TIME Money

Tip Till It Hurts—Just Don’t Feel Smug About It

Guests ride an escalator in the background of a Marriott log
Daniel Acker—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Barbara Ehrenreich is the founder of the Economic Hardship Reporting Project, and the author of the seminal Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America.

The tipping initiative by Maria Shriver sidesteps Marriott's responsibility to pay its housekeepers a living wage

Anything that brings attention to hotel housekeepers is probably a good thing. Not only are they notoriously underpaid and overworked, but they can do very little to bring attention to themselves. The 2011 case in which a Manhattan Sofitel housekeeper accused a guest of sexual assault in his $3,000-per-night suite was the rarest of exceptions, and attracted the media only because the alleged assailant happened to be a former director of the International Monetary Fund. The housekeeper’s job is to clean, change sheets, restock amenities and exit the room without leaving any personal traces behind. They are paid to be invisible and usually are.

Maria Shriver, however, is sharp-eyed enough to have noticed them. Last year, she spear-headed the effort that led to January’s The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Pushes Back from the Brink, which highlighted the struggles of low-income, working class women. I contributed to it, and was impressed by her energy and dedication. So I wasn’t surprised that Shriver struck up conversations with hotel housekeepers, and reported that “Their stories of hard work and perseverance inspired and informed me.” Unlike the 32 percent of hotel guests, who never even bother to leave tips for their housekeepers, she decided to do something.

But she chose to take a strangely sideways, almost timid, approach. Instead of getting the hotel’s CEO on the phone and inquiring politely why housekeepers aren’t paid a living wage – which is something that I imagine a centi-millionaire world-class celebrity could easily do – she launched a campaign to get hotels to encourage their guests to leave tips in their rooms. All the hotel has to do is place an appropriately labeled “gratitude envelope” on the bedside table. The initiative, called “The Envelope Please,” drew immediate support from the Marriott hotel chain, which employs about 20,000 housekeepers in North America.

The response from hotel guests was less enthusiastic. Already faced with proliferating surcharges for hotel services that used to be free – the in-room safe, a fold-out bed, baggage checking fees – consumers gagged on the assumption that they should now contribute to the housekeepers’ pay. September 2014 was probably not a tactful moment to introduce The Envelope Please: In August, hotels had just achieved a $2.25 billion high-water mark in their income from surcharges, double the amount they got in 2003.

Less churlishly, critics of the initiative wanted to know why the hotels don’t just pay higher wages. As one wrote to the Boston Globe, “All Marriott guests should then write ‘PAY YOUR EMPLOYEES A LIVING WAGE’ on the empty envelope and hand it to hotel management.” The median pay for a hotel housekeeper is $9.51 an hour – far less than a living wage in most cities – and an unseemly amount of this often goes for over-the-counter pain medications. Hotel housekeepers, who often work under extreme time pressure, are 40 percent more likely to incur injuries than other service workers—back injuries from lifting mattresses, knee and elbow injuries from scrubbing. Next time you stay in a hotel, take a look at a housekeeper pushing her cart through the corridor: You’ll see a tired woman, very often an immigrant, ill-shod and probably in need of dental work.

Let’s put this in perspective. Marriott International reported $192 million in profits for the second quarter of this year, up 7.3 percent from a year ago, and the company can be generous to employees when it wants to. Arne Sorenson, the CEO of Marriott International, got a raise in total compensation in 2013, bringing in $9.2 million, up from $8.6 million in 2012. That would be about $3,800 an hour.

Unless they wait tables in high-end restaurants, most people prefer to get their compensation in wages rather than tips. Wages are steady; tips are erratic and at the customer’s whim. And, although I’ve happily pocketed many tips myself, there’s something a little icky about the process. Everyone knows that “real” professionals—doctors, lawyers, electricians—don’t get tips, and to offer one would be a grave insult. Reporting from Barcelona in the 1930s, George Orwell noted that since the revolutionary government had outlawed tipping, waiters “looked you in the face and treated you as an equal.”

