Do We Now Have To Tip At Self-Service Hotel Breakfast Buffets?

A limited-service hotel’s self-serve continental breakfast had a tip jar beside the cereal tower, and even pre-seeded the jar with cash to imply that other guests are offering tips.

Self service continental breakfast
by u/BabyBear1060 in mildlyinfuriating

There are staff heating and putting out the breakfast, just as there are check-in desk staff and maintenance staff.

Hotel staff aren’t being paid below minimum wage on the assumption that they’re also being paid in tips, the way that restaurant servers in some locations are.

You’re serving yourself breakfast. You’re usually cleaning up after yourself. Tipping is simply not appropriate here. Moreover, tipping allows hotels to pay workers less precisely because the wages will be made up by guests.

Hotels want guests to give tips to workers, so they can pay lower wages. The CEO of one hotel ownership group actually said the quiet part out loud. If an employee needs to earn $18 an hour to making working there worthwhile, it ultimately doesn’t matter if that’s cover $9 by the hotel and $9 by guests or $18 by the hotel (other than risk associated with variance of the tip amount coming from guests).

It’s generally expected in the United States that if you’re in a hotel restaurant, where you’re being served coffee or juice along with the buffet and someone might help you with condiments, that you’re tipping. Although there it should be a lower tip than where the server takes your order and brings you the food. A self-service buffet, a simple room with food setup where no one is serving you directly, should never involve tips.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Not new. I’ve seen this for over 200 years.

    Tip jars are tacky, even in places like bars where tipping is customary. That’s because a tip should be a private matter; how much or how little I give should not be known to other patrons.

    As to the “minimum wage” thing: tipping customs have little to do with base pay. There are people who earn below minimum wage (e.g. dishwashers working in an undocumented fashion) who do not receive tips. Restaurant servers across the US customarily receive ~20% in tips regardless of whether their base pay is the oft-quoted $2.13 tipped minimum wage, or in larger cities, a $15 minimum wage because a lower “tipped minimum” has been abolished.

  2. Only if you are a gullible american from the midwest
    For normal people, no, you do not have to

  3. Unless you are going into the kitchen and bringing out that food for yourself, then someone is setting it up for you.

    See no problem with a small tip.

  4. This isn’t new as has been pointed out, what is new is QR codes on the wall so you can tip with cashapp or similar. That shocked me when I saw it last month.

  5. @Patti, there’s no end to that logic. I could be going into the kitchen and bringing that food out for myself. Who brought the food into the kitchen in the first place? I could be cleaning up after myself, but I’ve still tracked my shoes all over the floor that a custodian will eventually vacuum or mop.

    See no problem with a small tip.

    Educated Americans are in agreement that tips are the bane of our culture. Employers should pay employees a fair sum, and that’s that. The problem with a small tip is that it snowballs into an expectation to tip where none existed previously. Expectations to tip 10% snowball into 15%, 20% and even higher — see the history of customary tip amounts at restaurants in the US over time.

  6. @Patti. I have no problem with a small tip either. It was mentioned by you and the article someone is setting it up and they are refilling it. My mom didn’t make much at a restaurant being a waitress. Her real money was in tips.

  7. @Alison: “Educated Americans are in agreement that tips are the bane of our culture.”
    I entirely agree. It is out of control.

  8. What about the $15/hr landscaping crew at the hotel? Or the janitor, or the handyman? All paid out of the hotel revenue. What do the people who set out the breakfast do for the rest of the day? They have other jobs. No, tipping is not needed for self-serve. Most people don’t get tips for doing their job. Does someone at customer service at a supermarket get tips?

  9. The compromise is that those who feel the workers are underpaid and bringing them food can choose to leave a tip. And those who feel that it’s part of basic job don’t have to.

    Just recently I arrived at an airport where most of the rental car companies were right on airport, but two were offsite with a shuttle bus. Going offsite with a shuttle bus is an inconvenience, not an added service. Pretty bold that in the shuttle bus there is a sign that says “Tips appreciated” – for a service I’d rather not have been required to use.

  10. I think a tip to the bus boy or table cleaner a tip to the cook and the whole team group at large as well.
    Also a tip to the owners for allowing you to dine in their hotel
    Don’t forget a tip to the housekeeper and the person who checks you out as well
    It’s your patriotic duty!

  11. Uber is now using AI if they know a passenger tips often they factor that into pay for the driver which can end up being only 45% of what Uber charges the customer.

  12. My United flight from LGA to IAD was cancelled last night. (#6254) No available flights from NYC to Washington until Saturday night . The agent at the customer service counter wanted a tip to rebook my cancelled flight.

    No , the tip part did not actually happen but it is true that United cancelled my flight and cannot get me to Washington for 26 hours. They are are indeed a customer service train wreck right now. Perhaps a tip would help????

    PS – I took Amtrak.

  13. Situations like this are perfect for getting rid of your leftover foreign currency since I don’t personally condone tipping someone for the privilege of serving myself but feel that injecting a little wry levity through foreign currency is both fun and appropriate.

  14. @Alison

    Educated Americans know that hotels and restaurants aren’t going to raise their pay unless forced to.

    Educated Americans know those servers are around the lower rung of the payment scale and might not begrudge a buck thrown into a kitty.

    Even supposedly Gsrvard dedicated Americans know this. Except maybe 1

  15. So tipping is so way out of control. Pretty soon we’re going to tip on the tip. It’s corporate greed. Do you tip your cashier at your local grocery store?

