This article is Part 1 in a series on Tipping Etiquette, where I will discuss expectations for tipping service employees across the travel industry. We'll look at all sectors, including hotel staff, taxi/shuttle drivers and wheelchair attendants at airports, among others. Special attention will be paid to the experience of travelers with disabilities and wheelchair users.
The New York Times recently examined U.S. tipping culture and the relative infrequency of tips given to hotel housekeepers. According to the American Hotel and Lodging Association, less than one-third of hotel guests leave a tip for cleaning staff.
Wondering if these statistics were true, I turned to my mom who, as a teenager in the 1980s, worked jobs as a hotel housekeeper for brands like Holiday Inn and Comfort Inn. She told me that the 30% figure shared by the AHLA was significantly higher than her experience over three decades ago, when she received only 10 to 15 tips per month, despite cleaning 15 to 20 rooms per day.
Although things have clearly improved over time, housekeepers still receive a disproportionately low number of tips relative to their peers in the hotel service industry:
Tipping norms, or the lack of them, may be especially unfair to housekeepers, who arguably do more for guests than park their cars or push the cart containing their dinners.
Indeed, guests are far more likely to tip a bellman or valet, who provide only a few minutes of service to the guests. Housekeepers, on the other hand, often spend up to 30 minutes servicing a room—making beds, exchanging towels, cleaning bathroom fixtures, etc.
So, why don't we tip housekeepers with regularity? Shane C. Blum, an associate professor of hospitality at Texas Texh University, offered the following:
“As a general rule, people just don’t know they’re supposed to tip. Obviously, when you’re with a group of people, like at a restaurant, there’s social pressure to tip. In a hotel room, you’re usually by yourself and there’s not that social pressure.”
Michael Lynn, a professor of consumer behavior and marketing at Cornell University, offered another reason:
“Tipping etiquette experts have said for 20 years or more that you should tip hotel maids. But even I don’t do it all the time,” he said. “Half the time I don’t have the proper change in my pocket or I forget.”
Professor Lynn's analysis hits the nail on the head of my own experiences. While I believe strongly in tipping housekeepers, sometimes I don't have the correct change or have no cash at all.
In order to make up for the disparity between tips received by bellhops and valets and those received (or not) by housekeepers, I believe, as a general rule, that we should tip those who are responsible for cleaning up after us. So, what amount is appropriate?
The AHLA, in its gratuity guide, suggests $1 to $5 per night.
Because housekeepers don't work 7 days per week, it is important to spread your tipping out over the course of your stay, so that every person assigned to clean your room is rewarded in the same way. A couple dollars a night seems reasonable, unless you have created a big mess (in which case, leave more). You might increase the tip on the morning of your check-out, as a more thorough cleaning will be required to prepare the room for the next guest.
Blanca Guerrero, a housekeeper at the Santa Monica Marriott, said that receiving a tip "makes us feel like someone appreciated us." She continued, "Sometimes we get $2 or $3 in a room, and we get very happy.”
A few dollars can make a big difference. So, with that in mind, I encourage you to leave a tip for housekeeping during your next hotel stay. If you are already in the habit of tipping, know that the housekeepers appreciate your recognition and generosity.
What are your thoughts on tipping hotel housekeepers?
If you do leave a tip, how much per night or stay?
Let me know in the comments below!