Mike M ....
Thank you for the clarification on where tips go re "auto-tipping". Of course it only makes sense that if a person wants to tip as s/he please they should be allowed to give what they want and the recipient should be allowed to keep it.
However - I think the majority of cash tipping done onboard is done (as you said) by people who also auto-tip - and in that case the money is supposed to go into the pool.
And YES - the answer is that tips are divied up according the job title, not equally.
I recently read a blog by a waitress working on Carnival who said her "pay" per cruise was based on how many passengers were seated in her station, and that she got MORE seatings if her ratings were higher. (an interesting way to equalize service/compensation, since as the number goes up there is a greater chance her ratings will go down, right?)
But she was complaining that her ratings were tied to her head waiter (or co-worker, or something, maybe she was just an assistant waiter) - in any case they pooled the ratings of the people in her station and used that to decide how many guests she would get the next week.
So - she got paired with a bad waiter one cruise when they had a high number of guests, and his ratings were really bad, so the next cruise her number was cut by 1/3. That is a big cut in pay.
Cases like that argue for the "self tipping" concept, but I still prefer not to tip.
And to DonD who enjoys tipping. I understand that. I am often a generous tipper in regular life. What bothers me about tipping on cruise ships is (1) I don't like to be expected to keep cash on hand in what is supposed to be a cashless system and (2) in most cases the tips are pre-paid anyway, so you are just adding to something you already paid.
But if you enjoy tipping, by all means you should continue to do so. No harm done, I just don't enjoy it.