When Is a Tip Not a Tip? When It is Mandatory

T o help answer the question of when a tip is not a tip, here are the definitions of the word gratuity from five different sources:

  • Something given voluntarily or beyond obligation usually for some service, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary
  • A sum of money given to someone who provides service or a favor as a way to show graciousness or thankfulness, according to yourdictionary.com
  • A gift of money, over and above payment due for service, as to a waiter or bellhop, according to dictionary.com
  • A favor or gift, usually in the form of money, given in return for service, according to education.yahoo.com
  • A gift or reward, usually of money, for services rendered; or something given without claim or obligation, according to Collins English Dictionary


Oxford Dictionaries claims that the origin of the word gratuity is a “late 15th century (denoting graciousness or favour): from Old French gratuité or medieval Latin gratuitas ‘gift’, from Latin gratus ‘pleasing, thankful’.”

Voluntary. Gift. Reward. Hmm…none of those words imply obligatory or required. Assuming that none of the above definitions are considered obsolete, I would like to know since when did a gratuity become expected — and even obligatory in some cases? Am I missing something here?!?

Apparently I am. According to this article by Barbara Delollis of Travel Update, hotel properties in the United States might experiment with charging mandatory gratuities.

First of all, there is no such thing as a mandatory gratuity. If the gratuity is mandatory, it becomes a service charge. Look at your room service bill the next time you order food to be sent to your room. The receipt usually shows a service charge plus a place where you can add a gratuity.

Secondly, if a hotel is going to implement this new mandatory service charge, then it should be part of the room rate. Potential guests should not be subject to finding an advertised room rate of $59.00 — only to be hit with this proposed mandatory service charge, resort fees and taxes. What would the final room rate become? $79.00? $99.00? $109.00?

On my upcoming unintended trip around the world, it was a pleasure to look up the room rates of hotel properties in some countries where taxes and fees were included in the advertised price, with a breakdown of the room rate easily available for my perusal; while it was irritating to find a good room rate in other countries where the taxes and fees significantly increased the rate of a hotel room.

In my opinion, advertised room rates should emulate airfares and be as transparent as possible. They should include mandatory fees and taxes in the advertised room rate without a plethora of asterisks. Clearly list the breakdown of the room rate to show all of the mandatory fees and taxes which comprise of the final room rate you and I are expected to pay at the conclusion of the stay at a hotel property.

Stop with the mandatory fees — especially resort fees — not being included in the advertised room rate. If hotel properties want to offer ancillary fees, do so where they are voluntary to the customer — as they typically are on many airlines…

…and don’t put envelopes in the room either to remind me to leave a tip for members of the housekeeping staff. That is just tacky, in my opinion.

Members of the housekeeping staff deserve to be paid a decent wage and should not have to rely in part on gratuities to earn a living. Financially, hotel companies are doing well these days, for the most part. They need to pay the housekeeping staff better with the increased profits. Stop the irritating practice of nickeling and diming your guests.

What are your thoughts?

  1. Agreed. It’s largely the USA where the problem exists. In most western countries consumer protection legislation prohibits a price being advertised which is lower than the price that must be paid. However, in the USA it’s a very different story – retailers advertise prices which exclude a mandatory tax, hotels likewise, cell phones have seemingly dozens of extra compulsory charges added to the advertised price. And the astonishing thing is that they are allowed to get away with it.

    Finally, on tipping, I cannot for the life of me understand why a) it is permissible to pay some staff (I’m thinking waitstaff here) less than the minimum wage and b) why it’s accepted that the same people don’t declare their income for tax. Sort those two problems out and you drive a stake through the heart of the tipping culture.

  2. Agree completely, I would seriously consider avoiding a chain that started charging a mandatory cleaning staff gratuity. They should pay their workers a living wage, fold that into their overall costs and raise room rates if necessary. Half the time I prefer to decline daily cleaning anyway, to save on water, linens and the valuable time of that staff.

  3. 100% agree with you. Published hotel rates today are a total lie since the price they publish does not exist. There are usually tons of fees/taxes on top of that price that once you get the final bill you will be shocked on how much that “$199” hotel stay had cost you. I am tired of hotels publishing these lies to then nickel and dime you on everything. It would be great if hotels have the obligation to fully disclose their prices. For example, you have to call the hotel to learn how much they charge for breakfast (how much for adults and how much for kids), valet parking, internet, resort fee, beach chairs and umbrella, etc… I just spent 10 nights in Hawaii with my family. Once you travel that far I don’t want to start being cheap and tell my family they cannot do this or that because it costs money. However, when I agree to pay $500 per night to stay in a hotel I don’t want to be surprised that on top of that I need to pay another $150/day for having breakfast, $40 for valet because I don’t have another choice, $20 for wifi, $25 to be able to use the beach chair, etc…. Regarding tip, I do not tip. I am so sorry but I am already paying top dollars for a room so I expect that I get quality. I am paying $40/day for valet parking so am I supposed to be handing out $5 bills every time the driver brings my car? No way!!!!! The tip industry has become a disaster in this country. Tips/gratuity should not be expected. If you do a great job that should come automatically since you exceeded the expectations of someone for doing your job. That deserves a tip and I am happy to give a good one. However, feeling entitled to receive a tip will get you nowhere with me. Add to that the huge BS of enforcing a 18% gratuity for tables of more than 6 or 8 people. Are you kidding me?

    1. …and the funny thing — according to my experience, anyway, Santastico — is that more often than not, those who most deserve a tip usually refuse it.

      Service people in Japan come to mind…

  4. A few thoughts…

    I wouldn’t want to be the first to start this. What do they have to gain unless they’ll use as it as an excuse to pay housekeeping less? Or maybe its truly altruistic (just kidding)?

    The charge will have to be more than current average tip for housekeeping even to stay even (since there will be no way to avoid tax anymore).

    It wouldn’t matter how good of a job you (housekeeping) does. You’d be getting your money no matter what.

    And of course next they’ll say still free to leave more if you are happy with the service.

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