut, nothing more. (People have different hair salon expectations, so I can understand if yours warrants tipping.)

    Taxi (“function”):
    – get me from point A to point B without crashing

    Tip: NO. I am perfectly able to lift my bags out of your trunk. Please don’t grab my bags from me to do it yourself.

    Other examples:

    o Fast Food Service (“function”): NO tip.
    o Personal Tour Guide (“service”): YES tip.

    Also, I would GLADLY pay a higher sticker price for hotel rooms and other things in order to incresase the wages of the under-paid employees. I refuse to tip out of pity or guilt or as a handout. I also don’t give homeless people handouts. If you feel bad about people less fortunate than yourself, then carefully research a charity that’s important to you and give to your heart’s content.

  31. At the hotel that I work at, the rate for a room is anywhere from $60-$500 per night, depending on the season. In my opinion, if you’re paying, say $300 for a three night stay, what the hell is a couple dollars to you?

    Please people, you don’t have any idea what we go through. Granted some guests are neat and polite, most guests aren’t so nice. Regardless of which category of person you fall into, a housekeeper might have to clean up your urine, feces, semen, used condoms, used feminine products, feminine blood, vomit, pubic hair, used tissues, old rotting food, pieces of broken glass and lots of other general garbage. Even if you don’t realize you’ve left something like this behind, you probably have.

    Also I’d like to mention, I get paid by the room. Which no one here seems to have considered (with the mention of just opting out of service). I get paid $4.50 to clean a room, regardless of how the person left it.

  32. Story time…
    I’m paid about the same as the housekeepers at my hotel for equally back breaking work. I stay at my hotel 4 nights a week, and leave my room very clean every time I leave it for work. I work a customer service job, in which I am also managing and working in a factory setting. I wouldn’t dream of asking for tips, our expecting them. As a matter of fact, I am required to deny them. So tell me why I need to tip someone who does an equal amount of work as I do as well as gets paid a similar amount. I completely agree with this “spoiled brat”…and I’ve worked back breaking jobs since I was the ripe old age of 14.

  33. I know I’m late, but the comment “lucky” said that the people in India are poorer than me should I give them five dollars excuse is ridiculous. If they are not performing a service for you what does that have to do with a maid performing a service. I think it would be appreciated its not expected but I’m sure the maid working her ass off all day would appreciate a couple bucks. Its not some fight the establishment thing it basic human decency.

  34. If you are tipping a ditzy waitress who carries a tray a couple of times and chats you up for a minute but not the woman who cleans up your pee stained toilet and ejaculate encrusted wash cloths, there is a problem.

  35. @ Nikki, it’s not ridiculous because all the arguments for tipping hotel maids here are “what is that couple bucks to you!” and “they work hard!” both of which could be said about millions of people in the world that we don’t tip fast food workers is one good example, Indian fast food workers a better one). I came to read this article with an open mind on the point of housekeeping tips, since it’s something I’ve often wondered about. So many people in life say they tip hotel maids, yet I’ve never seen it in practice sharing a room with someone. The above discussion showed me that people who do tip hotel maids are 1) completely devoid of logical reasoning and 2) are probably liars who invent a myth about themselves to feel superior and sanctimonious to others. I’m a good tipper for waiters, bartenders, taxi drivers and shoeshiners, and I may even tip my hotel maid after a long stay, but for none of the reasons the morons on this site have said. So call me cheap, but I can increase my tip and you’ll still be dumb in the morning.

  36. I’m a housekeeper, and where I work we know better than to expect tips. But I would say that if you do ask for something special (like changing your sheets everyday) or if you’re a disgustingly messy person, then it would just be common courtesy to leave a tip. Even if you don’t believe in tipping or can’t afford it, if you thought you got good service then even just a ‘Thank You’ written on the hotel notepad goes a long way toward brightening someone’s day.

  37. When I first got my job as a government auditor, I used to tip.

    I was told the common thing to do was $2 or so per day.

    I travel 75% minimum every Sunday to Friday.

    5 days x $2 = $10

    $10 x 3 weeks = $30. There are times when I travel all 4 weeks = $40.

    Why the F*** would I tip $40 a month? Government job doesn’t pay me good. Are the citizens giving me tips for bringing in money for the gov? No.

    Why do I have to be responsible for other people’s salary?

    Tipping custom is BS.

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