Why You Don't Need To Feel Bad For Not Tipping Hotel Room Service Staff

There's something indulgent about staying in a nice hotel and picking up the phone to ask someone to bring food to your room. Whether it's the aesthetically pleasing presentation of the tray or you're too tired or busy to go out, ordering room service (or in-room dining, as it's often referred to by hotels) feels like a grown-up, seasoned traveler thing to do. 

Whether it's viewed as a luxury or just a convenience, room service doesn't come cheap. A simple club sandwich and fries are going to cost you if you want to eat in the privacy of your hotel room.

But what about tipping? There are fees automatically added to room service orders. And sometimes, those are confusing. Is the tip included? If so, why is there a line for the tip — and why does it feel weird to leave that space blank or draw a line through it?

Room service fees 101

Even though the room service menu might contain the same dishes offered in the hotel restaurant, the same meal likely has a higher price on the room service menu. That sandwich that's listed on the menu for $16 might be more than $25 by the time it makes it to your room. And when it comes to the receipt, things can be even more ambiguous. Is the service charge actually a tip? Probably — but across the board, hotels don't do a great job of spelling this out.

The American Hotel and Lodging Association gives some insight into the often-ambiguous issue of hotel tipping. According to the organization, room service servers should be tipped 15-20% if there's no room service charge listed on the bill. If there's already a room service charge, the space for gratuity is an additional tip — and you shouldn't feel guilty about not leaving one.

When people are unsure about whether or not to leave a tip, they'll usually default to leaving one. At least a portion of the service fee probably goes to the person who delivers your food to your room, but that may also be shared with other food service staff members who help prepare your order. The server may not get to keep the entire tip. You can ask for clarification when you place your room service order or check with the server to find out what portion of the included service charge and extra tip they'll receive.

Should you tip more?

You certainly can give an additional tip, but that's your choice. If you're comfortable that the employee has been appropriately compensated for their services via the room service charges, an additional tip probably isn't necessary. 

If they've provided you above-and-beyond service (extra friendliness or helpfulness, or if they've assisted you with an off-menu item or other special requests), you might consider giving your room service server an additional tip. And if you want to be sure that the tip goes to the person who assisted you instead of being split amongst different workers or going into a tipping pool, tip in cash.

Bottom line: If you don't want to overspend, read the fine print on your room service receipt and ask questions about who gets what. Overtipping isn't the worst thing you can do, but if you're going to overtip, be aware of what you're doing.