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$32 Tip Included

Gary Lee

In the latest salvo in the debate over how much to tip hotel staff, a guest at the posh Phoenician in Scottsdale, Ariz., is suing over mandatory gratuities included in his room bill. It seems that upon check-out Jim Schulevitz got a bill that included a $4 daily tip for the housekeeper and a $28 bell tip. Schulevitz is now plaintiff in a class action suit against Starwood Hotels, which manages the Phoenician.

Schulevitz's gripe, apparently, is less about whether to tip or not to tip but over the fact that the mandatory tips were added to his bill. When he booked at the Phoenician he was quoted a room rate of $325 a night but no mention was made of the tips.

Having done a stint in housekeeping at a luxury hotel a couple of years back, and witnessing that housekeepers often come up pretty short of tips, I can see where the Phoenician is coming from. Often hotel staff, who earn modest wages, look for tips to supplement their incomes. Rarely do guests tip according to the level of service they receive.

I can also see Schulevitz's point of view. I have checked out of many hotels only to see many an unfamiliar charge added to my bill. You agree to pay for room and tax but end up paying energy surcharges and so on.

But did the Phoenician err in adding the tips onto the bill? What should be a traveler's or hotel's policy on tips? I would be curious for your views.

By Gary Lee |  May 17, 2007; 11:04 AM ET  | Category:  Gary Lee , Hotels
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I don't have a gripe with hotel employees. In our culture, the hotel sets pay levels at whatever it wants but is limited by the fact that the pay must be sufficient to get people to show up for work.

There can be a hope and expectation that the customer will tip the workers but the hotel cannot be allowed to add this to the bill without notice (e.g., a 15% service charge will be added to restaurant groups of six or more).

I'm totally with the customer on this one.

Posted by: Josey | May 17, 2007 11:38 AM

I forgot to note:
$325 a night and the hotel cannot manage to pay higher wages?
I'm even more on the side of the customer.

Posted by: Josey | May 17, 2007 11:39 AM

Sounds like the hotel needs to pay it's bellperson and housekeeping staff more money, than gouge their own customers.

Posted by: Phillyfilly | May 17, 2007 11:56 AM

I can understand the $4 for housekeeping (it's more than I would tip, but then I don't generally stay in $325 hotels either). But what the hey is the bell tip for? The last couple of times I've stayed in a nice hotel, I schlepped my own luggage. In one case I must not have looked important enough for the many idle bellhops to bother with, and in the other, awkward parking during renovations plus a severe shortage of bellhops meant that I would have had to wait half an hour or more to get helped. If the hotel is going to provide that level of help, it should employ enough people to do it and pay them properly rather than have a few freelancers picking and choosing customers they think will be big spenders.

For the record, I look unassuming (I dress neatly, but not with any kind of flash), but I'm an awesome tipper. But when I go to a hotel, I've got better things to do than impress the staff into helping me out. If they're there to provide a comfortable experience (and for $325, I'd expect comfort) a classy hotel will eliminate the bellhop drama by paying them enough so they aren't so dependent on hustling for tips.

Posted by: csdiego | May 17, 2007 12:20 PM

All charges should be up front.

The hotel should pay a decent wage to those employees not ordinarily considered in a "tipping" profession.

Many travelers have no idea that housekeeping staff would be considered in a "tipping" profession.

Bell Hops, yes; and then I tip at my discretion.

Posted by: DC | May 17, 2007 1:08 PM

Merriam-Webster definition of gratuity: Something given voluntarily or beyond obligation usually for some service.

So "mandatory gratuity" is a true oxymoron.

Expectations of tipping housekeeping staff should be made clearer to customers, if the staff is not being paid enough. Everyone knows restaurant servers get paid low wages and make it up in tips. This isn't exactly the case for housekeepers. (I'm not saying they shouldn't be tipped.)

The hotel should make it clear up front, before you check in, what *all* the fees, charges, taxes, etc. will be.

