Hotel tips during the pandemic: How much, and how to do it

The pandemic has been brutal on the hotel industry and the essential workers who keep them running. According to a new report from the American Hotel & Lodging Association, the hospitality workforce is down nearly 4 million jobs compared to the year before, and half of hotel rooms in America are projected to stay vacant in 2021.

Economic issues aside, hotel employees also have to worry about the health concerns of working during the pandemic. While they’ve always faced dangers on the job, such as assault and sexual harassment, working in hotels now comes with the risk of coronavirus exposure every day.

“I think the pandemic has shined an overdue light on the invaluable front line and essential worker,” says Raeshawna Scott, general manager of the Kimpton Banneker Hotel, a boutique hotel opening in D.C. this spring.

According to hospitality experts like Scott, one way to show appreciation for those working in vulnerable service jobs is through tipping. However, that doesn’t happen as often as it should.

Wait, people are supposed to tip at hotels?

While most people know to tip at a restaurant, not everyone is aware of tipping etiquette at hotels.

Part of that — particularly when it comes to housekeeping employees — is because unlike servers or bartenders, a large portion of a hotel worker’s job goes on behind the scenes. You may not notice, but they are still serving you.

“You don’t necessarily see the individual, but certainly their services are felt,” Scott says.

Since the coronavirus outbreak, those services have changed, making many hotel employees’ workloads more stressful and dangerous.

David Coggins, New York Times best-selling author of the book “Men and Manners,” hopes that people staying at hotels during the pandemic will think of tipping from a moral standpoint, not just a protocol. He says travelers shouldn’t think of it as merely something to “get right,” but rather a show of appreciation and gratitude for someone putting themselves in harm’s way for you.

“I think we’re looking for a kind of human connection … with people who are doing very difficult work, who are very vulnerable,” Coggins says. “It definitely makes sense to leave a little bit extra in your room if you’re traveling.”

Who should you tip at a hotel?

When you arrive at any hotel, tip whoever is providing you service.

Did a valet park or retrieve your car? Did a doorman help you throughout your stay? Did a bell attendant help you with your luggage? Did someone bring your takeout to your room? Show your appreciation with a tip. Many are taking extra steps for everyone’s safety, like wearing masks and changing gloves between helping customers.

An exception to this rule is when it comes to salaried employees. Coggins says guests can try to gauge this by seeing what an employee is wearing. A suit or their own clothes? Likely a manager or someone in a higher position: no tip. A uniform? Likely an hourly employee: do tip.

Then there are the people whom you may not see at all: housekeeping.

Trish Berry, general manager for Yotel Boston, says duties of housekeepers have gone up during the pandemic. To better protect the health of staff and guests, many hotels are having housekeeping clean rooms after a guest checks out. The damage adds up, particularly as more guests are dining in their rooms. Berry says there’s more trash left behind than ever, and it’s taking housekeepers much longer to do their jobs.

How much should you tip?

Tipping is subjective wherever you go. No one is forcing you to do it. However, if you’d like to show your appreciation, “anything is always better than nothing,” Coggins says.

Berry personally leaves $5 per night for housekeeping, and she recommends guests tip according to their length of stay or how well they’ve cleaned up after themselves. That could be anywhere from $5 to $20.

Scott recommends tipping valet at least $2 or $3 each time you see them. For someone helping with your luggage, her rule of thumb is to tip a dollar for each piece of luggage.

And when in doubt, Coggins says, “round up.”

How do you give a tip at a hotel?

Scott suggests tipping as you receive service. If someone helps you with your luggage, tip them in that moment. Be prepared to do that by carrying small bills with you throughout your stay; Coggins recommends stocking up on $5 bills.

For housekeeping, you can leave your tip somewhere easy to see in your room, or in an envelope if it’s available. Avoid the bed though, as you run the risk of the tip getting thrown into a laundry hamper. Scott says a thank-you note goes a long way too, particularly in a time when stress is plaguing so many.

Pre-pandemic, hospitality insiders recommended leaving a tip each day, as multiple housekeepers may look after your room during a stay. If your hotel is only cleaning rooms once after a guest leaves as a coronavirus precaution, feel free to leave one tip at the end of your stay.

Feeling overwhelmed by distributing individual tips to different people? Scott says hotel guests can also leave a lump sum in an envelope with the front desk and ask for it to be distributed to service staff.

Read more on travel during the pandemic:

Tips: Advice column | Coronavirus testing | Sanitizing your hotel | Using Uber and Airbnb

Flying: Pandemic packing | Airport protocol | Staying healthy on plane | Fly or drive | Layovers

Road trips: Tips | Rental cars | Best snacks | Long-haul trains | Rest stops | Cross-country drive

Destinations: Puerto Rico | Hawaii | Private islands | 10 covid-free spots | Caribbean | Mexico

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