16 Polite Habits Hotel Workers Actually Dislike—and What to Do Instead
Sometimes good intentions go awry, especially when traveling. Here are the common etiquette missteps you should avoid at hotels—straight from hotel workers themselves.
Don’t make these hotel etiquette mistakes
Hotel workers deal with a lot of people every day … and a lot of personalities. It’s definitely not an easy job! You, as a kind and reasonable human being, understand this, so you do your best to be polite. Of course, you know that certain etiquette rules apply here, but you may not realize that some “polite habits” aren’t quite as polite as you might think. In fact, these things could actually be getting in the way of hotel workers doing their jobs and providing you with the best service possible. (And sometimes those habits are just really annoying!)
“Kindness is everything, and it really does make a huge difference to us, so I never want to discourage people from doing their best to be nice,” says Ken F., a hotel concierge at a four-star hotel in Manhattan who says he’s seen everything in his 18 years behind the front desk. “But there are definitely some things that, while we know are meant to be nice, we’d really rather you don’t do. So if you really want to know, I’ll be brutally honest!”
Oh, we want to know everything, Ken!
To help you avoid making these all-too-common etiquette mistakes, we talked to Ken and other hotel workers to find out which polite habits drive them nuts at motels, hotels and all-inclusive resorts—and what you should do instead. In case you were wondering, even though there are certain things you won’t see in hotels anymore, you should still always follow these guidelines.
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Getting items you need from the housekeeping cart
Need an extra towel, pillow or bottle of shampoo? It’s tempting to just grab one off the housekeeping cart parked conveniently in the hallway or from an open closet. It’s right there, and—bonus!—that way you don’t have to bother one of the employees and ask for it. But that simple action can cause “chaos,” says Aleph S., a housekeeper with 10 years of experience at a three-star hotel in California. That’s because big hotel chains do daily audits of supplies, and everything is supposed to be accounted for. “A pillow goes missing, and I get in trouble for it!” he says.
Do this instead: Call the front desk and ask for fresh towels, extra bedding or whatever else you need. That’s their job, and they will know the best way to get it to you without messing up the inventory tracking. This is similar to helping yourself to the drink cart on a flight, one of the polite habits flight attendants dislike.
Requesting services on the website instead of calling the direct line
Many hotels, including boutique hotels, have websites with functions that allow you to order room service, make booking changes, ask for upgrades or order amenities. Some guests assume that it’s easier to do things electronically so they don’t have to bother a real person with their requests, but that’s not actually the case.
“Even with the technology, it’s easier for us if you just call the front desk and ask us to do it,” says Ken. The website can’t carry out requests on its own, so it just aggregates the information and sends it to the front desk. There, staffers have to interpret it … but can’t ask you clarifying questions or give you answers. And sometimes all those electronic web forms pile up and get ignored. Real people on the phone are much harder to forget or miss, Ken explains.
Do this instead: Call the front desk, and be clear about what you’re looking for. “Half the time, I end up just calling the guest’s room anyhow. Talking to us directly saves time and has a better chance of making sure you get what you need,” Ken says. “There’s a reason there’s still a landline phone in every hotel room.”
Assuming employees live on-site
“I’ve had a shocking number of guests just assume that I live either at the hotel or on the property somewhere,” says Maria H., a housekeeper with five years’ experience at a resort in Florida. She says guests, trying to be polite, have asked her if she loves living at the resort, if it’s fun being in such a party-filled atmosphere all the time and if she took the job for the resort perks. (Sadly, they don’t get any discounts or extra benefits.)
“I kinda feel bad telling people that I don’t live here, my job isn’t a party and I don’t ever go to the resort—I think it kind of ruins the magic for them a bit,” she says, adding that it personally irks her when people assume she does housekeeping out of love for the resort. “I don’t love this job. Who loves cleaning all day?! I do it because I need the paycheck. But I still have to smile and thank the guests who think they are complimenting me.”
A big downside of this mentality, she adds, is that guests think if she lives there, then she’s always available and won’t mind helping them out even when she’s not clocked in since she’s “so close.”
Do this instead: Don’t ask staff to do extra work, and don’t assume (or ask) anything about their personal lives, including where they live. Keep things cordial, but be aware that there’s a line you shouldn’t cross.
Telling workers they can take off their masks
Guests telling workers that it’s “fine” to take off their masks was a huge sore spot for Maria during the pandemic, as the employees had to follow all the health mandates or risk losing their jobs (not to mention risk getting sick). But even though the pandemic is over and most places have lifted their mask mandates, Maria still prefers to do her job wearing a paper surgical mask and latex gloves. Sometimes, she says, guests will still tell her it’s “not necessary” and tell her to take off her mask, thinking they are being kind.
