By Terry Trucco
Expect to see a lot more of them.
Yesterday Marriott announced a partnership with The Envelope Please, an initiative begun by Maria Shriver to encourage guests to tip the attendant who cleans their room. The deal puts tip envelopes in more than 160,000 guests rooms at participating Marriotts — Courtyard, Residence Inn, JW Marriott, Ritz Carlton, you get the idea — throughout the U.S. and Canada, beginning this week, which happens to be International Housekeepers Week.
The envelope’s phrasing is gentle but firm: “Our caring room attendants enjoyed making your stay warm and comfortable. Please feel free to leave a gratuity to express your appreciation for their efforts.”
In other words, the choice is yours. Still, in the grand world of hotel tipping it’s as customary to compensate the maid as the attendant who carries your bags, according to the American Hotel and Lodging Association. NYCGo, New York City’s official tourist agency, concurs, suggesting $1 to $2 a day for cleaning attendants — $5 per diem if you’re staying at a five-star property. Research from Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration shows that about 30 percent of guests don’t tip the cleaner. Whether that stems from ignorance, cheapness or because the maid isn’t present to eyeball you if you stiff her is harder to pinpoint.
Shriver, whose organization A Woman’s Nation created the initiative, views the envelope endeavor as educational. In conversations with hotel workers, she said she learned that “room attendants, who are often the primary breadwinner for their families, are often forgotten when it comes to tipping, unlike other front-of-house employees, since most travelers don’t see them face-to-face.”
Minimum wage is typical for maids in small towns and suburbs, but compensation is considerably higher in urban environments. In a deal struck last June, maids working at unionized hotels in New York City will earn up to $38 an hour including health benefits over the next ten years, for an annual salary of nearly $70,000, up from $50,000.
Tip envelopes, meanwhile, prompt wildly mixed feelings as anyone knows who feels assaulted by hotel add-ons, from those you can control (say no to that $12 bottled water in the minibar) to those you can’t (arcane taxes, WiFi fees). Author Barbara Ehrenreich, who sampled life as a hotel maid in her 2001 book Nickel and Dimed is adamantly anti-envelope. “It is not Marriott’s responsibility to remind customers to tip; it’s their responsibility to pay their workers enough so that tips aren’t necessary,” said told the Associated Press.
Still, cleaning up after hotel guests can be dirty work that’s full of surprises. (Remember the Dominique Strauss-Kahn incident?) My guess? A high percentage of non-tippers will see the envelopes, get the message and pony up.