How Should Hoteliers Educate Guests on Tipping Room Attendants?
By Larry Spelts President, Lodging & Lifestyle Adventures, Indigo Road Hospitality Group | June 21, 2020
Our team members who work the hardest and often are paid the least are our room attendants. As with other hotel guest services teams - such as valet and bell staff, and servers in F&B - there is an opportunity for room attendants to supplement their incomes with tips. Both customs have been around a long time, although the exact origins of these customs are unclear.
Also, in the U.S. where there is a well-accepted method of calculating a tip for an F&B server, hotel guests are either unclear on what an appropriate tip for a room attendant should be or they are unaware that it is customary to tip.
In 2017, Marriott launched a well-intended initiative as an experiment, recently called "The Envelope Please," wherein the participating trial hotels placed a cleverly designed envelope with a thoughtfully worded invitation to tip the room attendant. The reaction by guests was disappointing. Only 30 percent of guests tipped, and worse yet, quite a few of the guests reacted negatively to what they perceived as a solicitation to pay the room attendants and shared their indignation online in reviews, according to a New York Times story on Marriott's experiment in October 2017.
A team of hospitality academics designed a field study conducted in upscale hotels wherein greeting cards - both personalized and non-personalized - were deployed to encourage tipping. There were 3,285 room-nights tip records collected in this study. The research found that "…housekeeping greeting cards did not increase the likelihood of guests to tip, but they may increase the average tipping amount; the personalization of greeting cards from room attendants had positive effects on guest tipping behavior; the hand-written greeting card and name-introduction greeting card were predictors that can significantly increase the likelihood of hotel guests to tip." (excerpt from "Greetings from Emily! The Effects of Personalized Greeting Cards on Tipping of Hotel Room Attendants" published in the International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management by I-Hsuan Shih (Department of International Tourism Management, Tamkang University, New Taipei City, Taiwan).
In the NY Times story about Marriott's experiment, the author, Tammy La Gorce, asks, "But why are housekeepers often forgotten? A common explanation is that they are out of sight and, therefore, out of mind - that travelers are likely to tip only employees they directly interact with. But another cause may be a simple lack of awareness." She goes on to claim that "…housekeepers say that, without the gentle nudge of initiatives like 'The Envelope Please,' only about 30 percent of guests leave a tip." Professor Blum of TCU who participated in the research previously cited, corroborated this figure.
In my role as a hospitality management company executive, I travel a lot for business and stay frequently in hotels. I have always tipped room attendants on a per night basis, and these days I use $5 per day as my rule of thumb for how much to tip. I was hesitant about sharing this as I have made a practice of this quite arbitrarily with no guidance from anyone. Fearing I may not be tipping appropriately, before I wrote this, I did a quick search online, and found that TripSavvy.com and TripAdvisor.com recommend that amount for staying in upscale or finer hotels. They also recommend that the amount should increase if there are more than two people staying in the room.