But, she says, “you have no idea how much gross stuff we have to deal with on a daily basis. My mask and gloves are my protection, and I don’t want to take them off, no matter how much you insist it’s ‘fine.'”
Do this instead: Don’t comment on what a worker is wearing at all. And don’t “give permission” for workers to break hotel rules or health codes—that’s not up to you, and it could get them in trouble. This is also one of the top cruise tips you should follow.
“Trusting” them to get your bill correct
These days, many people do automatic checkouts, but for those guests who check out at the front desk, a surprising number don’t even look at their bill. “People will wave it away, say ‘I trust you’ and just hand me their credit card,” says Ken. “I know they mean it as a compliment to my service, and it’s sweet that you trust me—but honestly, you shouldn’t. I’m an honest guy, but mistakes happen, and it’s your money.”
Do this instead: Check over your bill for accuracy, and bring up any discrepancies right away. “We’d much rather hear from you immediately than two weeks later when your HR department spots the problem on your expense report,” Ken says. “Plus, there’s much more we can do at that time to fix the situation. If you wait, our options are limited.” Make sure to double-check your bill at all-inclusive resorts too—and remember, not everything is included, so read the fine print before you book!
“Letting” them watch your pet
Aleph works at a pet-friendly hotel, and while he’s an animal lover, he doesn’t love being asked to pet sit while the owners are out. “People will say it like they’re doing me a favor—like, ‘I’ll let you play with my cute dog all day’—but that’s just more work for me,” he says. “I’m not supposed to do that, and I don’t get paid for it, so nope, I’m not gonna do that.”
Plus, if something were to happen to your pet in their care, it would cause all kinds of issues for both the hotel and the employee (not to mention break your heart).
Do this instead: Hotel employees aren’t trained to handle animals, and some don’t even like them. If you must leave your pet in your room, hire a pet sitter from Rover or a similar site to come and take care of them. And under no circumstances should you sneak in a pet, as that can lead to terrible accidents—think: harmful cleaning chemicals that could make your dog sick, or a frightened dog biting an employee—when employees aren’t aware that animals are around.
Flagging down the housekeeper for a simple request
You notice the air conditioning isn’t working or you’re out of toilet paper, and you see that housekeeping is just down the hall. The simplest solution is just to go talk to the nearest housekeeper, right? While it may seem nicer (and faster) to do that yourself, it’s actually a top pet peeve of hotel housekeeping, says Aleph. Each person is assigned to clean certain rooms at certain times, and they can get in trouble if you pull them out of their assigned tasks to help you.
They also may not be able to handle your request; for instance, maintenance needs to handle any mechanical problems. Plus, he adds, it can be surprising or even scary to be accosted by a guest when you’re alone in a hotel room.
Do this instead: Call the front desk, and explain the issue you’re having. They’ll send the appropriate person to help you. The same is true of restaurant workers—every person has a different role, just like you do at your job.
Asking about their personal life
Striking up a conversation with a friendly housekeeper, bellhop or concierge is a great idea, and treating them with kindness and respect—like people, not servants—is one of the top things hotel workers say they like. However, most hotel workers don’t appreciate very personal conversations. “Don’t ask me if I have a boyfriend, what my social media handles are, where I live, what time my shift ends, what school I go to or what my last name is,” says Sara P., a housekeeper at a family hotel chain in Utah who says she routinely fields questions like these from well-meaning-but-nosy guests. This is also a polite habit that retail workers dislike—as well as most other people who work with the public!
Do this instead: Maintain the professional boundary between employee and guest, and keep all conversation on a fairly light and superficial level. Sara suggests asking questions about the local cuisine, fun activities in the area, amenities offered by the hotel, the weather or TV shows.
Helping them clean
Every once in a while, a guest will try to help housekeeping clean—either by cleaning alongside the worker (big no-no!) or by trying to anticipate what the worker will need, like by stripping all the bedding and putting it on the floor. “This is a problem because as long as it’s the same guests in the same room, we don’t change out the bedding every day, so now that’s more work for me,” says Maria. Even if you do things like wipe down counters or sweep, housekeepers will still have to do it again, so might as well save your time. That’s one of the best perks of hotels!
Do this instead: Keep your things neat and tidy, and dispose of all your garbage properly. But don’t do extra chores to “help” the housekeeper.
Asking them to do extra tasks for extra money
“I’m 15—I don’t even drive!—so it’s hilarious to me how many times guests have handed me their keys and asked me to ‘bring their car around front,'” says Sara. “I think they think that I’ll be excited and it will be fun for me to drive their car, or they’ll say it’s an opportunity for me to make some quick cash, but I literally can’t.” Sometimes, Sara says, guests will insist and promise not to tell her boss, which makes it even worse.
