As someone who worked in the service industry—and then wrote a bestselling memoir about it—Jacob Tomsky has some words of advice to offer on gratuity, and ingratitude
Imagine a housekeeper, ten years of service at the same property, walks into a hotel room one day to find that her company, overnight, has placed envelopes in every single room, envelopes that suggest and encourage hotel guests to tip their hardworking housekeepers.
Yesterday there were no envelopes.
Today there are envelopes.
The day continues as usual but something exciting has been added to the routine. Usually a housekeeper will enter and immediately assess the damage. And, confronted with that damage, she (or he) might let out a weary and timeless sigh. Cleaning a hotel room is a Sisyphean task. Every day the boulder is balanced atop the hill. And every day a guest flies in and drop-kicks that boulder, sending it rushing madly to the ground. But now, perhaps, the first part of the routine involves skirting around the damage to check this new and exciting envelope. Perhaps there is a gratuity inside. Then, wonderfully, the housekeeper may let out another sigh, of a completely different nature, but just as timeless; a sigh of gratitude.
Recently, the Marriott hotel chain began placing these very envelopes in their rooms, envelopes suggesting that guests leave a gratuity for the hard-working and often ignored housekeepers.
As a ten-year veteran of the hotel business, and author of an entire memoir about it, I would like to say:
Oh, man, I love you for this. This is so kind. So beautiful.
Immediately, however, there was backlash from more than a few Marriott guests. Some of them appear to feel “blackmailed” or “guilted” into tipping.
As a ten-year veteran of the hotel business, including a stint in the housekeeping department, I would like to say:
Dear Affronted Marriot Guests: I dislike you for this.
Some people need to be guilted into tipping. Or at least steered through the process.
Housekeeping is the most thankless job in the hospitality business. When it’s done correctly, you never even glimpse the person who delicately avoided all your disgusting personal items. Usually, if you see them, it’s when you pass them in the hall, and you avert your gaze a little, maybe feeling a touch of guilt. But now Marriot is allowing us to do more than give them a sheepish smile as we sneak past their carts. They are giving us a well-defined way to thank them directly: with cash.
This is America. We tip here. We keep the currency circulating at the micro level, hand to hand, giving tax-free cash to the people who we feel need and deserve it. When we go abroad they love us because we tip there too. It’s an act of kindness. It’s hard to show kindness in today’s world. And nothing (truly, nothing) says “thank you” like a gratuity—the meaning of the word is, after all, “thanks”—especially for a housekeeper. It’s like a gift certificate that applies to the whole world! For back-to-school supplies! For drinks after work! A healthier lunch! A cold soda! Anything.
If you don’t want to utilize the envelope, don’t. Maybe write a nice note. Or refrain from trashing the room like a filthy animal. But do not grow indignant because Marriot has added a wonderful extra for the hardest-working employees in the hotel business. Perhaps these indignant guests should try cleaning 15 rooms a day and then see? Then maybe see if they wouldn’t appreciate a small gratuity for all the effort? Work that job for one week and see if they don’t think that money is earned and absolutely appropriate.
I am so happy for those Marriott employees. Life, as they open door after door, day after day, just got a little better. A little more exciting.
Jacob Tomsky is a dedicated veteran of the hospitality business, the author of Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality, and the founder and president of Short Story Thursdays, a weekly, email-based short story club. His writing has appeared in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, among other outlets. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.
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