  16. I stayed at a two-star Ascend property a few days ago and the card in the room encouraged me to scan the QR code to “thank” hotel staff via electronic tipping. There were fourteen different categories of employees, including maintenance staff, management, front desk, kitchen (also a basic self serve breakfast), etc. Every employee category of the hotel basically, including some that seemed made up. I decided in fairness to give all of them the same tip, 0% of 100% of the room rate. I think this is amazing and I hope that hospitals, auto garages (well they already do some of their own trailblazing with “shop fees’), supermarkets, the IRS, proctologists, undertakers and anyone else providing a valuable, personalized service adds on more and more ways to conveniently transfer money from my pocket to theirs because they deserve it. I also hand wads of cash over to anyone who spits on my windshield and then squeegees it off, guys who grab the gas pump from me and fill my car at self-serve stations, and anybody holding a cardboard sign with a convincing sad story of misfortune. In fact I think it would make sense if we all just carry a stack of increasingly large bills in our front pockets with a convenient self-serve dispenser for anyone who does anything for or to us all day long, as well as those who stay out of our way. Tips for all!!

  17. What utter baloney. “Do we now have to tip … ” Nobody HAS to tip anyone anytime. Tips are given for extra service, or very good service, that’s it … there’s no mystery about it. I can’t blame workers for trying to generate revenue for themselves, and people who are guided by what others do or think will always step right up and tip. These people are probably too dumb to 1) know why and how to tip and 2) figure out who should be tipped, how much and when. So by all means, run around a hotel handing out money if it makes you feel better. People who are clueless or are just starting to travel or dine out need to look up ‘the rules’ for tipping where they’re travelling or dining. It’s all quite simple. “The media” likes to print garbage like this when they run out of helpful and/or interesting things to tell us.

  18. @patti

    the lawyer needs a tip also. He delivers your will to you .
    the dentist needs a tip also. He cleans your teeth like the waiter does your table.

  19. I worked at a Springhill Suites as concierge (setup & maintained dining area that provided free continental breakfast for all guests). Many weekday guests were courteous and would clean up after themselves. Weekends however were another story. We frequently were used by school sports teams and the kids would leave a mess and I struggled to keep the dining area stocked. The hotel manager should have increased the concierge staffing since they could see the weekend occupancy rates. The coaches of the sports teams should have told the team to clean up after themselves. Tips would have been appreciated, but common courtesy and cleaning up after yourself would have been more appreciated.

  20. @ Patti

    “Educated Americans know that hotels and restaurants aren’t going to raise their pay unless forced to.”

    Educated hospitality employees will tell you that what you’re suggesting will never happen. Don’t forget that at the core, the four horsemen of the hospitality industry all specialize in cutting their way to prosperity and where that starts is always with labor. The hospitality industry in the United States has very, very long history of treating their staffs as 100% expendable. Between the low pay, little to no benefits and irregular work schedules, it’s amazing they can keep anyone around.

    @ Neal – “What about the $15/hr landscaping crew at the hotel? Or the janitor, or the handyman?”

    The bulk of hotels outsourced their landscaping years ago for obvious cost reasons and to most maintenance staff, housekeepers, desk staff or breakfast attendants at US limited-service properties, $15/he is a fever dream that will never happen.

  21. At Starbucks I pick a sandwich and drink from the rack. The cashier glared at me when I didn’t include a tip on the screen turned at me. Sorry, buddy, you only rang up my purchase. No service provided.

  22. Tip culture has changed over the years to what was years ago “To Increase Promp Service”
    to “they do not pay me enough and you need to pay up the difference”. It is what it is!

  23. tipping is so out of control in this country that, when i went berry picking yesterday they wanted a tip when i went to pay at the checkout. They wanted me to pay them a tip after i spend one hour in hot sun picking berries. When i pulled my CC out to pay, the guy grinned and pushed his tipping jar towards me.

  24. @ Fred

    My experience is that Starbucks cards are only good in the country of origin; it is not a universal currently.

  25. Folks . . . TIPS are entirely voluntary (thank you jsn55). The 20-25% percent “service charge” added to the bill is not! No one knows where and how the “service charges” are distributed. These “service charges” are very common at some establishments such as country clubs. The clubs that I belong(ed) to, and rips me off, has the audacity to state on the bill that the “service charge” is NOT a TIP. I put them in the same category as resort fees, just fleecing a customer or dues paying member.
    BTW, I flew airplanes for many airlines for many years and never got a tip. Not a complaint, just a fact After retirement I delivered pinon firewood (business aerobics) and get tips all the time. While it’s not expected, or for me even needed, it’s very kind of people to offer . . . even those “educated American” people who obviously never EARNED a tip.

  26. Two days ago, I (unfortunately) stayed two nights at the Best Western Plus in Gallup, NM. Their self-serve continental breakfast had a pancake machine, which was broken, a low-quality juice machine, which was broken, and what could otherwise only be described as a VERY basic offering. For instance, no yoghurt. The staff was unfriendly and the area dirty. The broken hardware had no signs of explanation or aplogoy, it just didn’t work. But guess what they had? A HUGE tip jar in the middle of the so called buffet. And the jar had money in it! I just couldn’t believe it.

  27. I bought some replacement grill parts 2 nights ago on grill replacement parts (.) com. The checkout page had a place to add a tip, with preset options of 15%, 18%, and 20%. This was a purely online transaction, websites came up from a google search, and process to find item, add to cart, and buy took less than 3 minutes (to include figuring out how to not give a tip)

  28. Tips are being put on the bill automatically even for pick-up-takeout!! also do not forget the mandatory employee health surcharge that I am seeing more andmore… I pay with cash(some places will not take cash) and skip the mandatory health surcharge!! THis is in places where the minimum wage is $22

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