The Etiquette of Tipping

The Etiquette of Tipping

The custom of tipping finds its roots in tea—more specifically, the colorful tea gardens of eighteenth-century England. These genteel after-dark events were the haute fashion of the day, providing a haven of repute for young ladies and gentleman to dance, mingle, and take tea together against a lantern-lit backdrop of flower-lined walkways, bowling greens, and cozy arbors.

As these “pleasure gardens” grew more popular and elaborate, venues such as Vauxhall Gardens in London became the most fashionable public entertainment of the day, luring musicians, magicians, comedians, and actors to perform for the crowds, and offering such extravagant diversions as hot-air balloon rides and fireworks displays. For guests, the sharing of tea was the grace note of the evening. For those employed to serve it across the sprawling greenways, however, the task could be cumbersome.

To help compensate servers, locked wooden boxes were placed on tables throughout the gardens at seating areas, each inscribed with the letters T.I.P.S.—“to insure prompt service.” It became convention to drop coins into the box as an added enticement to servers, and the custom has endured.

And while the practice remains discretionary, decorum dictates that excellent service be rewarded. Gratuity amounts, however, vary, depending on the service and situation, and can cause confusion for well-meaning tippers. When in doubt, consider these basic rules of thumb—and don’t forget that warm words of thanks are as important as a financial reward when expressing appreciation for a job well done.

  • Tearoom server—15-20 percent of the bill. If dividing checks, each person should add 18 percent to his or her individual total.
  • Tea sommelier—10-15 percent, depending on the level of service.
  • Country club personnel—Depending on the level of difficulty (and the club’s tipping policy), $5-$20 for errands such as sending a fax, making dinner or other reservations, or securing opera or theatre tickets. A larger gratuity at Christmas for special or favored service providers is also appropriate.
  • Coat check or ladies room attendants—$1-$2 each is customary.
  • Cab or car service driver—15-20 percent of the fare.
  • Concierge—$5-$20 for more difficult or timely tasks.
  • Maid service at hotel or bed and breakfast—$1-5 a day for each day of your stay is adequate. Consider padding the tip a bit for especially attentive staff.
  • Spa staff—15-20 percent of your total bill, evenly divided among treatment specialists.
From TeaTime January/February 2007

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