News broker earlier this week that Marriott International, in partnership with journalist Maria Shriver, is instituting a campaign called “The Envelope Please” to “encourage” guests to leave tips for the housekeeping staff. Per the press release:
The campaign, called “The Envelope Please,” begins this week. Envelopes will be placed in 160,000 rooms in the U.S. and Canada. Some 750 to 1,000 hotels will participate from Marriott brands like Courtyard, Residence Inn, J.W. Marriott, Ritz-Carlton and Renaissance hotels.
The name of the person who cleans the room will be written on the envelope along with a message: “Our caring room attendants enjoyed making your stay warm and comfortable. Please feel free to leave a gratuity to express your appreciation for their efforts.”
Meanwhile, Shriver says she involved herself in the campaign because many travelers don’t realize tipping the housekeeping staff is customary.
“There’s a huge education of the traveler that needs to occur,” she said. “If you tell them, they ask, ‘How do I do that?'” She said envelopes make it easy for guests to leave cash for the right person in a secure way.
Marriott goes on to say that guests should leave a gratuity of $1 to $5 per night, depending on the room rate.
Now, I will start off with the controversial opinion that I personally disagree with the notion that hotel maids should be tipped, though I’m sure many of you reading this post feel otherwise. Many of the comments you’ll read on the various news sites that posted Marriott’s release revolve around the notion that hotels should pay their staff a living wage, rather than shake down guests to leave tips. I’m not going to get into the whole living wage debate here; that’s a political issue that I’m not touching with a 29 1/2 foot pole on this travel blog. But, regardless of how you feel about the minimum wage, I think it misses the point, and that is, I consider the work performed by the maid staff to be different from other service professions where tips are customary, such as restaurant waiters, valets, and hairdressers. In all of those cases, the service provider is providing a customized service especially for the customer. A waiter takes your specific food and beverage order, and delivers that custom order to your specific table. A valet parks your car, (hopefully) safely and securely, and returns it to you when you’re ready for it. A hairdresser cuts your hair to your specifications, often with trimmers of your choosing. But making up a room is normally a standardized service; the staff prepare each room in a hotel in more or less the same manner, using the same materials and equipment. And for that matter, once you check out, the room will be cleaned regardless of whether another guest will be staying in that room that night or not. I do occasionally make exceptions to my rule if I’ve made a big mess of the room, or if the maid has helped with a special request of some sort – but in that case, the gratuity is for service that has gone above and beyond the normal level.
Second, I have to question just how “customary” tipping the housekeeping staff is. Marriott claims that their researcher determined that approximately 30 percent of hotel guests stiff the maid, which implies that approximately 70 percent routinely leave a tip. But a few paragraphs down, another housekeeper suggests that only 1 in 15 to 20 hotel guests leaves a tip, or a rate of between 5 and 7 percent. I don’t know what the real answer is, but based on anecdotal evidence from my time traveling, I’d have to guess that the number is closer to the latter, lower percentage. Even splitting the difference – assuming, therefore, that between 30 and 40 percent of guests leave a tip for the maid – that can hardly be considered “customary”.
Personally, I find the whole campaign of leaving envelopes to “remind” guests to tip their housekeer to be incredibly tacky, no better really than the in-your-face tip jars that are sprouting like weeds across the country. Much like the tip jars, the campaign seems designed to shame guests into leaving something whether they agree with the practice or not. But more than that, if we’re now going to demand that guests tip for maid service, what about other minimum wage positions that arguably have even more of a personal connection to the customer? Should supermarket cashiers expect tips? How about the dishwasher or bus boy at the restaurant? The salesperson at the department store that helped you pick out a pair of shoes? And, for those who think raising wages will eliminate the expectation of tips – think again. Los Angeles, for example, has a living wage ordinance, which applies to contractors at Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA). This included the now defuct Proud Bird Restaurant, an airplane geek-themed restaurant which I visited last November before it closed for good. The Proud Bird prominently displayed disclaimers throughout its menu that even though it was required by ordinance to pay its waitstaff a living wage, and even though the restaurant levied a surcharge on all bills to defray the cost, patrons were still expected to leave tips. If that wasn’t enough, our waitress not only wrote on our bill, but circled and underlined it, that the tip was not included in the bill, as if to warn us that we’d better leave one unless we wanted to be chased and hunted down in the parking lot. Bottom line is, once “tip creep” comes in to an industry and makes tips effectively mandatory, they’re not going away, no matter how well the staff are paid. Just take a look at Starbucks, where you see the obnoxious tip jars and prompts to leave a tip for your barista when paying with the mobile app, never mind that Starbucks also likes to brag about how they pay above average wages and benefits to all of their staff.
Anyway, I don’t routinely patronize Marriott-branded hotels anyway (I’m a Hilton man), but I think they should tread lightly with this campaign. Sure, it may get a few more people to leave tips for their housekeepers, but based on some of the reaction I’ve seen so far, it could just as easily backfire, and lead to a backlash.