Barbara Shelly

Marriott may be copping out, but tip the housekeeper anyway

This photo provided by A Womans Nation shows an envelope that Marriott will be placing in 160,000 hotel rooms in the U.S. and Canada beginning this week to encourage guests to leave a tip for the person who cleans the room. The envelopes bear the name of the room attendant.
This photo provided by A Womans Nation shows an envelope that Marriott will be placing in 160,000 hotel rooms in the U.S. and Canada beginning this week to encourage guests to leave a tip for the person who cleans the room. The envelopes bear the name of the room attendant. The Associated Press

In the pecking order of the service economy, housekeepers at hotels and motels are among the hardest working and least recognized.

And so I am perfectly good with Marriott International leaving envelopes in guest rooms to encourage guests to leave something for the person who will come in to pick up the soggy towels, change the sheets, scrub the tub and toilet and otherwise put things in order.

It’s surprising how many people don’t realize they’re supposed to tip the housekeeper. Or maybe not, because housekeepers don’t have an opportunity to place a tip jar in front of the customer, like so many counter workers. And they don’t stand smiling in the doorway for that extra second like so many bellhops. Mostly, they just work to make the lodging experience more pleasant for guests.

As this Washington Post story points out, Marriott is partnering with Maria Shriver’s nonprofit, A Woman’s Nation, to encourage tips for housekeepers, who are mostly female and often strugging to raise children.

Some are calling the move a copout on the part of Marriott, which pays its housekeepers an average of $9.50 an hour. If they want their housekeepers to be better paid, they should pay them better.

That’s certainly a valid argument. But I’m pretty sure Marriott and the other hotel/motel chains are going to stick to the position that housekeeping is part of the service economy and that tips are a built-in part of the compensation.

Except that a lot of people, even frequent travelers, don’t know they’re suppose to tip the maid. And if Marriott has to remind its guests, you can bet that housekeepers working for more budget-oriented motels aren’t seeing much in the form of cash left on the dresser drawer. A lot of them probably aren’t making as much as $9.50 an hour, either.

And remember, housekeepers are hampered by the same variable hours as others in the low-paid workforce. They’ll get few hours when bookings are low.

Bottom line, it’s a hard lot. So by all means, tip the housekeeper. The Emily Post Institute (what better authority?) recommends $2 to $5 a day. A note of thanks doesn’t hurt either.

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