Finally, how do we even know the "gratuity" charged will even make it to the right people? Are all the monies collected pooled and then divided equally? What if the service was poor? Or truly exceptional? What if the customer tipped in cash before getting a bill including gratuity?

I'm with the plaintiffs on this one.

Posted by: head shake | May 17, 2007 1:35 PM

I agree that the customer should be told up front about the tips. Besides the right to know all charges in advance, what if he had been tipping during the stay and then got double dipped on top of it?

That said, does anyone else think the huge disparity in the tips is strange? In my experience, the room cleaner (usually female) works a lot harder and has nastier chores to do than the bell hops (usually male). And yet they are getting 4x the tip?

Posted by: CJB | May 17, 2007 1:38 PM

Ooops, I meant 7x the tip, an even bigger gap!

Posted by: CJB | May 17, 2007 1:40 PM

The Phoenician is a wonderful hotel! Stayed there one night (that was all we could afford) and the service was wonderful. However, at the prices they charge just pay the staff appropriately. Why does everyone need a tip these days. Everywhere you go the tip cup is out. I can't believe that out of $325 a night $10 couldn't go into the pool for the staff. I am with the plaintiff on knowing this policy upfront.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 17, 2007 2:15 PM

The Phoenician is a wonderful hotel! Stayed there one night (that was all we could afford) and the service was wonderful. However, at the prices they charge just pay the staff appropriately. Why does everyone need a tip these days. Everywhere you go the tip cup is out. I can't believe that out of $325 a night $10 couldn't go into the pool for the staff. I am with the plaintiff on knowing this policy upfront.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 17, 2007 2:15 PM

I agree that mandatory tipping should be included in the cost of the room. If the hotel is finding that their staff is not being tipped properly, they should figure out an elegant way to fix this. Could also be that at check-in, the guest could opt to have it added to his bill. But just slapping it on is tacky.

Posted by: tipping | May 17, 2007 2:34 PM

My "problem" is that my tips are not picked up by the hospitality staff! I usually leave $2/night, every night. The money is always still there when I return to my room. I stay at business-class hotels such as Marriott, Sheraton, etc.

Posted by: Tipper | May 17, 2007 3:15 PM

I am with the customer "mandatory" tips are actually fees. Very arrogant too.

Posted by: p | May 17, 2007 3:55 PM

Last time I checked, tipping was optional. If you're going to put a mandatory charge on a customer's bill, don't call it a tip, call it what it is...a fee.

This irks me additionally because I tend to leave a tip each morning for my housekeeper when I stay at a hotel. I would hate to see my final bill include (without my prior knowledge) additional "tips" after already leaving my own.

I prefer to see that the people who deserve them actually get them. Who knows where that $4 a day "tip" at the Phoenician really went?

Posted by: LV | May 17, 2007 4:49 PM

I am suprised Starwood hotels has allowed the lawsuit to get this far without settling. Do they really want this bad publicity, and the risk of losing the case? It's a double whammy.

I do not have a whole lot of knowledge about the process of class-action suits, but I assume, they would just have to stop the policy of "mandatory tipping" and reimburse the guy, etc. Not nearly the price of a suit. Who knows...maybe it's built into the union contract with the staff or something similar. Either way, it's a bad policy that needs to be addressed.

Posted by: alison | May 18, 2007 10:12 AM

I leave a tip for housekeeping the morning I check out of a hotel. Occasionally, I've forgotten. In those cases, I've asked for an envelope from the front desk, to leave cash to be directed specifically to my houskeeper/staff member. I seldom use Bell Service-- if I do, I tip in cash directly to the staff member who assisted me. A "mandatory gratuity" isn't a gratuity, it's a *fee.* If Starwood has been adding these hidden fees to customers' bills, they should be refunded. I deplore the litigious nature of American society, but this sort of business practice is outright deceptive. If the chain is concerned their staff is not receiving commeasurate compensation in tips, and a charge is being added as a matter of course, they should increase the wages of these employees.

