Tipping 101

A guide to gratuity in the service industry

Katie Oakes, Hair by Katie Oakes Salon Studio and Sola Salons, works on clients’ hair at her studio.
Katie Oakes, Hair by Katie Oakes Salon Studio and Sola Salons, works on clients’ hair at her studio.
A few weeks ago, I decided to take a little “staycation” at a hotel here in downtown Savannah. My stay was fabulous, but when it came time to check out, I found myself texting my friends asking, “How do I tip at a hotel?”

Now maybe it’s because I’m only 24-years old, or maybe it’s because most of my travels have involved sleeping in a shared Airbnb or a friend’s couch, but I truly had no idea how gratuity at a local hotel worked. This then sparked a conversation at the Connect Savannah office about gratuity in other industries. Most people seem to feel confident leaving a tip at a restaurant, but can be a little unsure for other services.

I decided to consult local experts and dive in to gratuity best practices and trends right here in Savannah. First up was Andrea Locorini, marketing and social media manager at the Perry Lane Hotel.

Locorini said restaurants and bars inside of a hotel function the same way as any other food and beverage experience. She said confusion often happens when it comes to valet and housekeeping services.

“They say that with housekeeping, it’s about $5 a day, but at a luxury hotel, we’re seeing quite a bit more than that,” she said. “Our guests have always been very generous.” Locorini said an unexpected impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been higher gratuity at the Perry Lane Hotel.

“Even just for a one-night stay, we’re seeing people tip $20,” she said. “That’s not necessarily the standard, but things are a bit different now. I think that the urge to venture out and see new places, to wine and dine, has become more prevalent. Guests are being taken care of the moment they walk in the door, and I think they appreciate that.”

Something to remember, Locorini said, is that tips for housekeeping and car services are typically cash-only at hotels. She also added that leaving a review and mentioning an employee by name is a great way to show extra gratitude if you had a fantastic stay.

Next, I consulted with Lenon Whitney, owner and manager at Spa Bleu. Whitney said his staff is not solely reliant on tips to make all of their income.

He said tips at Spa Bleu vary, but most customers tip between 20% and 25% of their service total.

“20% would be if they loved their service,” Whitney said. “30% would be if they thought it was exceptional. We’ve even had people tip 40-50% if they really loved it. That’s not easy for everybody to do, and we don’t expect that. It’s always appreciated, but never demanded.”

Whitney said he hopes customers view gratuity as an excited “thank you,” rather than a requirement.

“I wish that we could change the word ‘tip.' We use the word ‘gratuity’ because it’s about being grateful. The word ‘tip’ comes with such an old-school mindset.” -Lenon Whitney, Spa Bleu

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He also said gratuity doesn’t always have to be monetary. “If you love something, send them a card or send them some flowers,” he said.

Overall, Whitney said he’s seen gratuity in the health and wellness world grow because small businesses are “ever-changing to offer better services.”

“You’re going to go above and beyond for someone who goes above and beyond for you,” Whitney said.

I also spoke with Katie Oakes of Hair By Katie Oakes Salon Studio and Sola Salons. Similarly to Whitney, Oakes said she is also not reliant on tips alone to make an income, as she makes a portion of the service total and product sales.

Oakes said the hair industry is sometimes tricky, because the price of hair services has such a range.

“If you’re tipping 20% on a service total that’s already $300, that’s a significant tip,” she said. “I have clients that leave me way more than I could imagine, and I have clients that sometimes don’t tip at all, and that’s ok. At the end of the day, if they are paying their service total, I am happy with that.”

Oakes also agreed that there are other non-monetary ways to show gratuity. A major help to her is referring new clients to her business, something she calls “a verbal tip.” She said it means the world to her when clients do little things like bring her a coffee to show their gratitude.

At the end of the day, Oakes said it’s most important to be transparent about pricing, so clients know what to expect and feel comfortable asking her about gratuity. “I always tell my clients, ‘select whatever you feel comfortable with.’ I never judge,” she said. My final local gratuity expert was Sean Conway, product manager at World of Beer on Broughton St.

He said a good rule of thumb to follow is $1 per drink, but says most people leave a bit more if he’s mixing cocktails versus pouring them a beer.

To my surprise, Conway said most people tip just as much for to-go beers as they would if they were sitting at the bar for hours. He said there is always a handful of people who grab a to-go drink and leave without tipping, but said it’s hardly noticeable.

One thing Conway said he hopes people realize, was that similarly to restaurant servers, most bartenders are reliant on tips to make a living. He said, after taxes, if a customer does not leave gratuity, a bartender can actually end up losing money.

“If you leave zero tip, that person literally paid money to work for you,” he said. “It’s entirely possible that you cost that person money.”

What are some gratuity questions you have? Share them with Connect Savannah on social media or reach out to Lauren at lauren@connectsavannah.com.

About The Author

Lauren Wolverton

Lauren Wolverton is self-described storyteller, fashion addict and lover of lattes. At Connect Savannah, she is a journalist and a strategic marketing consultant. Wolverton grew up between Georgia and Mississippi, then went on to graduate from Mississippi State University. A job as a news producer at a local television...
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