The 5 Words That Should Be On Every Room Service Menu

I hate tipping because of the frictions. You don’t know what you’re supposed to tip, it’s ambiguous. You’re supposed to have cash? It’s so much better when employees are compensated by their employers and listed prices are the amounts you actually pay.

  • If tipping is supposed to ensure better service, why is it such a bad customer experience?
  • And why is it so opaque what happens to the money?
  • Are you expected to tip where there’s already a service charge? Sometimes that money is the tip. Other tips the business keeps the service charge. You can ask, but that’s awkward, and you may not get a straightforward answer.

What about tip inflation? When I was growing up 15% of the pre-tax amount of a meal was standard and now I often hear 20% of the total including tax. And now it’s tipping not just a few bucks for pizza delivery, but 20% of the total meal price. And tips when you’re picking up the food to go (since ‘someone still had to package it’).

I’m currently at a hotel property that adds a service charge to all food and beverage bills, and it seems like that money is split out across staff, while tips are delivered to the staff who have served you. I think. At least that’s what I’ve been able to suss out.

Do I really need to suss this out, though? On my vacation? Tipping can induce fear and anxiety in travelers.

That’s why I think it’s so strange that hotels, where are supposed to take care of their guests, are often ground zero in tipping confusion. Shouldn’t hotels tell you what is expected? Or better yet, just make it easier at least include tipping in the resort fee or the venue fee on top of the resort fee.

  • If you order room service, food is brought to your room, that’s a service. Room service generally has a service charge. Great problem solved!
  • Or is it? You’re asked to sign for the meal, and there’s usually a line to add a tip. Does the service charge have you covered, or is the hotel pocketing that and you’re expected to tip again?

Here’s one of the simplest things a hotel can do. It’s a line from the menu at the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress in Orlando near Disney World back when they used to offer room service: the service charge includes gratuity.

The simple solution, for hotels that don’t do this, is to ask the person delivering your meal whether or not they’re taken care of by the service charge? That should solve for any ambiguity.

However hotels should just list all-in prices, or at least state explicitly “we are adding a service charge to your bill but that covers the wages we’re paying, and is not a gratuity” or “we are adding a service charge, which goes to the staff who prepared and delivered your food.”

Either way, tell guests exactly what to expect, and what is expected.

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. “Do I really need to suss this out, though? On my vacation?”

    Therein lies the rub. This is the “hospitality” industry, which should be the last industry to demand that the customer figure things out.

  2. “Tipping can induce fear and anxiety in travelers.” Come on, Gary, man up 🙂

    If the thought of tipping is fear inducing, one has bigger problems than hitting the tip jar….

  3. Back when tipping was a reward and an incentive to deliver good service, the system made sense, and leaving a good tip made you feel good as well. Now everyone thinks they are entitled to a tip. A good tip is not appreciated but expected, so no joy in tipping.

    I’m exhausted, I’m done. Pay your good workers well, and fire them if they provide bad service. If you’re not making enough as a worker then do something else, get an education so you can do more than unskilled labor. We as a society have to put a stop to this tipping culture gone wild.

  4. FYI, it’s never been 15%. 20% has been the norm, and especially if you are a repeat customer… You never know when you need that something extra when you need it most… It’s worth it.

    Having said that, I will go to 10% if the service was really lousy and it’s the server’s fault (not the kitchens… then I feel sorry for the server so they get the 20%).

    Finally, for wine costing more than $100/bottle, I calculate that in and only tip for the first $100. I.E., I do think it’s ridiculous to tip $40 more for a $300 bottle of wine vs. a $100 bottle of wine.

    As for the person who says Room Service should include KY has never been at an all day fundraising event, like GivingTuesday in NYC, and all you want is a nice meal, alone, in your hotel room! 🙂


  5. this is a very American problem you are exporting to the rest of the world and the irony is that no one in US (airlines, hotels etc) seems to have any concept of service .
    There are countries across the world (which constitute 90%+ of the worlds population) where this is neither the norm, not the expectation. Yet, surprise surprise, they exist and indeed deliver better service. Why cant the US do this instead of preaching to all and sundry about transparency and equity?

  6. @Suhas – I agree and look forward to trips to Europe and Asia (going to Singapore next week) where it isn’t expected. If you want to leave something for the server fine but not the norm.

    In the US, however, there is a social contract to tip. Most would prefer not to but you have to do it or you are penalizing a worker that expects tips as part of their income. That isn’t right so never penalize the worker but not tipping. Thinking you are making a “statement”

  7. I tip for good service, even when I am in the USA. 20% is BS, get a grip. The most I ever give is 10% ( in Australian Peso’s it works out 20% anyway ). Let the employers take care of their staff, why the hell should I. And when i see “Expected Gratuity” it does my head in. Then they get a big fat zero. God Bless America LOL.

  8. Where I live (CA, USA), restaurant waitstaff make at least minimum wage and the prices reflect that. Minimum wage has gone up faster than inflation. Since I am more price sensitive than before, I have solved the problem by not going to sit down restaurants. I don’t tip for take out. I don’t tip at the Mexican food pop up. I don’t tip for use of the parking lot at the grocery store nor for cart retrieval. I don’t tip for car repair. I do tip taxi and Uber drivers for good service.

  9. Those service fees, I have always viewed as the hotel cost for delivery (and pick up) of table, china, linen etc. The tip is for the actual server. ( usually I prefer to hand it over in cash). I enjoy room service and as a repeat customer this works for me.

  10. I feel the opposite. I enjoy tipping because I know workers who actually do something for me are getting rewarded. I can’t control how well employees are paid but I can control what I tip. There is a minimum based on the type of service which is fair and for those who are extra helpful or nice I may tip more.