My advice, as someone who has both stayed in hotel rooms and cleaned them, is this: Tip till it hurts. And for many of us that means a lot more than $1 to $5 a night recommended by “The Envelope Please.” You will be helping someone feed her children and pay the electric bill. You will be gaining karma points.

Just don’t feel too smug about it. By tipping, you are acceding to an economic arrangement based on severe inequality. In fact, you are inadvertently subsidizing a company that profits from and perpetuates this inequality. Tipping may generate a tiny flare of human warmth in an otherwise cold corporate world, but “gratitude” is not an answer to exploitation.

Barbara Ehrenreich is the founder of the Economic Hardship Reporting Project, and the author of the seminal Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

MONEY Travel

15 Things You Didn’t Know About Tipping

Man signing credit card bill at restaurant
Tetra Images—Getty Images

It's not your imagination. In today's world, we're expected to tip more people, and at increasingly higher amounts. What's up with that?

In the past few days, tipping has been at the center of controversies involving the Philadelphia Eagles’ LeSean McCoy, who left a 20-cent tip at a restaurant, and Marriott, which launched a campaign to encourage guests to tip housekeepers. The latter prompted many to respond by bashing the upscale hotel company for not paying maids higher wages in the first place.

Clearly, the subject of tipping—fraught with guilt and obligation, clouded with issues of class and income inequality—strikes a chord. It certainly doesn’t help that there’s so much we don’t understand about gratuities. For example …

Until very recently, most travelers didn’t tip hotel maids. Marriott’s initiative to prod guests to tip housekeepers seems to have firmly established the practice as standard. And indeed, it does seem to be the standard: Only 31% of American travelers said they don’t tip maids, according to a recent TripAdvisor survey. As recently as 2011, however, the ratio was reversed, with industry experts such as Michael Lynn of the Cornell School of Hotel Administration pointed to data suggesting that only 30% of hotel guests actually left tips for housekeepers. In 2006, New York Times columnist Joe Sharkey admitted he, presumably like nearly all business travelers, generously tipped almost every hotel staffer he encountered but had been overlooking the maids, “perhaps because they were unseen, working in the room when the guest was gone.”

Where you leave the money matters. Marriott provides envelopes so that guests can leave a tip, and perhaps a note of gratitude, for housekeepers. Hotel guests may not be exactly sure where to leave tips for the maid—and the maids themselves may not know if money left out in the open is intended for them. In one anonymous Q&A, a hotel maid offered the advice that hotel guests should “leave [the tip] where it’s obviously for the recipient—like a $20 on the nightstand for a hooker!” Her suggestions: on the tray with the ice bucket, or in the bathroom under the water glass.

Some stereotypes about tipping appear to be true. Certain ethnic groups are perceived to be less generous tippers than others. Apparently, these theories are not simply urban myths. One recent study found that Hispanics tipped less at restaurants than whites after controlling for factors such as bill size and the customer’s personal feelings about the quality of the service and food, while the conclusion in another survey declared “restaurant servers and their managers can expect below average tips from black customers regardless of their social class.” Only 11% of Italians in a recent survey, meanwhile, said that they “always” tipped for service on vacation, compared with 60% of Americans.

Millennials are bad tippers too. Millennials are known to love tasting new foods and tend to dine out in “upscale, casual-dining” establishment more than older generations, yet roughly one-third of Gen Y tips less than 15% at restaurants. Only 16% of people in demographics older than the millennials admit to tipping less than 15%.

Dads tip babysitters, moms stiff them. Men typically tip the babysitter for an average of $2.20, while the typical babysitter tip offered by women is $0, according to a PayScale survey.

There’s a payday loan banking alternative that runs on tips. It’s an app called Activehours, and it allows hourly employees to get paid for the time they’ve worked—before payday, and with no mandatory fees. Instead of the loanshark-like terms of the typical payday loan, users have the freedom to pay Activehours whatever amount (including $0) they want for the service.

