Marriott announced new tip envelopes for its housekeeping staff this week, and the response was covered well in an NPR story on Tuesday. I think it was a bad idea, and I certainly won’t be using them on any future stays. They create a bad name for the brand. I also think they may unintentionally leave a black mark on the housekeepers they are intended to support. I’m sure it sounds like a great idea to those who have bought into the American culture of tipping for everything, no matter how small the effort. However, I feel strongly that a tip is supposed to be a reward for service that goes above and beyond, and which is provided only after that service has been rendered and can be evaluated.
Who Deserves a Tip?
I would consider myself a fairly generous tipper in most circumstances that warrant it. I recognize that there are many underpaid jobs for which tips are a significant portion of the total income, and that not all people who hold these jobs necessarily chose them vs. other, better paying careers. The fact is, tips are important to some people’s livelihood. I’m sure they would prefer as much as I do that they could earn a higher wage rather than rely on the whims of their customers.
But there is nothing quite so off-putting as expecting to receive a tip. I am particularly concerned when that expectation is imposed by management while the effect is felt by its employees. I never tip for ordering a coffee or a pastry or some other silly order where I stand in line, place my order, and get exactly what I requested. Where is the service here? I didn’t sit down and get waited on. I didn’t make a special request. I ordered drip coffee in a cup and received exactly that. If anything, making an excessive display of the request in the form of a tip jar or envelope makes me feel resentful and less likely to tip. “Who does this person think they are, expecting a tip? I’ll show them!”
What I have done is give $5 to the barista who made an awesome dragon foam art in my latte because she wanted to have some fun. I gave $10 to the airport bartender who made my wife and I some special cocktails before the first flight on our honeymoon. I recently saw a friend leave $100 for a waitress who sat down and joined in our group’s conversation over a few hours at the bar. I’ve seen housekeeping do similar things, like leave a towel origami on my bed not just the first day but every day of my stay. These people went above and beyond and did it without any apparent expectation of reward.
Housekeeping Isn’t a Glamorous Job
I get it. Housekeeping is one of the least appreciated positions at a hotel and not one that is necessarily well compensated. But low pay isn’t an excuse. It’s exactly the problem that this campaign is supposed to address. Rather than print thousands of envelopes and pay for a PR campaign, maybe Marriott should pay its employees more. I’m generally in favor of letting employers pay whatever competitive, legal wage is required to fill an open position. But if that competitive, legal wage isn’t enough for them to support their families, it’s hypocritical to expect customers to fill in the difference with a tip. That’s your guilt, not mine! Raise your rates so you can raise your pay, and advertise the fact you pay your employees a living wage.
I’m partly concerned about situations in which the tip isn’t necessarily warranted. There are municipalities with higher minimum wages as well as unions that bargain for better wages and benefits. These housekeepers might already receive sufficient compensation.
Consider also that there are differences in compensation between budget and luxury properties. A budget hotel may just need someone to change the sheets and wipe down a counter. They go through a dozen or more rooms a day, and there are not many opportunities to go “above and beyond” in ways that warrant a tip. A luxury hotel has much more exacting standards and more details in each room. I would imagine that housekeepers in better hotels are paid more for what is necessarily a more demanding job. Ironically these are also the properties at which something like twice-daily linen service is more likely to be appreciated and reciprocated with a tip. There are no easy solutions to this predicament.
At Some Point Tipping Gets Silly
One argument for Marriott’s tip envelopes is that guests finally have a place to leave the tip for the housekeeping staff where they will find it when cleaning the room. I disagree. Now the money’s in the envelope, but where does the envelope go?! Nothing has been solved. There are just lots of useless envelopes lying around.
I think I understand what Marriott is trying to accomplish here. I just believe they’ve executed it incredibly poorly. A better campaign would be: “We realize our employees often go unnoticed and perform some of the most strenuous jobs at our hotels. We’d like to recognize that hard work and reward them with an across-the-board pay increase effective immediately. Marriott stands behind its housekeeping staff and wants them to feel appreciated.” Instead it tells the housekeepers to leave envelopes behind like panhandlers, hoping to come back later and collect donations. It’s just tacky.