The Great Debate Over Tipping Hotel Housekeepers

A tip with cash and kisses (Photo: Flickr/DanaRobinson)

A tip with cash and kisses 

There’s some chatter this week about a Marriott initiative to encourage tipping of housekeeping staff: An envelope will be placed in rooms within Marriott-managed properties expressly for housekeeping tips. While the envelope is tasteful and has a little panache (it’s titled “THE ENVELOPE PLEASE”), it stirred up some tipping questions for me.

Over the years, I have dutifully tried to tip hotel housekeeping as expected, but I’ve never felt good about it. As I read about Marriott’s new envelope, I sorted these feelings out and uncovered a few reasons these tips trouble me, none of which includes begrudging the housekeeper the cash:

Housekeeping is stealthy service. It doesn’t sit right with me to tip someone you do not see or interact with. And I’ve always wondered how I know the person who cleaned my room yesterday is the one who actually gets the cash today.

The standard deviation is minimal. Tipping, in my book, is meant to acknowledge good service. And if a housekeeper does something special, I’m right there with the tip. But I can’t say I have had many instances in the last few years of any deviation—positive or negative—from expected service. The checklist has been followed. So, I’m not sure what is being acknowledged.

It’s a big world behind the scenes. While I appreciate the work the housekeeper does, I also appreciate the work so many other non-customer-facing hotel workers contribute. Yet they do not expect a tip.

Inconvenience can trump the best of intentions. Practically speaking, coming up with cash in small bills can be a challenge. Business travelers won’t be reimbursed without a receipt. And occasionally when in another country for a brief time, I won’t even change any currency so literally do not have cash. Why not make a place to add a gratuity on the bill or charge me a service fee (though alas, so many are, thanks to the “resort fee”) and divvy it up behind the scenes?

Real empowerment comes from the employer. Marriott’s efforts are supported and being publicized by a woman’s empowerment group called A Woman’s Nation. Wouldn’t a slightly higher wage be more empowering and dependable?

I hate to sound curmudgeonly, but judging from the conversations here and here, I’m not alone. What do you think about tipping housekeeping staff? Do you do it? Would you use Marriott’s envelope?

(Photo: Flickr/DanaRobinson)

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