Cheapness is only one reason people don’t tip. The NFL’s LeSean McCoy said that he is normally a generous tipper, but that he left a 20-cent tip on a recent restaurant bill as “a kind of statement,” with the message being that the food, service, and general level of respect weren’t up to snuff. Other restaurant customers have been shamed for using homophobia, racism, religion, and, in one instance, being spurned by the bartender after groping her, as excuses for why they didn’t tip their waitstaff.

Holiday season tipping can be traced back to newsboys. The annual tradition of tipping doormen, mail carriers, maids, nannies, and others originated in the 1700s, when young newspaper delivery boys got in the habit of hitting up subscribers for gratuities on Christmas or New Year’s Day. The practice, which existed well into the mid-1950s according to Bloomberg News, was adopted by bootblacks, street sweepers, and other local service people.

Waiters haven’t always gotten 20%, or even 15%. It makes sense that we tip more as time passes, just to keep up with inflation. That doesn’t explain why we’d be expected to tip at an increasingly higher percentage, however, because as our restaurant bills have gone up, so have the gratuities. (If a fancy dinner in 1950 cost $50, a 15% tip would be $7.50; if a comparable fancy dinner in 2000 ran $100, the tip at a 15% rate would double too.)

Nonetheless, the standard percentage to tip waitstaff has risen over the decades. According to a PayScale study, the median tip is now 19.5%. In recent years, some waiters and restaurants have suggested that 25% or even 30% is the proper gratuity level, and that a 20% tip, once considered generous, is just average today. As recently as 2008, though, an Esquire tipping guide stated “15 percent for good service is still the norm” at American restaurants. An American Demographics study from 2001 found that three-quarters of Americans tipped an average of 17% on restaurant bills, while 22% tipped a flat amount no matter what the bill, and the gratuity left averaged $4.67. Meanwhile, in 1922, Emily Post wrote, “You will not get good service unless you tip generously,” and “the rule is ten per cent.”

Emily Post herself sorta hated tipping. In that 1922 guide, Post wrote, “Tipping is undoubtedly a bad system, but it happens to be in force, and that being the case, travelers have to pay their share of it—if they like the way made smooth and comfortable.”

Tipping was once considered demeaning and anti-American. Slate, the New York Times, and Esquire are among the outlets that have published epic rants calling for the end to the “abomination” of tipping in the last year or so. No one made the case better than the Times’ Pete Wells, who summed up of our current tipping system, “it is irrational, outdated, ineffective, confusing, prone to abuse and sometimes discriminatory. The people who take care of us in restaurants deserve a better system, and so do we.”

Those who defend tipping, and/or those who just insist on always tipping generously tend to think of gratuities as the great equalizer: Tips are necessary because waitstaff and other workers aren’t paid enough by their employers, and gratuities help provide them a living wage. A century ago, however, anti-tipping groups felt they were being progressive by declaring war on the demeaning system because it implicitly created a servile class that depended on the generosity of richer, aristocratic customers—and was therefore anti-democratic and anti-American. The anti-tipping movement gained steam in the late 1890s and continued through the 1910s, when a half-dozen states tried (but ultimately failed) to make tipping illegal.

Waitstaff today need tips even more than you think. As much as some people would love to replace tipping with a more sensible system—like, you know, just paying workers more money—today’s waiters and waitresses remain stuck desperately in need of gratuities. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that nearly 15% of America’s 2.4 million waitstaff live in poverty, compared to 7% of all workers.

Some workers get tipped way more than waiters. Waiters and waitresses get an average of 63% of their wages from gratuities, per the PayScale study, but workers in the stripper/exotic dancer category earn the highest median hourly tips of all, at $25.40 per hour.

We tip for totally nonsensical reasons. Studies indicate that diners tip more when a waitress wears a barrette, flower, or some other ornamentation in her hair, when the server repeats orders to the customer, and when the waiter introduces him or herself by name ($2 extra, on average). Another study showed that the quality of service generally has very little effect on how much the customer tips. And in yet another survey, various consumers admitted that they tipped more when the server was white, black, female, or attractive, among other categories.

