Do tip wages match output of work?

Happy Presidents Day to everyone. I just came back from a trip to Los Angeles this weekend, where among other things, I stayed at a hotel in Orange County.

I used to stay at hotels quite often as a consultant on the road. Frankly I enjoy spending a few nights in a structured environment where I can work from my room or in the lobby in the evening. It’s a change of setting from an office or home. Plus, getting some extra features as a rewards member helps add to the experience.

But one thing I noticed during this stay was the inequality of tips. Tipping culture in the US is a hot topic of debate. Who should receive tips? How much? Should we keep doing it – or if not, what’s the best way to stop?

I noticed I was tipping wait staff at the hotel restaurant the expected amount. Mind you, this was even though a guest and I were using a voucher complimentary from the hotel. Because of the rewards member perk, I felt obligated to go above and beyond to justify a free meal.

On the other hand, most people also tip housekeepers for cleaning the room. This can vary a little more than tips for wait staff, which typically range from 18- 25%, but from speaking with others, my understanding is most people tip about a few dollars a day.

Why do housekeepers get a flat rate while wait staff get a variable percentage of the total meal? Neither of the occupations vary in what they require the employee to do: Waiters serve food, clean the table, help answer questions; Housekeepers clean up the room and get it ready for the next day. But if someone spends more on food, the waiter earns even more. As another example, there’s a common tension between front-end restaurant workers (e.g. wait staff) and back-end employees (e.g. dishwaters) and the proper distribution of tips.

From a high level view, I could also make the argument housekeepers “do” more than waiters. How much time is needed to fully clean a room? How much time is needed in total to wait a table? Cleaning a room is a lot of work; so is serving customers at a restaurant but at least in my opinion, it’s not the same work.

As I went about my morning, I couldn’t help but question what I saw.

· writings