NEW YORK (MainStreet) Who would think there would be a brouhaha over a pocketful of change? But talk with travelers and a hot button issue is how much to tip hotel housekeepers, if it is necessary to tip them at all.
Call this a pitched battle. Many insist it is perfectly right to stiff the maid. "Housekeeping works on a salary or hourly wage," said Sherry Thomas, president of Palm Beach Etiquette, a training company. "It is not necessary to tip."
On the other side, there is Joe Brancatelli, who blogs about business travel at JoeSentMe. He said he tips "a minimum of $5 a day whenever I require service." Of course, there are days he leaves out the "Do Not Disturb sign" and deducts that from his expenses. By the same token, he rewards a maid more if necessary. "I add [more] if I've been particularly messy or requested a special service," he says.
Broader research returns a very mixed message. In an Ipsos 2012 poll for coupon site RetailMeNot, 48% of consumers said they do not typically tip hotel housekeepers, not a dime, but among those who do tip, 44% usually leave at least a fiver, while a third leave a dollar or two. That's for the stay, which could be a day...or a week.
A regional difference arises too in the Ipsos poll, where Southerners are more than twice as likely as Northeasterners to say they do not commonly leave a tip (56% vs. only 25%).
What do housekeepers earn? That answer, too, is all over the map. In Manhattan, housekeepers who belong to the Hotel and Motel Trades Council AFL-CIO make upwards of $25 per hour and get good benefits (including a pension and medical). That housekeeper, incidentally, cleans on average 12 to 14 rooms per day, according to the union.
On the Las Vegas Strip, housekeepers generally earn upwards of $16 per hour, plus benefits. In San Francisco, they also are paid wages upwards of $16 per hour.
In much of the country, however, housekeepers are paid nearer minimum wage ($7.90 per hour in Arizona, for instance) and may get few or no benefits.
Those numbers are why the tipping question is of more than academic interest, certainly to the housekeepers.
Why tip at all? Tom Waithe, the regional director of operations for Kimpton Hotels of the Pacific Northwest and the general manager of the Hotel Monaco in Seattle, offered his viewpoint: "Many guests tip, and the frequency with which guests slip a $5 under their pillow has definitely increased. If you are staying at a hotel for a few days and you leave a couple of bucks under the pillow, you might be amazed at the quality of service your room will receive during the rest of your stay with us."
Rob Cornell, Preferred Hotel Group's senior vice president of development, added his advice, "In an upscale resort, tip $5 per day or $25 per week. However, if the room is not cleaned properly, tip zero."
As for why tip, Connell said, "It's all about attention to detail, timeliness of service, and handling of special requests, i.e. more towels or soap." Leave a fiver for the housekeeper along with a note requesting more hotel envelopes and perhaps some extra soap and consider it done. If it isn't, skip the rest of the tip you had planned. It's that simple.
Ask for nothing special and receive no special treatment and then it is fair to dial down the tip, perhaps to a buck or two per day. When you get little, little is a fair return.
Then there is the other magic question: when to tip? Some say at the end of the stay. That's not the advice from Patricia Trias, general manager at Sense Beach House in Miami's South Beach.
"It's best to tip daily, as staffs change over and this ensures the right person receives the tip," she said. "It's also important to somehow designate what money has been left out as a tip, so that there is no confusion. My advice is to travel with an envelope or use hotel stationary to leave a note."
There you have it: the 2014 hotel maid tipping formula. Tip from $1 to $5 per day, unless service has been lacking, and do it daily. That will give you the room you want, the housekeeper will be appropriately compensated, and you also can sleep well knowing you put a few bucks in hands that probably really need them and certainly earned them.
--Written by Robert McGarvey for MainStreet