Here’s a small, easy way to make the world a tiny bit better: Tip your hotel housekeeper.
Most of us — around 70 percent of hotel guests — don’t. I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve been in that group from time to time. Didn’t have cash on me. Didn’t bother finding a way to get some. In a hurry. Blah, blah, blah. Lousy, lazy excuses.
An Ask Amy letter writer inquired about the topic recently, wondering whether guests should leave a tip on the day of their departure.
“My husband does not think I should tip on the last day because ‘the room is being cleaned for someone else,’” Fair Tipper on Cape Cod wrote. “I disagree, as the cleaning person is still tidying up after us even if we are leaving. To me, this only seems fair.”
Amy sided with Fair Tipper.
“Think of it this way: You don’t tip the cleaning staff when you first check in, because it hasn’t had the joy of cleaning up after you yet,” she wrote. “You should leave a tip for the cleaning staff after each night of your stay, including your last day before you check out. Tipping each day ensures that the person who actually cleaned your room that day receives your thanks.”
Jose A. Del Real, a national correspondent for The New York Times, retweeted a 2017 New York Times story that found fewer than a third of hotel guests leave a housekeeping tip. The reporter, Tammy La Gorce, researched national tipping data and interviewed hotel housekeepers, most of whom are women, and most of whom are minorities and immigrants, according to Unite Here! — a labor union representing hotel housekeepers in North America.
“Some days someone will leave $5; other days, they leave nothing,” Angela Lemus, a housekeeper at a Boston hotel, told LaGorce.
“Sometimes we get $2 or $3 in a room, and we get very happy,” Blanca Guerrero, a housekeeper at a Santa Monica, Calif., hotel, told her. “It makes us feel like someone appreciated us.”
For flipping heavy mattresses, breathing in toxic cleaning supply fumes, scrubbing tubs and toilets, removing waste.
Del Real’s tweet sparked an intense back-and-forth.
“There’s a special place in hell for people who don’t tip,” one Twitter user commented.
To which someone going by Anna replied, “There’s a special place in hell for a system that doesn’t raise minimum wage, making consumers responsible for the staff’s basic living needs. Nobody tips in Europe (unless the service is exceptional) because nobody needs to.”
“Well Anna,” the first commenter replied, “we are not in Europe, and unless the American capitalist government is overthrown, it is up to each of us to help those who make less than the rest of us.”
“Anna’s point is a fair point though, surely?” a third person chimed in.
And on it went. More than 1,000 comments. On a 1 1/2-year-old story.
Clearly, tipping is on our mind.
As it should be.
The average hotel housekeeper salary is $10.80 per hour in the United States, according to Indeed.com, which based its estimate on surveys submitted by hotel housekeeper employees and job advertisements placed on its site during the past 36 months.
In the 2017 New York Times story, Shane C. Blum, an associate professor of hospitality and retail management at Texas Tech University, suggested hotels make it easier for guests to tip, particularly when they don’t have cash handy.
“If hotels really wanted to institutionalize tipping, they could do it through electronic checkouts, or an app, or the TV, with a question like, ‘Would you like to leave a tip for your housekeeper?’ ” Blum said. “We live in a tipping society. Even sandwich shops do that now. Why shouldn’t hotels do it?”
That idea was also raised in the string of comments responding to Del Real’s Monday tweet. Other commenters argued, however, that hotel companies might not deliver the entire tip to housekeepers. Better to offer them cash, they said, which they can use immediately for a meal or other needs that day.
In 2014, Maria Shriver’s organization A Woman’s Nation launched an initiative called “The Envelope Please,” which provided gratuity envelopes for hotels to place in their guest rooms.
Marriott International was the first chain to partner with A Woman’s Nation on the project. It was not universally embraced.
“This is a bit over the top for Marriott to be doing this to us, almost like black mailing us into it,” a National Public Radio report quoted one hotel guest saying at the time. “If they are so concerned they should pay these hard working people a better wage!”
It’s unclear where the program stands now. I’ve never seen a gratuity envelope in a hotel room, although I think it’s a fantastic idea. I’ve grown to expect them at salons and other service-oriented spots — why not at a hotel?
The American Hotel and Lodging Association offers a gratuity guide with suggested amounts for housekeeping, room service and other hotel employees. “Tip $1-5 per night,” it suggests for housekeeping. “The tip should be left daily (preferably in an envelope or with a note so that it’s clear it’s for housekeeping).”
Hotel housekeepers do work that is dirty, grueling, potentially dangerous, incredibly important and, unlike bartenders or waitresses or hairdressers, mostly happens when we’re not looking. I’m afraid that makes them and their labor invisible to all too many of us.
We can do better. Gratuity envelope or not. Line item on our bill or not. We can make a point to carry cash when we stay at a hotel, and we can leave a few dollars each night for the people cleaning up after us. Anything less is shameful.
Heidi Stevens is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. Reach her at email@example.com or on Twitter @heidistevens13.