Tips, Gratuities, Service Charges

This is an opinion piece, but it’s really just all the stuff I’ve managed to prevent myself from posting on other sites because this is a discussion that seems to come up every five minutes or so, and it’s always the same two groups – “Just leave the tips alone” and “I want to tip whom I want.” 

It’s just like the insurance discussion – a complete waste of time, in my opinion. 

Most cruise lines today have a daily service charge. It goes to a pool for distribution to some non-specific group of onboard employees, some customer-facing and some not. It’s annoying, but it’s not as bad as a Days Inn charging a “resort fee” which is pretty much the same thing. It raises your fare but they can advertise the fare as lower than you will actually pay. At least onboard, I am using the services of the people in the pool. (Do yourself a favor, and splurge on the behind the scenes tour some cruise. You’ll meet a lot of people in the pool down on the lower decks, and along I-95.)

How did we get to this point? Well, it helps the cruise lines with their books, since the service charge is different income than the cruise fee. Travel agents may or may not get commission on it. There’s a whole bunch of really good accounting reasons to separate the service charge. So, like many policies that seem to make people crazy, accountants and lawyers. 

The other reason to have a service charge? It makes sure more people actually tip. In the golden age of sailing, everyone had assigned seating and assigned dining times, so everyone had the same waiters each night. On the last night, you slipped him or her an envelope with some cash for their service. Or, you went to the buffet and stiffed them.

How to avoid stiffing the waiters? Make the tips automatic and call it a “service charge.”

This incenses some people. I’m not really sure why. I suppose they are the ones who went to the buffet to stiff the staff, or constantly lost some of the tip in the casino on their “hot night”, and therefore tipped less. 

I’m sure that when I tip some waiters in some restaurants, the tips are pooled and they pay out to the busboys and the runners. Some places collect the tips and distribute them on their own. New York chefs get sued for this a lot. 

Nobody complains about that. 

People complain a LOT about the same practice on a ship. 

Now, it’s possible Norwegian and Carnival and Royal Caribbean are pocketing all the money, but the employees still get paid, and they are still working there, so it’s just accounting. I don’t understand the issue. 

The usual complaint is “Oh, those poor third world people. They are so underpaid. The cruise lines are so cruel.” When I see a ship that is staffed 60-70% or more from the same nation, I’m pretty sure word has gotten around that this is not a bad way to earn some money. I’ve had dinner with some of those Third  World people who have been promoted multiple times. They seem happy with the job. 

So, can the virtue police just shut up? If you want to stiff the staff, just go fill out the form. If you had a good cruise, just leave it be. 

If you had a great cruise, slip ’em a bit more cash. 

That’s my take on it. 

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One thought on “Tips, Gratuities, Service Charges

  1. faeriefiles53

    I always assume that the mandatory resort fees, gratuities and surcharges get pocketed by the owners and so I tip the staff I come into contact with myself, with cash and call it a gift not a tip. I’ve known too many greedy business owners to assume that the staff will get any part of the mandatory fee hikes. Businesses use every means possible to pad their pockets and these fees keep them from having to appear to have raised prices. You’re right about the virtue police, those working seem thankful for the work. If I can’t afford the fees I don’t use the facility. I’ve never been in a situation where all those fees were not specifically listed somewhere on the agreement, sometimes it’s in the small print. LOL

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