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
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:
- The beer dispenser automatically takes gratuity regardless of exceptional service.
- The extra fee is collected by the cruise line.
- The gratuity's real purpose is to pay employee salaries (so that the cruise line doesn't have to).
- 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.