Don’t Get Tripped Out By Tipping

Words from Hill House Guest Thank You Envelope

Guests sometimes can be flustered by thinking about what if anything to leave behind for staff while staying at Hill House or any other B&B.  There isn’t a percentage rule like in restaurants.  In fact, tipping at inns is more about guidelines than rules.  And if you listen to your most common sense inner voice, you’ll probably do fine.

Hill House’s most important difference with a restaurant about tipping is that bed and breakfast staff don’t depend on tips for income, as do restaurant servers who typically are legally paid below the minimum wage.  Thus, tips at Hill House are really tips–a show of appreciation and not something that’s going to pay this month’s rent.

Staff doesn’t leave tip envelopes front and center in the guestrooms, but places them somewhere out of the way, where they will be seen over the course of a two-night stay.  And the daytime housekeeping/kitchen staff, which picks them up, splits them with the afternoon concierge staff.  

Tipping began in the 1700s in England, when overnight visitors to country houses, like Downton Abbey, would discreetly pay a bonus to the host’s staff.  Soon it moved into the coffeehouses, and arrived in America after the Civil War when there cam to be enough Americans wealthy enough to travel to Britain to make tipping a custom upon returning home.  Much of “democratic” America strongly disapproved, but by the 1920s tipping had become a way of life in both cafe society and small-town diners.

Tipping’s purpose is not to ensure good service, as many think.  Rather, it’s to show appreciation for work of a physical and personal nature.  In lodging guestrooms, tipping really doesn’t apply to an overnight visitor whose baggage generally never encounters a housekeeper or other staff person after check-in.  But if staying a second night, and the housekeeper comes in while you’re away, he/she will likely get up close and personal with you.  Maybe by making your bed, fluffing or changing bathroom towels, picking up stray objects on the floor, organizing your toiletries, pinning back blinds, etc. All of this is done for your personal comfort amid your personal belongings.

Staff might do other personal things for you during your stay.  These could include providing extra towels, carrying your bags upstairs, storing your bags before or after check-out, making dinner reservations, arranging a taxi, allowing early check-in or late check-out, picking up a gift…..the list is endless and there are not precise rules about payment.

The basic lodging industry guideline is $5 per night, and some, like Hill House, believe the first night can be waived.  Beyond that, it’s a personal feeling, for whatever else might have been done for you and the efficiency and pleasantry that accompanied the task.  Something minor, like requesting a wine opener, shouldn’t warrant any additional tipping.  Getting sick all over the bathroom walls and fixtures…well once it happened to me, I left $20, and I wish I had left more.  

So maybe the best rules for tipping are the most general ones: Be aware of it, Don’t stress over it, and if unsure, Be a little generous.  In the words of Aesop, “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.”

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