Housekeeper or Hotel Manager? 4 Facts About Tips You Need to Know

Do you know – according to law – what a tip is and what that means for housekeepers and hotel owners? We get to the facts in Part 1 of our new series, ‘Tips, Pay, and Tax.’

Whether you're a housekeeper or management, the rules that govern tipping matter.

What counts as a tip in the eyes of the law makes a big difference to hotel managers, owners, and housekeepers alike. In this blog post, we get to the bottom of how the law defines a tip, how this differs from other forms of payment, and what this means for you.

What’s the definition of a tip?

What makes a tip a tip? The IRS have put a great deal of thought into this and come up with four key criteria that need to apply for any payment to be considered a tip. Let’s take a look.

1. The tip must be paid voluntarily

At first glance, this may seem silly. However, this is actually one of the most useful of the four criteria. Why? Because of the ambiguity around service charges.

Customers frequently find the difference between service charges and tips confusing. The internet is riddled with questions on online forums such as, ‘What’s the difference between a tip and a service charge’, and ‘If there’s a service charge, do I tip?’

The service charge is different from a tip in a number of important ways as we’ll see later, but for now the most important difference between a tip and a service charge is this:

You don’t have to pay a tip to receive the service, with a service charge, you do.

When the IRS say a tip has to be voluntary and cannot be coerced, they aren’t imagining that nefarious hoteliers and restaurateurs are at large, putting guns to people’s heads and demanding tips. They’re simply considering that key difference.

A tip is discretionary, and providing the service is no guarantee of receiving any single tip, even if tips are customary or received frequently.

2. The customer has to decide the amount

This is another key difference between a tip and a service charge. When you look at your bill and see “10% service charge”, that’s a number that the customer has arrived at.

It’s not just a suggestion, either. Nobody expects the customer to try and negotiate the value of the service charge down.

But with a tip, the customer is free to give as little or as much as they like, regardless of what custom may suggest.

If tipping the hotel housekeeper $1-3 per night in a mid-range US hotel is customary, that’s not legally enforceable. And nobody is going to arrest you if you don’t tip the usual 20% after shoddy service in a restaurant.

3. The payment mustn’t be negotiated or determined by the employer

A tip is between the customer and the service worker. Employers like hotel owners or managers can make it easier to tip – by introducing a service like TipZyp or placing envelopes in the rooms – but the exchange itself can’t involve them.

The tip is something decided by the customer along with the amount, and the employer cannot intercede.

A hotel manager can’t be a go-between between a housekeeper and a customer, negotiating the value of the payment, for example.

4. The customer must decide who receives the payment

Within reason. So, if a hotel guest leaves an envelope filled with cash in their room with ‘tip’ scrawled on the front, nobody is going to contest it’s a tip.

But have they decided who receives the payment? Well, sort of.

By leaving it in the room we can infer they mean it for whoever is likely to come and find the tip. Perhaps the same person who has been cleaning their room throughout their stay, but quite possibly not (housekeepers do change, day-to-day, at many hotels).

Perhaps the customer is aware of this. If they tip at the end of their stay in the manner we’ve described though, they may mean for the tip to be distributed among those housekeepers who have maintained their room throughout their stay.

Or simply the last housekeeper who comes in and picks it up. There’s no sure way to know, unless the guest has made their wishes known explicitly.

Ways to address this include raising awareness generally that it’s good etiquette to tip throughout a stay, rather than just at the end.

You can also help guests make their wishes known by using a service like TipZyp, who can provide guidance to the guest on how to tip without you having to get involved.

When are tips something you have to keep track of?

If you or your employees take home less than $20 per month in tips, don’t worry about keeping track. The IRS isn’t interested.

However, if you (perhaps you’re a housekeeper) or your employees, if you’re a hotel owner or manager, receive more than that amount, you need to keep a record of it.

As an employee, you need to record how much you receive, when you receive it, and report it to your employer for tax purposes.

We’ll go into more detail around the specific responsibilities and tax obligations of tipping in part 3 of our current series, ‘Tips, Pay, and Taxes.’

Stand by for part two, when we’ll discuss pay, and how tips work with income.


Hotel leaders: are you making it easy to tip? Here’s why you should

Businessman bed working happy.jpeg

There’s a hard-nosed business case to be made for hotels making it easier to tip housekeepers. But there’s more to solid hotel operations than the bottom-line. As Alex Smithers reveals, humanity is great business for hotels.

Tipping. You know housekeepers like it. And why wouldn’t they? Cleaning hotel rooms is not fun work. Sure, there may be positive aspects to the job; an income, and camaraderie with other housekeepers, perhaps.

But the basic facts of being a hotel housekeeper (or maid) are these:

You will clean up the mess of strangers. When you are done, there will always be another room to clean. When you have cleaned one room – however immaculately – you will return the next day knowing there is a distinct possibility that it has been reduced to a train wreck of linen, leftovers, and worse.

You can see why housekeepers might suffer a little trepidation with each door handle they turn, unsure what they will find on the other side.

Imagine then, the pleasure of a housekeeper who, after gaining entry to your hotel room finds not a smoldering pile of rubble and a bathroom awash with unspeakables, but a considerately maintained room and – better still – a tip!

The money itself is useful. It helps your housekeeper make ends meet. It could be the difference between a special treat at the the end of a hard day’s work and the same grinding routine. It could end up in someone’s college fund.

Only the heartless would ignore the sheer good to humanity afforded by tippers.

However, the purchasing power of the money itself is nothing compared to the psychological difference a tip can make.

A tip is recognition.

