Q&A: The Controversy of Tipping

While most folks don't bat an eyelash when it comes to plunking down a 15 percent (or more) tip after a restaurant meal on land, it would seem -- from the outcry we receive every time we publish a feature on cruise gratuities -- that the extra $100 or so you spend onboard is an issue of contention. Indeed, we got so many comments about Joyce Gleeson-Adamidis' recent Under the Captain's Table: Gratuities -- What's the Point? that rather than address each individually we thought we'd tackle those that that fell into various categories, and let Joyce answer you through this format.

Did we miss yours? Drop us a note at feedback@cruisecritic.com. Please put tipping in the subject line.

Do Travelers Pay Crew Salaries in Entirety?

Question: Sam Pike writes: "If a waiter earns $2,000 to $3,200 how much of this salary is provided by the cruise line?" Pike, who recently returned from a two-week cruise, notes that the waiter on his trip served 12 couples at $7 per couple per night. "This would," he says, "equate to approximately $1,200 with minimum tipping for this cruise line." Doing two cruises, he calculates, would've netted the waiter $2,400 per month in tips alone. That figure is right in line with Adamidis' approximate salary quote ($2,000 - $3,200 monthly, tips and salary included) -- and Pike wonders why it seems like passengers are paying his waiter's tab. Bottom line: What are the actual wages paid by the cruise lines to waiters, busboys, room stewards and assistants not including tips paid by passengers? (thanks, too, to walter38 for posing a similar question).

Answer: Says Joyce: "It is not as cut and dry as readers are trying so very hard to make it. They are trying to force it to be a simple number to give and I can not do that as the variables make it impossible. This is why an estimate on what their salaries are was given with such a range.

"Again, not all get this kind of salary" (and p.s. when she's talking salary she's referring to company paycheck and gratuities combined) "because of all the various factors that go into their base from the size of the ship, age of ship, itinerary, nationalities of passengers and so forth. Now to add to the confusion, if their salaries are not met by what they should be as stated by the International Transport Federation (ITF) well, the company compensates them for this. They are looked after.

"Ultimately, we are dealing with hundreds of ships with thousands of passengers and hundreds of scenarios that are used to create their salaries."

Enough said. For those who want hard and fast "estimates" feel free to check out sites recommended by Sam Pike and walter38; these are www.cruiseshipjob.com and www.itfglobal.org respectively. Cautionary note: The story posted on itfglobal.org is a tad outdated -- it was written six years ago.

Crew: "First World" Advantages Over Third World?

Q: Several readers asked: Do workers from third world countries make less than those from "first world" countries?

A: Responds Joyce, "It does not matter if someone is from Pakistan, Turkey, Mexico, Bulgaria or Romania. If their job falls in any of the tipping categories they are paid according to the ship that they will be working on -- and their tipping will be according to their position and time accumulated with the company." Joyce hastens to note that this rule does not apply to officers and staffers in non-tipping positions.

How About Health?

Q: Julie McCormack asks: "I am curious if the major cruise lines provide a benefit package for their employees?"

A: "It is a loaded question," Joyce replies. "It depends on each cruise line, the position and ranking onboard, and the type of contract they sign. On a general basis, their insurance is taken care of while they are onboard. For some lines, if there is an injury onboard and a crew member needs to go home -- usually there is coverage in salary up to 120 days. However when on vacation they are usually not covered (and they're not paid, either)."

Believe It Or Not: Tip Jars for Musicians!

Q: Writes David Friedlander, "My wife and I just returned from a cruise on Royal Caribbean's Enchantment of the Seas last Monday. The piano player in the Schooner Bar there always had his jar very prominently displayed and he would 'seed' it with a $20 at the beginning of each performance. By the end of the performance, the jar was usually pretty full (and there was no change and few singles) so the tips must have been a major part of his income. On several occasions, the cruise director and other ships officers passed through (and the layout of the ship forces people to pass through the Schooner bar in order to reach other public areas) so this was far from a 'no one is looking' case.

"Last year, we were on the Sovereign of the Seas (same line) where they have a 'dueling piano' bar and the same thing was done but by two performers who presumably split the tips. Moreover, as I mentioned in the previous posting, on both ships performers repeated the line 'put bread in my jar' three or four times with comic emphasis when singing 'Piano Man' (the Billy Joel pop classic is tells the story of a piano player who plays for tips in an on-land nightclub). These are just two examples; we have been on ten cruises and have seen this several times. Often people who drink a lot leave extravagant amounts in those jars."

A: Says Joyce, who admits she's never seen an example of this, "times do change and now these piano players are putting their tipping jar there, but their salaries are not particularly based on tips as the waiters/stewards are. Tipping for requesting a special song is solely based on individual preferences."

Paying Special Thanks

Q: From Cindi in Florida: "I have been trying to come up with unique ways to bring some magic to our fantastic cruise staff this September, and I am a little stumped. I thought about a little floral arrangement at the beginning of the cruise, but was told it was a bad idea because the employee might be allergic to it. We've done the $2 bills before, and our servers loved them. But I never thought about inviting them to go off the ship with us. We're booked for an 11-day special Southern Caribbean cruise and the thought of taking one of them with us for a meal or excursion intrigues me greatly. In order to pull this off, how much time should we plan for? How long can they get away?"

A: As Joyce had written, "it is okay to invite a crew member out to lunch or treat them to a tour with you." But there are, she notes here, caveats. "You need to find out their schedule so that it can be planned on their off time and ask their supervisor for permission in order for it to be on the up and up. Fraternizing with the crew is not allowed, but this kind of courtesy is okay and does occur. It is inviting them to your cabin or you theirs that is against rules and regulations. Too, you can get a box of nice candy and divide them in small hand-wrapped packages and a nice card just to say thank you. Remember that gratuities and extra gifts are very personal and individual choices. It is all in what you can afford, how you feel and what you want to do."

More questions on the ins and outs of tipping from the shipboard point of view? Write to feedback@cruisecritic.com.

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