Sometimes even experts have no clue how much to tip. Or if you should tip at all. When Marketplace asked Cornell’s Michael Lynn earlier this year about the norm for tipping the barista at Starbucks, or any coffee shop for that matter, he paused and sighed before giving the honest answer: “I don’t know.”

TIME Etiquette

Don’t Want to Leave a Tip for Housekeeping? Shame on You.

Courtesy Anchor Books

Jacob Tomsky is a dedicated veteran of the hospitality business and the author of the bestselling Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality.

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:

Dear Marriott,

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.

It’s wonderful.


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.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

MONEY Travel

The Hardworking Person You’ve Forgotten to Tip

Tip at Marriott hotel
Jeff Greenberg—Alamy

A new initiative from Marriott nudges travelers to tip their housekeepers.

American travelers are a pretty generous bunch. Virtually everyone tips restaurant staffers — 97%, according to a recent TripAdvisor survey. More than 80% of Americans tip taxi drivers, and 79% tip bellhops. Skipping the tip makes Americans anxious: 23% report feeling guilty when they don’t tip, and one in three Americans has tipped someone even when the service was bad.

But when Americans travel, they sometimes forget to tip the people who clean up after them: hotel housekeepers. Americans are less likely to tip housekeepers than other service workers; more than 31% report that they don’t tip hotel maids at all, according to TripAdvisor.

Now Marriott wants to offer a reminder. In a partnership with Maria Shriver’s nonprofit advocacy group, A Woman’s Nation, the hotel chain has launched a new initiative to place envelopes in hotel rooms where customers can leave “tips and notes of thanks.”

“Hotel room attendants often go unnoticed, as they silently care for the millions of travelers who are on the road at any given time,” states Marriott’s press release. “Because hotel guests do not always see or interact with room attendants, their hard work is many times overlooked when it comes to tipping.”

How much money should you leave? The American Hotel and Lodging Association, an industry trade group, recommends tipping housekeepers $1 to $5 a night, depending on the level of service and cost of the hotel. The Emily Post Institute concurs — its website recommends a tip of $2 to $5 a day.

Other important etiquette rules: Leave the tip every day, to ensure that whoever cleans the room that day gets the money. And be sure to put the cash in an envelope or leave a note next to the money saying “thanks” — any good housekeeper will be afraid to take cash if she’s not sure it belongs to her.

Even though hotel bills are getting bigger, the people who clean the rooms still make a pittance. During the first half of 2014, travelers paid an average of $137 a night for hotels in the United States, up 5% from last year, according to Hotels.com. On average, maids and housekeepers in the traveler accommodation industry make just $21,800 a year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics — below the poverty line for a family of four.

Which leads some people to ask — why doesn’t Marriott just pay its workers more, instead of asking customers to do it? For a $20.6 billion company MARRIOTT INTERNATIONAL INC. MAR 0.5711% , that’s a fair question. But for now, if your manners compel you to tip the taxi driver, the bellhop, and the concierge, don’t forget to leave a few bucks for the housekeeper, too.

TIME gratuity

And America’s Best Tippers Live In…

Dollars and cents
Finnbarr Webster / Alamy

Data from the mobile payments company Square reveal some huge regional differences in the generosity of customers

This post is in partnership with Fortune, which offers the latest business and finance news. Read the article below originally published at Fortune.com.

By Miguel Helft


New Yorkers are stingy with their cabbies (though not quite as stingy as their neighbors in New Jersey). Indeed, New Yorkers are among the worst tippers in the country in a number of categories — but not when it comes to personal hygiene. For some reason, a visit to the barber or stylist inspires generosity in the Empire State. Folks in Seattle and Portland reserve that same kind of giving spirit, no surprise, for their baristas, and Floridians and Texas extend it to their bartenders.

The observations derive from tipping data collected for FORTUNE by Square, the San Francisco-based mobile payments company, whose smartphone and tablet credit card readers have become a feature of thousands of small businesses across the country.

