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Tipping Housekeepers: Whose Responsibility Is It to Pay Hotel Staff?

This article was written by in Career and Work, People. 18 comments.

The prevalence of tipping is simply a fact of society. On several occasions, a friend of mine bemoaned the perceived necessity of tipping a specified amount to restaurant servers while dining out. He would ask the rest of our friends eating together at a restaurant, “When did the expected base tip go from 15 percent to 20 percent?” I’m not concerned so much as when cultural norms like these change, but how they change. Is it regional? Does a trend like this start among a wealthier subset and then trickle down to everyone else?

Most everyone who dines out understands that tipping is part of the unwritten agreement. If you can’t afford to pay and tip, you can’t afford to dine out. This social tradition has what I would expect to be practically full penetration throughout the United States. We’ve come to accept that restaurants do not pay their servers and bus staff a living wage on their own, and it’s the customers’ responsibility to bring that compensation more in line with a level necessary to prevent too much attrition in the industry.

With social media, the customers’ responsibility — or negligence — is clear. If you spend any time on Facebook or Twitter, or if you’ve seen any news programs covering entertainment, you’ve likely seen many incidents in the last year in which a disgruntled, undertipped server shames a celebrity by posting a copy of his or her meal receipt with a low tip. There’s two sides to every story; for every shamed, allegedly cheap celebrity or NFL professional, there is an allegedly disrespectful wait staff. It really doesn’t matter who is “right.” The point is that tipping in a restaurant, and tipping 15 percent to 20 percent for typical service, is a pervasive social expectation.

Hotel housekeepers may not benefit from the same, strong tradition of tipping as restaurant servers. An organization is trying to change that. A Woman’s Nation, an organization whose mission is to ensure that the value of women is recognizes and respected, is leading a program they call “The Envelope Please.” The purpose of the program is to encourage hotel guests to tip housekeepers one to five dollars a night, every night by placing an envelope for that purpose in every guest room.

Marriott is the first hotel brand to sign on.

And the hotel will certainly face significant criticism for doing so. If a hotel company blatantly encourages customers to tip, it is, in a way, admitting that it does not pay its staff a living wage. And if a large international corporation wants its employees to be paid a living wage, shouldn’t it be that corporation’s responsibility to do so? Shouldn’t it also perhaps be the industry’s responsibility to ensure it?

Of course, the idea of raising compensation faces the same old corporate obstacle: “If I raise the wages I pay, I have to raise my prices. I can’t raise my prices because I need to remain competitive.” There’s no doubt that it’s a difficult perspective to be in for a business. I have several friends who are not only small business owners like myself, but who also have a growing employee force, and they face these problems all the time.

I used to say that it’s the business owner’s problem to figure out, and if they can’t remain profitable while paying competitive wages, they have to come up with a different business plan. But I see that it’s often more complicated than that.

I’ll be honest. I haven’t always tipped housekeepers when I’ve stayed in hotels. That’s simply due to the fact that when I began staying hotels on my own, I had no idea at least a portion of hotel guests considered it normal to tip housekeepers. At the same time, I knew it was expected to tip hotel porters; maybe that’s because you see the “bell boy tip” in fictional entertainment so much, but never see the act of leaving a tip for the housekeeper in an envelope on the bed or nightstand.

This lack of understanding is the reason a non-profit organization focusing on the value of women would consider it important to provide some attention towards the option of tipping hotel housekeeping staff. But do housekeepers even need the tips in order to earn a living wage?

I checked Salary.com to put some numbers behind this movement.

In my zip code, a restaurant server gets paid a median hourly wage of $14, which was higher than I expected. A hotel housekeeper receives a rate of $13 an hour. In San Diego, California, both job types are paid a medium of $12 an hour. In Tampa, Florida, they both earn $11. From these figures alone, it seems that both job types require some additional compensation to make up for the industry’s low valuation.

Restaurants also know that customers will tip, so that is a justification for keeping pay low. As the idea of tipping hotel housekeepers becomes more pervasive, hotels may be just as willing to feel justified in the level of wage they pay because they know customers will make up for some of the deficiency.

According to one hotel insider, housekeepers are scheduled, at least in his institution, to clean 15 rooms a day. To a housekeeper, if everyone follows the expected guideline, she could walk away at the end of the day with between $15 and $75. If it costs very little to Marriott to put envelopes in every room every day, it could add up to a lot of extra compensation for housekeepers. If you assume the additional tips raise the effective hourly rate of a housekeeper by $4 a day, a hotel would not be able to match that through its own compensation plan. There’s no way a hotel could easily raise that pay of its housekeeping staff by that much.

