The point of tipping

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

this envelope.

Please come back and stay with us again soon. It has been our pleasure to

have you as our guest.

The Management

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,

costs $102.17.)

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.

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16 Responses to The point of tipping

  1. Stefan says:

    You should have titled this post The Tipping Point.

  2. Matthew says:

    yes, but that would have been a blatant piece of plagiarism from the blog of one a. sullivan.

  3. Erika says:

    Is that the same son who who was appaled at my nonexisting grace about tipping when I first visited him in New York? When I thought a cab fare was a cab fare and didn’t need much adding? I like giving generously and FREELY if I receive service/help that is more than one would expect, I don’t like tipping as part of expected payment.

  4. I Don’t ask for, or generally get, tips for doing extremely detailed plumbing work – I just charge what I think the job is worth. Nobody sees the extra care I take making sure a solder joint is well cleaned, fluxed, and neatly made. Many service employees are not detail oriented -“the duvet cover was upside down” -and the institutionalisation of the gratuity or tip is a rude demand without justification in too many cases.

    You could have left a detailed bill for service not rendered. Sue them in small claims court if they refuse to pay the balance due for service not rendered but paid for .

    This whole tipping issue makes me angry since I know how hard I and many co-workers work -and without expecting or demanding anything extra for doing excellent work -as a matter of routine.

    I’m the guy that works on a ladder in your hotel ceilings when you aren’t around.

    The problem is that these room service jobs can be done sloppily by so many people and if they aren’t done well they don’t cause a flood or fire in the building. They’re often not inspected.

    As a customer of these services it is your duty to demand carefull, thoughtfull, service- if it’s really exemplary then sure, leave a tip -otherwise, detail your exceptions to the service in an invoice and demand a refund for incomplete or sloppy service by leaving that invoice in the envelope provided and warn them if it is not paid you will sue for the difference. You sure don’t owe a tip for service not rendered.

    If you’re paying for premium service, get it – or demand a refund.

  5. Debbie says:

    When hotels pay maids a decent wage they wouldn’t need tip envelopes.

  6. lisa says:

    just for your information. in some areas now after you leave the 25 or 50 cents that is left over to the “barista” for making your latte or whatever it is that you are having, alot of owners are withholding these tips and making them part of their paychecks at the end of two weeks. what’s even more astounding is that this is legal. because they get paid minimum wage the owner is allowed to do this with any gradtuity. how sad is this, and who says that the owner is being honest in the amount of tips??? this is then taxed on the poor persons paycheck that does not even pay their bills. asking for a tip inside a menu is insulting. and giving an instruction on to tip is insulting to your intelligence… i think the owner of that hotel needs to go back to school and learn some manners…

  7. Becky Sheppard says:

    You have obviously not worked a low paying job, where a mother busts her butt to raise a child on her own. The lower paying jobs are the ones that are usually the ones that are harder and more strenuous. Some maids do go the extra mile to make ones stay at an Inn most pleasant. It is not the maids fault what she gets paid (most often minimum wage)regardless of what the room costs. Its one person trying to make it in the world without someone else trying to knock them down. To some people an extra dollar or two could make the difference of whether her child eats that day, whether her child gets a needed pair of shoes, or whether her electricity gets cut off in the middle of winter. Maybe you should put yourself in their position. May God Bless you and help you to see the good in giving.

  8. MOHAN says:

    Why tipping should be abolished (it is a bad idea in the first place)

    a) Waiters tend to discriminate against the customers they are not happy with. A high-tipping customer is given more attention over a lesser tipper. This discrimination can be harmless or harmful. Longer wait times are harmless. Tampering with food is harmful.

    b) It encourages a sense of “who gets most tips”, since tipping is based on personal preferences of customers, not everyone gets equal tips. An unhealthy competition among the waiters is the result.

    Some South Indian restaurants have abolished tipping for precisely these restaurants. It is a good model to follow. The eateries are supposed to pay appropriate wages to their employees and waiters/food service people are not to expect anything “extra” from the customers.

    Service is service, thats what they are paid for. Thou shalt not tip and differentiate between service.

  9. bonnie says:

    I worked as a hotel housekeeper in the past. The worst job I ever had. Not only do they expect you to clean 10 rooms a day spotless, but then you have to deal with rooms that are pigstys.I had to deal with vomit, condoms, food left everywhere, baby’s dirty diapers on the beds.I could go on. No time for lunch or breaks. It would’nt hurt these people to leave a few dollars for leaving a mess. I would never do that job again, for no amount of pay

  10. bonnie says:

    I worked as a hotel housekeeper in the past. The worst job I ever had. Not only do they expect you to clean 10 rooms a day spotless, but then you have to deal with rooms that are pigstys.I had to deal with vomit, condoms, food left everywhere, baby’s dirty diapers on the beds.I could go on. No time for lunch or breaks. It would’nt hurt these people to leave a few dollars for leaving a mess. I would never do that job again, for no amount of pay

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