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The next time you go anywhere, remember the $1 tip is dead

MarketWatch logo MarketWatch 2/21/2019 Quentin Fottrell

Dear Moneyist:

Every year, my husband has to work on site in Hawaii for about a month. I go with him because I work online and can take my work wherever I go. I know what a sweet deal this is, and I know how very lucky we are. We are both working pretty much full time, so it’s not a vacation.

Naturally, he is on a per diem and we definitely don’t stay anywhere fancy, but we do have housekeeping services where we stay. I make the bed and clean up every  day, but they bring in fresh towels and coffee and empty the garbage every day and change the sheets once a week.

I have counted seven different housekeepers during the time I’ve been here. There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason as to who shows up which day. If there is, I can’t figure it out.

I don’t know how to leave a tip at the end of our stay. I took this problem to the supervisor at the front desk. He told me he doesn’t know how they handle their tips and it’s up to them how they split (or don’t split) them up.

Should we just leave an envelope containing cash at the end of our stay and just hope whoever shows up that day does the right thing? They have all been gracious and efficient, and I want to make sure they know we didn’t just walk out the door without tipping them for their work.

How much should I tip when I am away from home?

Awkward Tipper

Dear Awkward:

If you have seven different housekeepers, you need seven different tips. You can’t rely on one person to divide the tips to the others. The best way to go about this is to do something that we should all do more of when we are dealing with service staff, whether it’s in a hotel room, at our local Starbucks getting our iPhone fixed at the Apple store or staying at a serviced apartment — smile, introduce yourself and ask the person’s name.

If you are not there when the housekeeper arrives, leave an envelope with a tip every week but on different days of the week so you can do your best to rotate the weekly tips or, even better, ask the concierge for a list of the people who are cleaning your room so you can give them each a tip when you leave at the end of the month. Most people find tipping awkward, but the more open you are with the people who are helping make your stay be more comfortable, the easier it will be.

People often have this issue with doormen at the holidays, hotel housekeepers, or even a hotel concierge or pool boy. I always recommend vacationers to keep a wad of $5 bills handy so they don’t (a) not tip the bell boy who brings the bags to their room or (b) end up giving the pool or beach attendant $20 when they’re already spending $20 on an umbrella rental or $30 on a resort fee. Also, never punish the hard-working service staff if you are not happy with the final bill.

Here is a good rule of thumb: The $1 tip is dead. Long live the $5 tip. Barmen get at least $2, unless you’re buying a soda. Tip the pool or beach attendant $5. If you’re back and forth to your sun lounger several times a day, you obviously don’t want to overdo it. But back to your question: Don’t make this classic mistake: The person who cleans your room on your last day may not be the same person who picked up your used towels every other day of your stay. 

Only on rare occasions is a one dollar tip generous: 50 cents in a jar at Starbucks seems measly and giving $1 is too much, especially if you drink as much coffee as I do. That’s why some cafes have introduced tipping on iPads. Tapping on a percentage on a screen relieves us of this awkward social custom and we don’t go to Starbucks to feel awkward. Your housekeepers don’t expect a tip every day, but make sure you tip at least $10 every week.

Related video: Electronic tipping could put pressure on customers (provided by CBS Philly)


Lizzie Post, the great-great-granddaughter of Emily Post, told me, “A dollar just isn’t a dollar anymore. There are very few places left for a $1 tip.” The Emily Post Institute recommends tipping a coat room attendant $2 for the first coat and $1 thereafter and the same amount when an airport sky cap, doorman, grocery store bagger or bell boy helps you with bags. A car valet gets $2 in smaller cities and $5 in bigger cities. I say give $2 or more all the way.

In your case, it’s better to tip modestly and regularly, especially if you are staying for a month. Leave $10 or $5 once or twice a week. Tip regularly and modestly. Never leave $1.

Quentin Fottrell is MarketWatch's personal-finance editor and The Moneyist columnist for MarketWatch. You can follow him on Twitter @quantanamo. Do you have questions about inheritance, tipping, weddings, family feuds, friends or any tricky issues relating to manners and money? Send them to MarketWatch’s Moneyist and please include the state where you live (no full names will be used).


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