Interestingly, some tipping trends are fairly uniform across the country. Beauty and personal care professionals tend to receive the biggest tips — on average closer to 20% than to 15%. Taxis and limousines skew lower, with average tips below 16% in many states. Tips at restaurant bars show the most variability, with New York fast-food joints receiving an average of 14.77% and bars and lounges in Texas getting 19.66%.

For the full list, please go to Fortune.com.


Tips Add up for Many Workers

’Tis the season for tipping. Maybe you tip because you genuinely appreciate good service when you get it. Or maybe you tip because you’re afraid if you don’t, your newspaper will end up on the neighbor’s lawn every morning or you’ll be the last one served at your favorite bar.

But however you feel about holiday-season gratuities, tipping is a serious business for most people on the receiving end: Gratuities make up a significant part of their annual income. And new data from salary experts PayScale sheds light on just how big of a deal a tip is for people in service occupations.

Casino dealers — talented in helping us lose our money — earn more than 50% of their income from tips, as do waitresses and bartenders. The people we ask to make us look better — makeup artists, hairdressers, and nail-salon employees — get nearly one-quarter of their income from tips. And if you’re throwing a party during the holidays, note that caterers, food servers and parking attendants get more than 20% of their income from tips.

Who among recipients is least dependent on tipping income? According to PayScale, night club managers, hotel executive chefs and hotel front desk managers get less than 10% of their income from tips.

The past few years have been tough on workers who earn gratuities. Last year, PayScale reported a 5% drop in the average hourly tips across service jobs; this year, tipping hasn’t recovered from that dip. (In a separate survey, Rent.com found that 61% of apartment-dwelling tenants aren’t planning to tip their building staff this year — bad news for doormen, who PayScale.com says get 14% of their income from tips.)

So, in these still shaky economic times, if you’re thinking of cutting back on your tipping generosity, just keep in mind that it can have a bigger impact than you might think.

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More Money Friday Roundup: ETF Hazards & When Not to Tip

Personal finance from around the Web:

  • Exchange-traded funds are all the rage these days, but are they right for you? Here’s a primer on perks and pitfalls of ETFs. [USA Today]
  • If your teenager is more worried about the latest Twilight movie than her latest bank statement, she might need some credit guidance. Here are some tips to help your teen become credit savvy before the balances accumulate. [Wise Bread]

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Stiffing the Waiter for Rotten Service


Question: When a friend and I had dinner at a nice restaurant recently, the food was good but the service was terrible. The waiter got both of our orders wrong, was openly contemptuous of the wine we selected, ignored us for long stretches of time, and was horribly rude every time he did appear. I wanted to leave the guy next to nothing, but my friend insisted on tipping him close to 15 percent. Was she right, or was I?

Our answer: That’ll teach you not to decline the $75 wine your waiter recommends.

Seriously, we’re with you. There’s no excuse for the behavior you describe, and in your shoes we would have left the guy a buck – just enough to let him know we hadn’t forgotten him.

We assume your friend would argue that tipping is an obligation, not an option, and that stiffing a waiter is akin to an employer failing to pay an employee. But she’s wrong. Being in a job where tips are the norm doesn’t protect you from the economic consequences of failing to provide what customers have every right to expect. Taxi drivers who ignore their passengers’ directions and drive like maniacs don’t deserve tips. Neither do waiters who can’t bother to deliver competent and courteous service.

Given that your meal was so unpleasant, you should have spoken to the manager and insisted that your bill be reduced. But we can understand why you might not have wanted to end dinner with a confrontation. Either way, though, your friend was wrong to insist on that tip. Her well-intentioned but misguided sense of duty only encourages waiters like yours to continue to be contemptuous of their customers.

Questions? Email Money Magazine’s ethicists – authors of the upcoming book “Isn’t It Their Turn to Pick Up the Check?” (Free Press) – at FlemingandSchwarz@right-thing.net.

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