Tipping Points: Do I Tip the Head Waiter or Maitre d’?

July 28, 2011 | By | 19 Comments

Mega-ships may have hundreds or even thousands of crewmembers (the Oasis-class duo have almost 2,200), many of whom are mostly invisible to passengers. Some of these shadowy figures may even get a cut of the tips … which prompted Larry to ask the Lido Deck: “Why does the head waiter get tipped if you use suggested or auto-tipping? You may never see that person.”
Until the final night of the cruise, Larry could have added.

Before we answer, let’s make a quick distinction between the maitre d’, who manages the whole dining room, and the head waiter, who manages teams of waiters, assistant waiters and bussers. The maitre d’ is almost always left out of the tipping pool; the head waiter always gets a little something to wet his beak.
For example, Royal Caribbean suggests that each passenger tip the head waiter 75 cents per night (of its $11.65 per person per day recommendation), which can be handed over in cash, added to the onboard bill or pre-paid. Carnival’s auto-gratuity policy — $10 per person, per day — allots $5.50 for the waitstaff, a small blob of which goes to the head waiter.
So how much should passengers really give to each? For an answer, we turn to Cruise Critic contributor Greg Straub, a salty veteran of 105 voyages and one generous tipper.
“I usually do not tip the maitre d’,” writes Straub in his Insider’s Guide Cruise Tipping. “The only service he/she provides is assigning a table. If I like my assigned table, there is nothing he or she can do further.” In all but the rarest exceptions, Straub says moving passengers to a “more congenial table” is, simply put, the maitre d’s job. Another reason for not tipping the maitre d’: He/she is a ship’s officer and is paid accordingly — and is, unlike the head waiter, not typically included in the cruise line auto-gratuity pool. And yet lines like Carnival include an envelope on the last night of the cruise marked “maitre d’.” But unless exceptional service has been rendered, Straub leaves this envelope empty.
Straub is more magnanimous with the head waiter. In addition the auto or suggested tip, he gives $1 for each night he eats in the dining room, even if the head waiter has done nothing more than say hello. But why, Greg?
“The head waiter supervises the waiters and assistant waiters, and much of what he/she does is behind the scenes,” Straub writes. “If, however, the head waiter has promoted ordering off-menu items, prepared special dishes tableside or provided a cake for a special occasion, I would add an additional $5 per person, per service.” We’re certainly not suggesting that you have to tip on top of the amount already set aside for the head waiter — but Straub argues that this invisible man has more of a hand in the service than you’d think.
Have your own thoughts on when not to tip onboard? Share them in the comments section.
You have questions, we have answers: Check out our Ultimate Guide to Cruise Ship Tipping.
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    19 Responses to “Tipping Points: Do I Tip the Head Waiter or Maitre d’?”

    1. smeyer418
      July 28th, 2011 @ 4:49 pm

      I disagree. Both the head waiter and the Maitre D are responsible for the overall ambiance of the dining room, the training and the assignment of staff and overall supervision of the staff. they are generally responsible for the service you get…and if you don’t see them other than them stopping by to ask how things were, they were in fact doing their jobs…but don’t worry on most cruise lines the DSC/hotel charge includes them and the waiters generally kick back a portion of what they are tipped anyway. They are traditionally tipped and are not highly paid officers anyway…IMO

    2. Michele
      July 28th, 2011 @ 6:23 pm

      Our head waiter on our Freedom of the Seas cruise (January 2010) was absolutely incredibly. He stopped by our table at least once per evening, usually more, to inquire about our dining experience. In addition, he was very attentive to my children and went above and beyond his call of duty to them (and the rest of us). He earned a lot more than his allotted gratuity.

    3. Piggyvkc
      July 28th, 2011 @ 8:01 pm

      After 6 cruises, I can honestly say that I’ve never seen a head waiter or maitre’d at my table. If/when one of these folks performs any service, I’ll consider a tip; until then I choose to tip the crew members who do things for me.

    4. Jim
      July 28th, 2011 @ 11:44 pm

      On the Oasis, our head waiter was at our table every night we were in the dining room. He was awesome, and deserved his tip!