Posted by: Casta Lusoria | May 18, 2007 11:38 AM

What were you doing having a "stint in housekeeping at a luxury hotel a couple of years back"??

Posted by: ww | May 18, 2007 3:31 PM

When I used to travel to Boston I would stay at the Seaport Hotel. At that time (don't know about now), they had a no-tipping policy, which I assume meant that the staff were paid well enough not to expect tips. For a four or five-star hotel to have all the amenities and for there not to be pressure to tip for each and every door that is opened and bag that is moved endeared me to that hotel.


I am a good tipper, but what Starwood is doing is offensive.

Posted by: Amy | May 18, 2007 3:48 PM

Another vote for the customer here.

I wouldn't even agree with the gratuities being identified up front, cause that's an oxymoron (agree with head shake, et al above); it's a fee.

Second, the amount of the tip should reflect the customer's perception of service, within reasonable bounds. So to identify the amount a priori is also too presumptuous.

Therefore, Starwoods off my list of companies to do business with.

Posted by: Bill Riski | May 20, 2007 7:13 PM

What I find so odd about this is that I stay at Starwood run/owned hotels all the time and I've never seen this. I ALWAYS thoroughly check my bill before I check out (often because some business hotels try to charge for the minibar even if you never use it) so I would have known if this had happened to me. It seems very strange that they would do this at one of their hotels but not the others.

I'm certainly not defending the action. I do not use bell service so why should I give them a gratuity (or pay an extra fee) for their service. The cost of housekeeping and other essential staff members is built into the price of the room so there should not be an extra fee on your bill as if you received something extra that would not otherwise be provided.

Posted by: Frequent Traveler | May 21, 2007 9:11 AM

This is corporate America at its worst. They're learning this from the telephone companies.

(Granted, I'm a cynic but...) I see this as a way for hotel management to keep their payroll down. "Sure we only pay you $5 per hour, but you're guaranteed a $4 per night 'tip', minus the handling fee, naturally, and charge-backs for excess cleaning supplies used, and..."

I'm kinda surprised that anyone would not know about tipping housekeeping. Don't you watch Seinfeld?? Seriously.

FWIW, I leave a tip of 2-3% of the room rate per night. More if I've made a mess and not cleaned it up. I average about 4-5 nights per month in hotels.

Posted by: TonyO | May 22, 2007 3:05 PM

I'm more in favor of a $4/day tip for housekeeper, but I'm not sure about why hotels that don't have bellpersons would charge guests for a non-existent service, especially if I'm taking my own luggage to my room.
Note: I've stayed in hotels and on cruise ships where the daily rates were over $200/nt, and I believe that if I'm able to pay for those rates, I'll pay the housekeepers/cabin stewards their daily tips.I also agree that fees should be shown on a list and the applicable ones should be itemized on the final bill. Fees like energy surcharges are the norm in Caribbean resorts; ditto for water fees for islands that have to import the stuff from elsewhere.

Posted by: Shep.C.Willner | May 22, 2007 3:12 PM

RE: the person who said housekeeping staff wouldn't take tips they left -- did you make sure to write "for housekeeping" or "for maid" on a note next to it to make sure that they knew it wasn't just your money that was lying around?

Posted by: k | May 22, 2007 5:54 PM

"Often hotel staff, who earn modest wages, look for tips to supplement their incomes."

That's the problem right there. The hotel industry needs to pay its staff a good wage, and quit hoping their guests will compensate for their stinginess.

Yes, I tip, and tip well. But for goodness' sake, a tip should be something extra for a job well done, not something service personnel have to depend on to make an adequate living. Sheesh!

The Phonenician should pay its housekeeping staff well enough so that they don't have to force the generosity of their guests.