When the epitome of good service from a housekeeper is invisibility, the world of housekeeping can be a lonely one. Long hours working extremely hard in the hope that you will not be noticed is an unappealing prospect for most people.

But it is what many of us expect from hotel housekeepers.

A tip says, ‘I see you. You have done this for me. You have made my stay here comfortable. You have done me a service, and I am grateful to you.’

That is powerful. In a world of dirty rooms, that kind of recognition and human-to-human connection is a godsend for many. It gets them through the day.

As you’d expect, the more of these small but significant psychological boosts a housekeeper encounters the better his or her day is. It’s good for their human wellbeing.

If nothing else, hotel managers and decision makers should consider the obvious utility involved in making their staff happier. Retention goes up. Hiring expenses go down. The machine that is the hotel runs more smoothly, and experienced staff stay.

Even those without a shred of human compassion or empathy can see clear as day the simple logic involved in making it easy to tip hotel housekeepers.

And those who truly understand the world of housekeeping and hospitality – who empathize with housekeepers – shudder at the idea that hotels might not do all they can to facilitate tipping.

Let your guests know how to tip. Introduce a service like TipZyp into your hotel, so guests can know how to tip easily, quickly, and securely – even if they don’t have cash.

It’s simple to do. It’s free for you. It pleases the guests who want to tip, and you’ll have the enormous benefit of being able to go home at the end of your day and say ‘Today, I made people’s lives better.’


Tip hotel housekeeping? You’ll feel fantastic after reading this.

How much should you tip hotel housekeepers?
Why you should tip hotel housekeeping

Americans are incredible tippers, and with good reason. Housekeepers work hard. But the cashless economy is threatening housekeepers income and quality of life. Alex Smithers reveals the source of this hidden crisis and how you can help fight it.

When did you last stay in a hotel? Think back. Did you tip the housekeeper?. Americans usually tip in restaurants, but few of us pay a proper thank you for the hard work of maids; only one out of three, according to research by the New York Times.

You’ve probably seen the firestorm around tipping in US eateries. Is tipping a great way to reward great service, or are you supporting the system keeping waiting staff from making minimum wage?

This has nothing to do with tipping hotel maids. While the nuances vary from state to state, housekeepers must legally be paid minimum wage, so the only thing you need to feel guilty about with them is failing to tip.

Minimum wage in the US can be as low as $7.25 per hour, and housekeeping is no joke. It’s hard on your hands. It’s hard on your back. You’re exposed to chemicals. The hours are long. And the work can be lonely.

This isn’t the kind of work you do for the love of it. And those of us who stay in hotels benefit hugely from this valuable service. Tipping hotel housekeepers is a way of re-balancing the scales towards fairer compensation.

And many housekeepers earn little more than the legal minimum. It varies by state, with maids in California and New York earning slightly more, and those in Texas earning slightly less, but the median is around $21,800 per year (annum or anything Latin hardly recognized in the US), or $10.49 per hour.

To put that in perspective, in the US after an hour of hard work cleaning a room – which can include cleaning up blood, feces, urine, and medical waste – most housekeepers won’t have earned enough to buy two fast food meals.

When we tip housekeepers, we recognize that the hard work they put in and the comfort we get from a comfortable stay in an immaculate hotel room is worth more than that.

Tragically, as Americans shift to credit cards over cash, the once steady flow of tips – a much needed income for these vital minimum wage workers – has become a trickle.

The issue of lack of tipping is compounded by the basic nature of housekeeping. First, it’s practically invisible. We virtually never see our maids, and that’s how most of us like it. We want to check in, go to the room, see that it’s clean, sleep, then leave.

It’s ‘our room.’ Many of us don’t want to think about anyone else poking around in there. And hotels know this, which is why interactions with housekeepers are carefully minimized.

This invisibility is great for guests; it’s as if our room has been whipped into shape each day by magical fairies.Yet it also makes it much easier to forget the raw human effort that goes into that.

Second, it’s not a sexy problem. Understandably, we want to feel good. So we don’t dwell on it when someone is doing tough and unpleasant work to help us out, by instinct. This makes it hard for the issue to break through into the national consciousness.

But there’s little doubt that for many housekeepers, tips are a lifeline that can mean the difference between saving for a child’s college fund or tightening belts.

So what’s a hotel guest to do? We know that when they remember, hotel guests more often than not will tip. This is particularly the case with stays longer than a single night.

One of the biggest challenges facing would-be socially conscious hotel guests is a lack of cash. Even having cash in your wallet at all is rare for many people, and having the right change to tip the amount you think is fair is as a result even rarer.

Suppose you only have a twenty. If you want to tip $5, are you going to leave it? Probably not. And few will take the time to go and split a twenty. When you’re ready to check out, you’re ready to get out of there.

Maybe you’ve got a flight to catch. Maybe you’re late for a meeting. But when it comes to the time you’d usually tip your housekeeper – i.e. checkout time – the first thing on your mind is not tipping. It’s getting out the door.

There is a way around this. Digital tipping is fast and easy. TipZyp allows you to leave a tip of any amount up to $20 entirely online, and you can be on your way in seconds.

With the continued decline of cash but accompanying increase in socially aware consumer habits the best way to address this problem may be with advanced technological solutions like TipZyp.

Hotel housekeeping tips are likely to continue to decline until using such apps becomes commonplace, and the human cost is real. At the very least, receiving a tip can be a real emotional boost for a housekeeper.

If you can afford it and you believe your housekeeper has done a good job, consider leaving hotel housekeeping tips next time you travel. If nothing else, you’ll make someone smile.