    5. SANDIP
      August 3rd, 2011 @ 8:40 am

      I’ve been on cruises and have had no interaction with the head waiter, no tip. Other cruises he knew my name and acknowledged me when he saw me away from the dining room. I use Auto tip and then add extra for good service and treatment.

    6. ragen
      August 3rd, 2011 @ 10:46 am

      I’ve had Very good, attentive, helpful and friendly head waiters, and I tipped them Gladly, and I’ve been on cruises where the service was slow and poor, and on these I’ve still tipped the wait staff, but not the head waiter,….But lastly, I WILL never tip a head waiter if the only time I’ve seen him at all is on the final night.

    7. Ann
      August 3rd, 2011 @ 11:46 am

      On the Crown Princess in June/July of this year, the Head Waiter was the best I have experienced in 48 cruises. There were 2 tables of us – 13 altogether and every night we all go some kind of special appettizer or “treat” that was not on the menu. He was so attentive to all of us and really earned the tips given by everyone at the end of the cruise.

    8. Guy
      September 23rd, 2011 @ 3:29 am

      This my first post of any kind. So here it goes.
      I tip them all. I have only been on 28 cruises. A mere drop in the bucket to some folks. I tip them all because of their tireless work. Some up for breakfast till the dinner and sometime midnight buffets. I know I would not work for the wages they receive and for as long as they are gone for home etc , or even able to get off the boat. I am thankful for the work they do to make my cruise enjoyable. And I know it’s nice to have a thank you sent their way. Let’s remember these are people too not our slaves at our beckon call. Be nice.
      Thats my 2 cents worth.

    9. Mike
      November 25th, 2011 @ 1:29 pm

      I too have had some cruses where I never saw the head waiter, but other times where he was a regular to the wait staff. One one cruise the head waiter was effectively our sommelier, both opening our wine and offer suggestions on the menu. He did not charge us the corkage fee and we were glad to give it to him directly.

    10. allen citera
      December 18th, 2011 @ 7:26 pm

      while talk is cheap, the asst dining room mgr and head dining
      room mgr get a little something.

      in the old days, they would cook a special dish at your table.

      those days are gone except perhaps on 5 star lines.

      obviously if neither acknowledges ne, no tip.

    11. Rachel
      February 23rd, 2012 @ 3:07 pm

      It depends on the Maitre d’ I’ve tipped those who’ve been a presence throughout the cruise, who come to the table regularly and ask how things are and who earn their tip. There have been cruises where I’ve never even seen the Maitre d’ or only seen him on the night envelopes were handed to him. Those times I opt out. I always do tip the head waiter though, and many times give a little extra to him and the assistant waiter as well as the cabin stewards. Again, it depends on how superior the service is, but I always give those attendants at least the suggested rate. They work hard and they earn it.

    12. Barbara
      May 11th, 2012 @ 4:45 pm

      On Royal Caribbean, the Head Waiter is very much a presence, stopping by the table at least once during every dinner, and sometimes more often. When we have My Time Dining, we also tip the Maitre D’, who somehow manages to keep us with the same wait staff every night of the cruise. Given the number of tables and diners and varied schedules, I consider that something of an accomplishment. If we ate in the MDR, I wouldn’t bother.

    13. Debbie
      December 11th, 2012 @ 10:06 am

      I sailed on the Allure of the Seas October 2012. The head waiter was always at our table. We even saw him at breakfast in the Windjammer and he always made sure that we got a table as it usually was about 6 of us. He was excellent and one of the few reasons that I would consider sailing on Royal again.

    14. Roger Jones
      May 21st, 2013 @ 6:30 pm

      I personally think auto tipping is wrong. The staff of the ship should be paid a wage that is a wage that would be acceptable to the guests on-board. Auto tips are basically a way of making up the wages for the staff but if they were paid properly there would be no need for tips. Tips are in my opinion a way a guest can recognise exceptional service provided by a particular individual you recognise and not someone who you may not have come into contact with.

