Last week, Marriott launched a campaign to encourage its guests to tip the housekeepers who clean their rooms every day. Tipping hotel cleaners is considered good practice, even if many people don’t know it—somewhere around 30 percent of Americans don’t tip these workers. (It’s recommended that you leave between $1 and $5 for each day.)
Marriott is, of course, a highly profitable hotel chain, bringing in $364 in net income for the first half of this year and $626 million in profits last year. If it wanted to make sure that its employees made more than the current $8.30 an hour, it could simply pay them more. Many pointed out this fact (myself included) when the announcement came out. By making it customary to tip, employers get away with shifting the cost of a decent wage onto us consumers. It’s even built into our federal minimum wage laws: tipped workers like waitresses, taxi drivers and bartenders can be paid just $2.13 an hour, not the $7.25 floor for everyone else, so long as their tips make up the difference. That’s a real discount for employers, and they have fought mightily to keep things this way—against raising the tipped minimum wage, which has stayed at its current level for two decades. By comparison, hotel housekeepers are lucky, in that they must make at least minimum wage.
But those who have called for us to boycott tipping hotel workers as a way to push Marriott to pay a fair wage are taking things too far. At New York magazine, Annie Lowrey argues that “tipping is a terrible, terrible custom, and as such, this is a terrible, terrible way to shunt these workers a little more money” and asks, “Why introduce a new class of workers to the phenomenon at all?”
Here’s why: Because all that failing to tip will do, in the end, is hurt the workers themselves.
Yes, tipping sucks in lots of ways. Tipping doesn’t actually rewarding good service, as we like to think. The perception of service quality only accounts for about a percentage point in the difference between tip sizes. Instead, it perpetuates sexism and racism by rewarding attractive, young, large-breasted, blond and petite women over others and white servers over black ones.