September 17th, 2014
Earlier this week, Marriott International announced a campaign, called “The Envelope Please” to encourage the tipping of housekeepers. Envelopes will be placed in 160,000 hotel rooms in the U.S. and Canada. The name of the housekeeper who cleans the room will be written on the envelope along with the message: “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.”
[Full disclosure: I enjoyed a 20-year career at Marriott International.]
When questioned about how much to leave in the envelope, Marriott International CEO Arne Sorenson suggested $1 to $5 per night, depending on room rate, with more for a high-priced suite. Personally, I would have preferred he’d said, “$1 to $5 per night, depending on the quality of service received, with more for exceptional service quality.”
Consider these two terms:
Gratuity: something given voluntarily or beyond obligation, usually for some service
Entitlement: the condition of having a right to have, do, or get something
To me, when you attach a gratuity to a room night and rate, it implies that if you stay over as a guest of the hotel for a night or more, then you are now expected to place a sum of money in the envelope for the housekeeper – regardless of the room’s cleanliness or the housekeeper’s attention to detail. It becomes an entitlement.
This is a slippery slope. It suggests that guests who leave less than the recommended gratuity (or *gasp* nothing at all) – based on their perception of service quality received from their housekeepers – are “cheapskates” or worse… Or, guests are guilted or shamed into leaving an undeserved tip. (I can think of many last impressions that Marriott would like to leave with its guests, but “shame” isn’t one of them.)
My position on gratuities is that guests are not obligated to offer them and employees don’t have a right to receive them. Gratuities should be discretionary and based solely on the performance of the service provider. Attaching a sum of money to a room night and rate suggests an obligation for the guest and an employee’s right to receive an entitlement. The above definition of “gratuity” clearly states the opposite: Tips are given voluntarily or beyond obligation.
All of that said, I think the envelopes are a great idea. I just would have preferred that Marriott quietly place them in guest rooms as a prompt for guests to, at their sole discretion, offer a gratuity as a reflection of housekeeping service quality received rather than length of stay and rate paid.
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