      The argument put forward that paying a higher wage will put up the price of the cruise is true but paying a lower price for the cruise and then paying an auto gratuity is just the same so I do not buy into that argument. The best way forward for me is to take Thomson Cruises and include this cost in the price of the cruise and have no tipping. With a no tipping cruise you can still tip members of staff who have served you well in cash.

    15. Sandy Fugate
      May 24th, 2013 @ 3:13 pm

      As a recent first-time cruiser (RCI cruise), I was totally flummoxed by the tipping standards as they now stand in the cruise industry. I think they’re a mess. As I understand it, people used to be able to do the tipping on their own, with envelopes, at the end of the cruise. Then the cruise lines became unhappy, because people weren’t always tipping, so they started tacking on “auto tipping.” So I was automatically assessed a daily fee for tips for all variety of staffers, based on the cruise line’s own decision as to who should receive tips.

      My confusion and annoyance is the same as Roger’s above. Cruise lines should pay staff a fair wage and let the customers tip for extra service. As things stand now, people may be less inclined to give larger tips because they feel they’ve already paid the auto tip. Plus, how do I determine who to pay and how much, if the auto tipping has been tacked on to my bill? I don’t know who expects/deserves more, because I don’t know how much more to give.

      For example, I tipped our stateroom attendant generously, both at the beginning and end of our trip. We had three people, and he had to make and unmake the sofabed up twice a day. A big pain, I thought; but he did it splendidly.

      Our waiters were okay–very kind and friendly–however the overall service wasn’t thrilling. Everything was done en masse (I understand why). The entire wait staff was so busy serving everyone at once when the flood of food came out of the kitchen that they could not keep up with individual service, such as drink refills, additional food or condiments, etc. Ketchup, water, butter, extra rolls, etc. all came either a half hour later or not at all. But I can’t blame the waitstaff, because they were working their butts off. But still, I wasn’t thrilled about it. It was a cruise, it was expensive, and the service should have been impeccable.

      So I ended up tipping both our head waiter and asst. waiter a modest amount above the auto tips. (They both worked our table; I tipped the head waiter $25 and the asst. waiter $15.) However, I’m left feeling like a cheapskate. I normally tip 20 percent or more, but with the autotipping I’m not given much choice or many ways to calculate the proper amount.

      Anyway, that’s my two cents. The whole tipping thing is frustrating. It’s my biggest gripe about cruising, because the cruise itself was fantastic.

    16. Richard
      February 12th, 2014 @ 7:15 am

      Here’s a thought. Everything you are all complaining about resulted because of simple marketing realties where everyone started in the 90’s to opt for the cheaper cruise price, no matter what. In order to stay in business, cruise lines have to keep the fare too low, or, in the case of luxury lines, too high. The cheaper lines then nickel and dime you for extras, including service, and the luxury lines then have to find ways of giving you less than what you paid for, like cheap wines and subpar food, so that the remainder can serve as profit. That’s how it really works. Therefore “auto-tipping,” is a service charge, and all actual tips should be on top of that. Cruise lines were reluctant to add a service charge, because there would be allegations of false advertising, maybe even fraud, since obviously “service,” should be included in the fair. The deceptive phrase “auto-tipping,” was the result.

    17. Chris
      February 14th, 2014 @ 12:31 am

      I think I have only tipped the Head Waiter once or twice and that was for things they had done for me and my family. On the last night of our last cruise, the Head Waiter came to our table to inquire about the dinner service, he had a slip of paper in his hand of what I can only assume was the floor plan with passengers names on it. We had changed tables on the first night to be closer to friends we discovered to be cruising with on the same ship (thanks to the Maitre’d who I did tip for his help). Anyway when the Head Waiter came over that night he actually called us by the wrong names….

    18. Hoho
      June 23rd, 2015 @ 2:08 pm

      But do you know how much head waiters make? around 90000 USD per year. no education, nothing… how about that?

    19. Steven
      September 10th, 2015 @ 3:24 pm

      We cruised on Carnival and purchased the gratuity package before we left. On the last night we tipped the head waiter $40 and our cabin attendant $40. We also tipped the bartenders $1 each time we purchased a drink even though gratuity was automatically added. I guess we were over generous for a 3-day cruise!

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