Similarly, guests have asked Aleph to run to the liquor store for them, fill a prescription, get pizza or run other errands. “They usually offer to pay me pretty well, which is nice, but I can’t leave during my shift,” he says. Like Sara, he says that guests will then offer to “cover” for him with his boss so he won’t get in trouble.
Do this instead: If the hotel you’re staying at offers valet service, use that service. Those workers are trained and insured! And in general, don’t ask any hotel employee to do something they’re not comfortable with—and certainly don’t offer to lie to their boss for them.
Destroying the key card
“I have guests who will destroy their room key cards [after their stay], thinking that they contain personal information about the guests, like their credit card data,” says Ken. “Some guests assume we destroy the cards after they’re turned in, so they do this to save us a step, while others are worried that we’ll keep their information so they destroy it proactively.” Still other guests worry that the key cards spread germs, so they’ll dip them in cleaner, which can also destroy them. This is a fairly new problem, but Ken says it happens frequently enough that he now mentions it to guests upon checking in.
Do this instead: Leave key cards on the counter in your room, or return them to the front desk when checking out. They’re reusable, and they don’t store any of your personal information, so you don’t have to worry about identity theft. “Plus, a [thief] wouldn’t need your key card for that,” Ken points out. “We already have all your personal information, including your credit card, stored in our booking system.”
Not telling them about problems with your stay right away
Ken’s biggest pet peeve? When guests try to be nice by not “bothering” him when problems arise. He says he’s seen guests sweat in sweltering rooms, sleep on the floor with no bedding, endure loud neighbors, pay erroneous charges and suffer other indignities—all because they don’t want to speak up.
Do this instead: Tell the concierge about problems as soon as possible. “Making sure you are comfortable and happy is literally my job, and you’re not making my job harder by alerting me to problems,” says Ken. “In fact, it makes my job easier. I’d much rather get a phone call that you never got your room service than have you go hungry and find out about it the next morning!”
Keeping them company
Sometimes traveling is lonely, and you may crave a little human interaction. The front-desk manager looks bored, so you may as well chat him up, right? Nope. “Short conversations and questions are fine, but long conversations where you monopolize our time are annoying,” says Ken. “Truly, I don’t need you to entertain me, and I’m also not there to be your friend, therapist or confessor.”
He adds that while he will always protect the privacy of hotel guests, he never wants to be asked to be an alibi and lie to someone’s wife, husband or boss. “Some guests think we enjoy the drama and enjoy being involved in it. We don’t.”
Do this instead: Ask the concierge for recommendations on good, casual places to hang out and meet new people, like a nearby bar, club, library or church.
Hiding tips for housekeeping
“Sometimes, people put our tips under pillows or lamps or in the fridge,” says Maria. “They ‘hide’ it because they want to make sure that the housekeeper doing the deep cleaning gets the tip—which I do always appreciate—but that’s not necessary and can make it even harder to find the tip.” She adds that money found in weird places is often assumed to be lost, and housekeeping will turn it in to the front desk in case the guest comes back looking for it.
Do this instead: How much to tip hotel housekeeping can be confusing. Leave cash ($2–$5 per day) on the table or counter, in plain sight, with a little note saying thank you to housekeeping. If you’re not comfortable leaving it in the room, take it to the front desk and ask them to put it in an envelope with the housekeeper’s name on it.
Saving the housekeeping tip for the end
Tipping housekeeping in any way is always a thoughtful and appreciated gesture, but some guests, thinking they are streamlining the process, save the tip until their last day and leave it in one big amount. Unfortunately, says Maria, it’s rare to have the same cleaners every day, which means that only the housekeepers on that day get the tip.
Do this instead: Tip every day, in cash. Just be aware that how and when to tip can change depending on the country you’re visiting.
Asking them to party with you
“Sometimes guests ask me to party with them and will give me a beer,” says Aleph. “I can’t do that stuff on duty, and I’m not allowed to come back when I’m off duty either.” Even though you may mean well and want to help the hotel staff relax or have fun, the invitation is more likely to make them uncomfortable, he says. Sara adds that this sort of offer is also “creepy.”
Do this instead: If you have an unopened beer or two left over at the end of your stay, it’s fine to leave it on the counter with a note saying it’s for housekeeping, They can take it home after their shift is over if they want it and chuck it if they don’t. Above all, remember that hotel workers are working—and they’re not your friends, no matter how nice they are—so keep your interactions with them professional. If you want to express your appreciation, a tip and a thank-you note are the ways to go.