Posted by: J.J. in Arlington | May 22, 2007 9:13 PM

I always leave a tip for the housekeeping staff when I check out, but $4 a day seems really steep. Or am I out of touch?

Posted by: Fred | May 22, 2007 9:14 PM

As a frequent traveler - a useful tip (pun intended) is to leave the housekeeping tip on the pillow. I have only seen it left one time. It appears to be the customary way to do this. Oh, and yes, on the original topic, it is not right for the hotel to add on a gratuity after the fact when indeed, these services should be included in the rate. Plus, since I usually do tip willingly for good service, I would resent being double billed for the tips.

Posted by: egs | May 22, 2007 9:23 PM

I object to tipping hotel housekeeping at all, but I generally do it.

One thing to remember: The housekeeping staff that works one day is not necessarily the same one that works the next. If you leave your tip on the last day only, and if the hotel doesn't require staff to pool tips, you may only be tipping one person out of several who have provided the cleaning service. Tipping guides I've read say to tip each day.

Posted by: Missy | May 23, 2007 11:35 AM

I work in the hotel industry and I am all for mandatory tips. I like it that way because it is included onto the bill and therefore tax evation is not as prevalent. Plus if the hotel is looking after this it eliminates the guess work from all of it. A lot of people don't know what is appropriate to tip or not to tip. I am sure if you received poor service you would get a discount on services and if you received good service you should be tipping.

FYI I do not work in an area of the hotel where gratuities are expected or even accepted. But I see what high service people expect and the stinginess is not acceptable then. If you want good service you should be prepared to pay for it!

Posted by: Ruby | May 23, 2007 12:19 PM

This is a clear cut case of consumer fraud and a complaint should be filed with everyone from that state's Attorney General to the Better Business Bureau.

I have stayed in 4 star hotels and I have left up to $20 in the ashtray when I left, and I have stayed in medium rate, very nice hotels like Hampton Inn. However, I have, when I traveled, under ITO from the DoD, I have been booked in what are nationally recognized chains and the beds felt like they were full of sand, more than ice and soda was being sold down the hall by a couple of women. I cannot believe the DoD does not coordinate more with its local bases, and installations to check on off base housing for TDY personnel and check the rooms personally for cleanliness etc., and make these inspections a spot inspection, i.e. just show up, and not pre-announce the inspection. That would knock a lot of off base housing off the list for TDY personnel. (Of course, I might add, all ITO states, that TDY personnel are considered for on base guest housing first, and I have stayed in some of the most beautiful qtrs. imaginable...I have also stayed in the Hope Hotel at Wright-Patt,in a room where the rug was wet and the whole room smelled of heavy cigarette smoke.)

Posted by: JR | May 23, 2007 1:46 PM

Tips are optional, So are $325 a night hotels. The cruise lines are notorious for mandatory gratuities ( though you can opt out with just a little shame).

If I feel the service given is worth a tip, I will choose to tip. Don't call it stingy? Most of us don't get tips for the work we do. Unfortunately many of us work at jobs that are underpaid. Underpaid because the money for salaries and benefits is competing with the money for other extravagant expenses that are OKed by the powers who decide.

If a person stays at a $325 a night hotel either they can afford to leave a tip because their company is paying for them or because their life style can afford it. A tip should give the laborer a reward for being attentive and nice not a little more just to make a living wage.

Posted by: BR | May 24, 2007 9:18 AM

A cleaning lady told me that the house boys (or the guy who checks the minibar when you leave) tends to scoop up the tips.

Posted by: James O | May 24, 2007 8:30 PM

Hotels in Asia routinely disclose & add mandatory 10% "service" charge to the bill (in addition to gov't tax). We were told during a tour of the InterContinental in Jimbaran, Bali, that the 10% is pooled and divided monthly amongst the non-mgmt staff. Perhaps an option is for US hotels to offer this "option" & more guests might consent than would normally tip in cash.

Posted by: Expat-in-Asia | May 25, 2007 11:46 AM

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