I went upstate on the weekend after Thanksgiving, and stayed at the Hudson
House in Cold Spring, "the second oldest continually operating inn in the
state of New York". It’s a pleasant enough hotel, a nice place to spend
the night if you’re travelling in the Hudson valley, but not the sort of place
I’d normally be tempted to blog about.
But in this bucolic setting, proudly described as "quaint" in the
hotel’s promotional literature, I found something a little jarring. On entering
the room, the first thing I noticed was a little envelope propped up against
the mirror. Here’s what it said:
Thank you for staying with us!
Your Housekeeper has been _________. We hope that everything done for you
has met with your satisfaction. Your Housekeeper has tried to make your stay
with us as pleasant as possible. If there is anything we can do to make your
stay even more pleasant, please let us know.
If you wish to leave anything for your Housekeeper’s effort, we are providing
Please come back and stay with us again soon. It has been our pleasure to
have you as our guest.
I hadn’t seen anything like this before, but apparently it’s quite common,
since the envelope is manufactured by the American Hotel Register Co., of Northbrook,
IL, which helpfully provides a reorder number on the front. My Housekeeper,
Irene, had equally helpfully filled in her name in the blank provided.
The following morning, I went down to breakfast, which is for hotel guests
only. At the bottom of the breakfast menu, a notice in block capitals said that
although the cost of the breakfast was included in the room rate, a gratuity
was not included.
Twice, then, I was hit up for tips by a hotel in a none-too-subtle manner.
I can see why they had to be unsubtle about it, though: since most hotel guests
consider both housekeeping and breakfast to be part of the service they’re paying
for in the room rate, they see no need to tip.
People don’t customarily leave a tip when paying their bill at a hotel: I think
it’s assumed that service is included not only in the room rate but also in
the inflated prices for things like the minibar. (At the St Regis in Manhattan,
the New York Times informs
us, room-service tea, including finger sandwiches, scones and a fruit plate,
At the Hudson House and places like it, however, there’s no room service and
no minibar. Even so, I was opposed to tipping. It’s hard to decide to tip at
the Hudson House, but not to tip at higher-end hotels or at lower-end B&Bs
where the owners do all the work. And in fact it’s extremely difficult to tip
one’s maid in the vast majority of hotels, since she obviously couldn’t take
any money you left out unless it was very clearly marked.
Also, it’s impossible to calculate the tip using the normal percentage technique.
Since the cost and/or value of the housekeeping and the breakfast are unknown,
you can’t divide them by five to get a tip amount.
All the same, it’s hard to justify withholding tips from maids when one tips
the surly barista at the neighbourhood coffee shop. I guess the difference is
that the barista is basically just getting loose change, maybe the occasional
buck on a big order, while if one places money in an envelope it’d better be
something a bit more substantial.
In general, though, I’m sure that these envelopes and menu notices are a regressive
phenomenon. Tipping is a bad habit, and one which society as a whole should
be working to abolish: the more service compris restaurants the better.
Service personnel should be paid a decent wage, and customers should be spared
the difficulty of working out how much to leave: if you normally double the
tax, should you tip 20% for really good service? How much should you deduct
for bad service? Should you include the cover charge when calculating the tip?
What about the tax? And that expensive bottle of wine? The situation of sitting
in a hotel eating breakfast and being asked to calculate the tip on a nonexistent
bill is just one of many decisions we shouldn’t be asked to make.
All the same, I was overruled on the breakfast, and a tip was left. In fact,
it had to be planned out carefully: after the meal was over, two of us had to
stay at the table, while a third went up to her room, got some cash, and came
back with it so that when we departed the tip would be there. I won on the housekeeper,
however. She left a large piece of furniture blocking the window, and the duvet
cover was upside-down, with the cold brass buttons up at the head of the bed
rather than at the foot, where they won’t be felt. No tips for that.