With that perspective, it makes sense for hotels to encourage customers to tip. The staff will get a much better deal than the hotel could possibly offer. The only drawback is the potential downstream effect; more reliance on tips in the future might prevent hotels from raising wages competitively.

I’ll be keeping this in mind when I head to Louisiana this week for a conference and stay at the New Orleans Marriott.

Do you tip your housekeeping staff when you stay in a hotel?


Published or updated September 15, 2014. If you enjoyed this article receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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About the author

Luke Landes is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about Luke Landes and follow him on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar 1 Anonymous

I willI will usually leave that $1-$5 per day amount under a note labeled “For Housekeeping. Thank you”. I had a friend once who told a story about how the staff stole some cash she left on the bedside. She had never heard of tipping for housekeeping and the staff almost certainly got in some trouble due to the confusion. I think the envelope is an excellent method to keep the process clear for all parties.

Something that bothers me however is that my employer does not recognize these tips as a travel expense. They are fastidiously rigid on expensing no more than 15% on meals while traveling; if you want to tip more it has to come from your own pocket. If A Woman’s Nation really wants to help workers, they should try lobbying directly to corporations to educate their business travelers on these issues.

I would also love some clarification on whether I should leave a tip every day or just a lump sum at the end of my stay. It’s easier for me to carry 10’s or 20’s in my wallet for my 2-4 day stay, but what if a different housekeeper attends my room each morning?

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avatar 2 Anonymous

I was just in a hotel recently and saw an envelope for this purpose. I can’t remember the hotel specifically.

I have started leaving a tip for the housekeeper. I was like you, for the first few years of my hotel usage, I had no idea that this was an area that warranted consideration. Once it was brought to my attention, I started leaving a little bit.

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avatar 3 Anonymous

When we went to Disney and stayed on-site, I had prepared some envelopes ahead of time for “Mousekeeping” and put $10 in it per night. We were staying in an expensive room and have 3 kids. We were kind of messy, though we tried to tidy up after ourselves as best as we could.

We were rewarded by some Mickey balloons in our room one day ($20 value, I think for the 2?) and some extra-fun towel animals.

I didn’t do it for the treats, but they were nice. I did it because I knew I was spending an insane amount of money on this trip, and someone was cleaning our room who probably didn’t earn much and I wanted to say thank you to them for making our stay more enjoyable.

And to the question in comment #1 — yes tip daily. Because you’re right, you don’t know who is cleaning the room each day. It’s no good to leave a big tip to someone who cleaned it just one day, ya know?

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avatar 4 Anonymous

I had never heard of tipping housekeeping until I was told to tip $1 per person per day when I was attending a convention. We were told to leave the tips each day so that the staff who cleaned the room received it.

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avatar 5 Anonymous

When I saw this on the tv news Mon I was LIVID! I have paid somewhere near or north of $150/night plus taxes and all the other annoying fees hotels hit travelers with. Now they want me to pay their staff on top of that. NO WAY in creation! A clean room w/clean towels is an EXPECTED service. IF I request additional service (extra towels, blankets or pillows) I WILL tip the person who provides that service. I just might go back to camping. It sure is cheaper.

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avatar 6 Anonymous

I totally agree. I’m so sick of the tip everyone mantra. If a housekeeper goes out of his/her way by providing additional items/exceptional service, yes, I will tip. We once had to move rooms during our stay, and they took care of moving our bags across the hall (already on a cart), so we left a generous tip.

I can almost understand tipping at budget hotels, but if I am paying $150-200/night, I expect that yes, the hotel can afford to pay their staff a decent wage. And if they are not doing so, then lobbyists need to put the pressure on the corporation, not the traveler.

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avatar 7 Anonymous

I leave $5-10 for a few nights’ stay at a hotel. Roughly $4/night, I guess–rounded.

What I *do not* like is this new trend of restaurants including a gratuity tip in the bill. Many people only look at the bottom line of the bill so don’t even notice it itemized. Often servers are getting their tip, plus an entire extra tip. (And the second tip is larger because people are often tipping on the food, the cost of the “gratuity”, and sometimes even on top of taxes.)

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avatar 8 Anonymous

I don’t typically leave a tip for housekeeping. When I do tip, it’s for personal service. The bellboy, airport curb-side check-in attendant, waiter/waitress, the people who cut my hair, etc all give me personal service. They speak to me directly, give me good (or bad) service, etc. I rarely if ever even SEE the housekeeping attendant.

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avatar 9 Donna Freedman

I leave a tip daily, in case a different person cleans on the last day of my trip. For years I didn’t know this was a thing but a friend clued me in.

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avatar 10 Anonymous

I have to agree with Holly S that this is absolutely ridiculous. Am I also supposed to tip the front desk clerk for checking me in and giving me my room key as well? They are doing their job just like the housekeeping people. All of that falls under the tasks needed to run a hotel which is what my room fee is paying for. This recent tipping expansion for lots of different jobs is just out of control. That this is even a thing is bizarre.

