How Much Should You Tip Housekeeping in a Pandemic?

Right before the pandemic hit New York, I stayed at a hotel. I had an expiring certificate and was upgraded to a suite with a rainy view of Manhattan’s midtown. Still, a staycation. And it cost me next to nothing.

I ate dinner at the hotel restaurant (I tipped 22 percent; the server never made me wait) and watched RuPaul’s Drag Race at a gay bar ($7 in tips; the bartender remembered my order each time). An old ex was in the neighborhood, and we grabbed cheap tiramisu from an Italian kitchen, open late. He stuck a fiver into their jar at the till. I’d always liked him; he was good with the tip.

The next morning, I put $5 in an envelope and placed it in the pristine bathroom. Out of habit, I left a note: For housekeeping 🙂 Thank you!

Tip is synonymous with gratuity for good reason: You’re expressing your gratitude. At least that’s how my mother raised me to see it. I grew up in the Philippines, where a service charge was often built into the final bill. Coming to the United States meant learning the language of tipping—10 bucks to the patient concierge, three bucks to the bellhop for carrying heavy luggage, a chance to show appreciation for work done with extraordinary care.

Which is what’s needed in these extraordinary times. Many hotel chains have updated their cleanliness guidelines to ensure the safety of their guests and staff. Among their protocols include social distancing measures and reduced interaction with guests—no turndown service and room service simply left at your door, for example. You can opt to check-in online to skip the front desk and use a mobile room key to reduce touch points. You can also abstain from daily housekeeping to ensure you’re the only person entering your room.

So, amid the pandemic, when housekeeping may not even enter your room, should you still leave a tip? If so, how much? First of all: Yes, leave a tip, you monster. And tip more. Period.

Though guests are interacting less frequently with housekeeping—who are largely invisible workers to begin with—it does not mean housekeepers are working less. Between more frequent cleanings in public spaces and more potent chemical cleaners in guest rooms between stays, housekeeping is working twice as hard.

“Hotel housekeepers are doing a lot more in the same amount of time they had before COVID-19,” says Meghan Cohorst, the press secretary at Unite Here, a labor union that represents workers in the hospitality industry. She explains that, these days, a housekeeper’s shift is devoted mostly to cleaning rooms when a guest has checked out. When they cannot regularly tidy a room, just imagine how much dirtier it will be when they get to it.

Cohorst adds that housekeeping workers have even been attending to hotel room parties and their messy aftermaths—which surprised me, but makes total sense. With bars and restaurants closed or operating at limited capacities, where else might a quarantine pod go to have a staycation and let off some steam? People are taking the party to hotels and leaving housekeeping to deal with it. “Housekeeping may be cleaning the same number of rooms, but it’s more difficult and takes longer,” Cohorst says. “It’s harder on workers’ bodies to do the work than it was before.”

This extraordinary care might go unnoticed, but it should not go unrecognized. The standard tip for hotel housekeeping in the U.S. is $2 to $5 per day, says Cohorst. Now, with all the additional work housekeeping must accomplish, it’s only fair to tip a consistent $5 per day—even more, if you’re feeling exceptionally benevolent. (If you do let housekeeping into your room before you check out, be sure to leave your tip per day because your housekeeper may change daily.)

In the middle of an international health crisis, when various workers and industries are risking their lives more than usual for the safety and comfort of their patrons, tipping housekeeping five bucks a day isn’t just about etiquette, it’s about humans helping humans. Express your gratitude accordingly.

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