    I don’t see why people complain about tipping just like I don’t see why resort fees or various airline fees are a big deal. At the end of the day, you aren’t going to save money if resort fees or checked baggage fees go away. Hotel rates and airfares will just go up the same amount or more. If services workers didn’t get tips, restaurants and etc would just raise prices for meals and they’d probably try to run their businesses with less staff. You’d gain nothing by it but lose some control as workers have no incentive to do more than the bare minimum.

  11. @Jon Bledermann – just asking, when were you a child? When I was a kid in the 1960s norm for tips was 10%, no including tax. It was so simple for even a child like myself to figure out how much to tip: take the total amount before tax and move the decimal point over to the left by one place. We were taught that in 5th grade when working on decimals.

    Something happened, and I don’t know when, maybe the inflationary 1970s or 80s? that the tips moved to 15%, before tax. Then, somehow, we started seeing checks with the “suggested tip 15%” and the “suggested” amount was 15%, but now INCLUDING tax. Someone, somewhere, got devious in their calculating persuasion, and that became the norm. Then it morphed into 18% in the mid 2000s?

    Anyway, it is a real mess, and unless we all stop tipping – not going to happen – the tipping percentage will get higher and higher. Soon we’ll be paying 50% or 100% tips. Then what, do we get double the service?

  12. I just got done with a fairly long trip to Asia and one thing that really annoyed me was seeing a tip line when signing my hotel bill credit card receipt. Now the hotel owner wants to get tipped?

  13. I just spent a few weeks in New Zealand. Just like in many other developed countries, New Zealand doesn’t really have a tipping culture. The locals generally don’t tip (although they do get a bunch of American visitors, who can’t help themselves). It’s refreshing to be handed a bill and told to go tap the machine at the bar to pay. There”s rarely an option to tip anything. The servers are paid “real” salaries and don’t rely on tips for their income. Oh, and dining out in NZ is cheaper than America and the service is generally better. I wish we lived in that world.

  14. “Those that do should be given a tube of KY when the order is delivered.”
    Is that something you’d enjoy, @David M Miller?
    I think so.

  15. @David M Miller,
    My per diem typically covers most if not all of my room service. I get free breakfast at my hotel, eat something light for lunch, so typically most if not all of my per diem covers my dinner.

  16. “and it seems like that money is split out across staff, while tips are delivered to the staff who have served you.”

    Never, ever, assume that. The property is almost always grabbing at least some, if not all of the service charge. It is beyond rare that 100% of that amount is going only to the staff.

    My personal favorite service charge grab takes place at limited service properties. There are thousands across all of the parent companies and all of them have some kind of meeting space. Each one of these places is tacking on at least 20, if not more, percent as a service charge. How much goes to the staff or the individuals that set up or broke down and cleaned up the space? Yep, $0. Property always keeps it all.

  17. Gary
    Very well written article. Well done. Hotel owners and other establishments you mention want ambiguity on purpose, because it increases revenue. Consumers need to take a line before it gets completely out of hand.

  18. In the US, if there’s a service charge, I don’t tip. It’s a free market for labor in the US and it’s up between management and employees to figure out wages, NOT MY PROBLEM (it becomes a problem only if people tip).

  19. @Jon Bledermann: The norm for tipping has definitely not always been 20% and now we’re heading to 25% in many places. Basically, businesses and servers have a strong incentive to keep racheting up the norm and as long as people pay it, tipflation will continue.

  20. I call BS on those who say they tip 25-30% . They are just trying to get you to tip those ridiculous amounts.

  21. Once again cruise lines went through all this years ago and solved it but including an automatic gratuity fee per day, per guest. Now I don’t know if I actually believe they pass all that along to their staff but that’s not my responsibility. And you can adjust it up or down as you see fit. In addition you are still able to tip above and beyond that which is usually a good idea for personal service like at bars and for your room staff but it’s much less stressful.
    Tipping at a self-service restaurant, I don’t think so, it’s out of control.

  22. To everyone dating or thinking that this isn’t a problem in Europe I beg to differ. Admittedly it may be caused by tourists from America. But twice in Vienna I followed the notion of “it isn’t expected” and left no tip. I actually had one server in Vienna at a cafe (Central) ask me why and then stomp off in a huff. It’s on every credit card sign slip in every country I’ve been to in Europe.

  23. Regardless on what percent tip you leave do not tip on the TAX. The tax goes to the government and neither the server nor restaurant get any part of the sales tax.

  24. The US tipping culture is out of control. In some states, restaurants are allowed to pay servers $2.50 / hour leaving diners the burden of paying payroll. We’re expected to tip the UPS guy, the barista, sandwich maker, the guy at the carwash, the driver who delivers the mulch, the bakery, and even the nurse giving a laser treatment. Every credit card terminal asks for a tip no matter the purchase. Hotels are confusing with the included gratuity as are spas. If the staff isn’t receiving the gratuity, is it really a gratuity?

  25. In Las Ramblas in Madrid the server told me 20% is now mandatory and the Paris server in the cafe across from Notre Dame was equally as pushy. The massage therapist in Singapore didn’t know what to do with my tip while the one in Cambodia I felt was stalking me. It is all very confusing and uncomfortable. Americans have contaminated the expectations of the global labor pool.

  26. I agree with all the above comments related to tipping being out of hand. However, my wife and I are in our 60s and we do not have the appetite we once did. For the most part meal portions are huge and we frequently split a meal at a restaurant. At those times I tip more because the server is still waiting on two people.

  27. Ask the person serving if they know? Regarding strictly room service I’ve actually done this a number of times with different U.S. properties and have unfortunately gotten completely clueless responses.

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