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avatar 11 Anonymous

I rarely tip for housekeeping. Like many others, I didn’t even think about it. Honestly, I don’t usually need them to do anything in my room. I’d prefer to get a discount to the room rate for not doing anything. I don’t need them to make my bed, empty the (almost empty) trash, or even give me fresh towels. I get reimbursed for my tips as a business expense (I tip the valet parking attendant and shuttle bus drivers at the airport).

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avatar 12 Anonymous

I know that in the UK tipping is considered as ‘extra’ payment for excellent service. A customer in the UK is in no way seen as obliged to pay the wages of the employees of a business they don’t even own. From my perspective to hear the horror stories of people being chased after in the street for not giving a tip is honestly bizarre.

Personally I don’t think people should feel entitled to receive a tip. If the service is excellent then fair enough. But by simply turning up to work and doing their jobs? It’s as if staff are hoping to be paid on the basis of crowd funding in America…

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avatar 13 qixx

I had never heard of tipping the hotel housekeepers before. In the event of housekeeping how would you determine the appropriate tip amount. With everything else that i tip for the tip comes after service. At a restaurant the amount will vary based on the level of service. If i’m staying 3 nights and get a different person each night but the level of service was not the same how do i tip appropriately. Say night 1 they left dirty towels piled in the bathroom. Night 2 was outstanding – two mints on the pillow. Night 3 was about average. By tipping in the manner suggested i’d have to guess before any service was provided or tip an arbitrary amount.

What am i missing here?

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avatar 14 Anonymous

I guess is a regional matter. I don’t forget my first trip to USA, in Miami the men who served me in the restaurant came out and call me from about 50 meters. He explained me that allmost of is wage was from tips. I don’t if that’s true, but from there I allways tip.
In Europe there is no such an obligance.
I live in Portugal.

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avatar 15 Anonymous

You’re missing the fact that Maria Shriver’s organization A Woman’s Nation should not propagate hotel housekeeping tipping. She should propagate higher wages for them with corporate America, or other women issues. Heck, maybe we should tip our doctors after they give us good service. And, why not tip the “grocery store bagger” if they do this? Tip the Walmart greeter, tip the Home Depot cash register guy, tip the florist, tip the bank teller, tip the FedEx driver and deliverer, tip the NY Port Authority drivers, and tip your tax accountant for good service.

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avatar 16 Anonymous

It’s absolutely ridiculous to feel pressure to tip anyone who works for a company where you have already purchased services. In America it’s considered rude not to tip at restaurants. Why exactly do we tip? Many people believe it’s because waiters get paid such low wages. But they don’t. There are minimum wage laws. As a waiter your wage includes tips. If no one tipped you for a year, you would be under minimum wage and your employer would have to write you a big check to make up the difference. It would be illegal to pay an employee such a low wage. So the argument that these employees make such little money, and we need to help them, is absolutely false.

Furthermore, the idea of tipping is pushed by restaurants and other industries because it makes them more money. If they allow customers to pay wages, that’s and obvious advantage.

I don’t tip unless I see job performance that goes beyond expectations. If a waiter takes my order, refills my drinks, and makes sure all my needs are met, they have done their job and I’ve paid for it in the price of my meal. Police officers don’t get tips. Doctors and nurses don’t get tips. Why do people at entry level positions in society deserve tips for doing their job? Again, it comes back to the myth that these employees make less. And again, they chose the profession.

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avatar 17 Anonymous

We don’t feel pressure, ever, to tip housekeeping but we almost ALWAYS do! We too leave $4-$5 a day. About as much as one Starbuck’s coffee. Not only do we tip, but we feel good about it, knowing that not everyone does tip, and it’s pretty much a thankless and dirty job (no matter how ritzy the hotel is). We (almost) always get great service – whether we tip or not – but we’re acknowledging the people and we’re letting people know we appreciate their efforts. And THAT’S the point.

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avatar 18 Anonymous

I am a hotel housekeeper and I am totally against tipping. The way I see it, hotels charge a king’s ransom each night for lodging. Yes, there is quite a bit of operating expense involved, but general upkeep should be factored in to the room rate. I am making $7.25/hr. I am, in part, responsible for the guests’ health and safety. I am an ambassador for the hotel, as well, often giving directions, entertainment suggestions, etc. to guests. I am entrusted with each guest’s privacy and confidentiality. The work we do is physically demanding, and at times we put our own health at risk while performing our assigned duties. I find it no less than insulting that my employer finds no more value in me or the work I do. Shame on you, Mr. Isom of Wilkesboro, NC.

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