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We are currently on a Caribbean cruise operated out of Miami. On board there is a beer dispenser (PYOB - Pour Your Own Beer), which charges per ounce directly to my room. The machine is self-operated, although a staff member does have to refill the keg periodically.

There is no mention of a tip or gratuity, nor is there an option to amend or remove one, but the amount that is charged to my room is always 18% more than what is displayed on the machine.

In American Cruise ship culture, is this an appropriate practice?

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    I'd separate American and cruise ship culture here. Pour-your-own-beer bars are rare in America, and while I haven't taken a grand tour of them, I don't believe there's any tipping typically involved unless you're getting food. Cruise ships have particular automatic gratuity policies that are nothing like most US restaurants and bars. Commented Feb 9, 2019 at 5:25
  • Related (but no duplicate): travel.stackexchange.com/questions/111863/…
    – RHA
    Commented Feb 9, 2019 at 10:20
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    Hey, beer dispensers need money too! You think they get paid enough to put their kids through college?
    – user25730
    Commented Apr 13, 2023 at 23:36

2 Answers 2

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In American/Cruise ship culture, is this an appropriate practice?

YES. It is appropriate for a US based cruise/cruise line.

The gratuity is automatically added to all beverage purchases. Automatic gratuities are pooled so all Beverage Service crew will share it.

The machines still require regular cleaning, servicing and maintenance which is done by the bar staff.

You will find the same scenario on Royal Caribbean with their Bionic Bar where the Gratuity is also automatically added.

You will find the same scenario on Norwegian with their wine dispensers where the Gratuity is also automatically added.

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    A better framing of the question is probably whether it is appropriate for the machine to display a price that is 18% below what it actually charges. (And then the answer might well be that it is in line with US practice -- IIUC they're not usually displaying the actual price-to-the-customer on goods in shops either). Commented Feb 8, 2019 at 22:00
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    Yes, it is 100% inline with US customs to not display a gratuity amount on menus. This is the case ashore as well. Neither Carnival or Royal Caribbean do so on board. Norwegian does for whatever reason they have chosen.
    – DTRT
    Commented Feb 11, 2019 at 13:28
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    Yes, it is also 100% in line with US customs to not display the total amount due on an item because tax rates very by jurisdiction.
    – DTRT
    Commented Feb 11, 2019 at 13:30
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    @quant They receive more than a living wage. Jobs on cruise ships are highly sought after. Tipping/gratuity is part of the de facto compensation plan in American culture. No one is being taken advantage of. In fact (I may make a video about this) the crew on my last transatlantic sailing was eager to begin the Caribbean season because...wait for it...Americans tip much better so they make a lot more money.
    – DTRT
    Commented Feb 11, 2019 at 15:59
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    It’s not a gratuity if you can’t opt out. Or can you?
    – JonathanReez
    Commented Dec 29, 2022 at 13:32
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The beer dispenser gratuity is one of those "automatic gratuities" charged by the cruise lines. It is important to note that automatic gratuities, whether from the beer dispenser or various line items on a bill are not given to staff as tips. Instead, this money is collected by the cruise line, which in-turn applies the funds towards as much as 95% of their staff's salary as documented in this article. This contradicts the historical definition of gratuity.

The oxford dictionary (via google) defines gratuity as:

a tip given to a waiter, taxicab driver, etc.

The cambridge dictionary defines gratuity as:

a small amount of money for someone who has provided you with a service, in addition to the official amount and for their personal use

The general consensus is that a gratuity is optionally provided by an individual that received services, as an extra reward for good service, in addition to whatever base compensation an entity earns; and that entity gets to keep it. The fee collected from the beer dispenser has some ethical problems in this area:

  1. The beer dispenser automatically takes gratuity regardless of exceptional service.
  2. The extra fee is collected by the cruise line.
  3. The gratuity's real purpose is to pay employee salaries (so that the cruise line doesn't have to).
  4. If the claim is that the fee is towards maintenance, electricity, etc., then there are other kinds of fees this charge could fall under- convenience or maintenance for example. In some countries, the United States for example, organizations that charge additional fees for credit card transactions are supposed to display such extra fees at the point of sale and on your receipt. No one calls these fees "gratuity". They are "surcharges".

The question of "is it appropriate?" is tricky- because it's a point of view. You can make various arguments for appropriateness- for example:

  • is it ethical
  • is it common practice
  • is there any law against it
  • does the practice unjustly hurt the livelihood of another

But given that the definition of "gratuity" is clear- it is supposed to be a tip, and management keeps the tips- I can say with confidence that the beer dispenser gratuity is not appropriate.

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  • "The gratuity's real purpose is to pay employee salaries (so that the cruise line doesn't have to)": the cruise line is still paying their salaries. The real purpose of the gratuity is to allow the cruise line to advertise lower prices than it actually charges.
    – phoog
    Commented Apr 15, 2023 at 11:40

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