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Pillow Talk 

The fine points of making a bed

Wednesday, Aug 8 2001
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Dear Social Grace,

I am hoping you can help me, as I've already tried all over the Internet to get an answer to this silly question. Even Martha Stewart's Web site can't help. I have a question about making the bed: Which way should the pillows lay on a double or larger bed? Do the pillowcase openings point out, or do the openings touch in the middle of the bed?

This information is much needed to prove a point now, even though there's a nice bet behind it. I have asked waitresses, family members, and total strangers, and I believe I know the answer. I just need to hear it from a pro like you. Thanks so much.

Denise Silva

Dear Ms. Silva,

And thank you for your confidence in me -- when your family, assorted food servers (a knowledgeable bunch), and even Martha Stewart have failed you. I'm flattered.

The definitive answer to this week's burning etiquette question: Pillowcase openings should point out, toward the edge of the bed. (Years from now you will all remember where you were for this important moment in journalism.) This arrangement better shows off the pillowcase's design, if it involves embroidery or the like on the outside edge. In addition, if a monogrammed pillowcase faced the other way, the letters would be upside-down from the perspective of a person climbing into bed from the side -- the person who'd most want to know to whom the pillowcases belong.

That settled, I'm sure we'll all sleep better tonight in the knowledge that our pillows are facing the right way. However, I'd like to remind readers that Social Grace in no way sanctions or encourages gambling on the finer points of etiquette.

Dear Social Grace,

During a recent five-day stay at a small, independently owned hotel, I found an empty envelope on the nightstand in my room. Written on the outside of the envelope was "Have a nice day. Housekeeping." It seemed obvious that I was supposed to place a tip in the envelope. If I had made a mess or requested some special service, I could understand leaving a tip, but the housekeeping was very minimal, limited to a towel exchange and vacuuming the carpet. The housekeeper couldn't have spent more than 10 minutes per day in my room. Because I didn't want to stiff the guy, I left 10 dollars in the envelope when I checked out.

I don't travel much, and I'd like to know if two dollars per day was a large enough tip. Was I obligated to tip at all? Shouldn't the hotel pay the full wages of the housekeeping staff instead of asking the guests to augment them?

I've never seen a request for a housekeeping tip at a major chain hotel. Am I obligated to leave a tip even where there is no envelope provided? If so, how do I do this?

Bay Gelldawg

Dear Bay Gelldawg,

At most North American hotels -- assuming that your room's pillows have been pointed in the right direction -- a tip of one or two dollars per day to the housekeeper is standard. The cost of the room is a good gauge -- a more expensive room equals a larger tip. You can tip more if housekeeping provided some special service. Unless you're at a hotel or bed-and-breakfast with an obviously small staff, it's best to leave the tip daily because the housekeeping staff may rotate. The person who cleans your room Thursday, Friday, and Saturday may not be the person who does it on Sunday when you check out.

I can't say I love the idea of tip-solicitation envelopes. But they're no more offensive than a tip jar, and perhaps helpful for people who don't travel much and who may not know that tipping a hotel's housekeeping staff is one expense of traveling. When there's no envelope, leave your tip in one of the hotel envelopes in your room's stationery kit or in a folded piece of paper. Write "Housekeeping" or "Thank you" on it and leave it on your bed, where it is conspicuous and its intended recipient made clear.

Hotel housekeepers (as well as bell and door staff) earn salaries that presuppose a certain amount of income in gratuities, just like food servers. Is it fair that huge hotel corporations expect us to augment the income of their employees? That is not for me to argue, but it is customary. I'd bet that if hotels did away with tips, the increase in room rates would be greater than the meager amount we'd save in folding money. Besides, isn't it nice to thank the people directly who work hard to smooth our travels for us?

Dear Social Grace,

My husband and I have rented a beach house for a couple of weeks in August, and we want to invite friends to come and stay with us for a few days during that time. The house has two bedrooms, one small one where my husband and I will stay, and one large one that has two queen-size beds and a bunk bed. Is it acceptable for us to put several friends in the same room overnight? We were thinking we'd just extend open-ended invitations to a few friends (all couples), but we thought it might be odd to then have two couples who might not know each other very well sleeping together in the same room.

Sincerely,

Hostess of the Coast

Dear Madam Hostess,

"Odd" is in the eye of the beholder. Instead of seeing the situation as strange, you might try to think of your weekend house as the perfect setup for a droll French bedroom farce. It's fine to offer shared accommodations, as long as you make the sleeping situation clear in the invitation, giving those who find the idea discomfiting a chance to realize that they have other plans that week. If you were dealing with single people instead of couples, you'd need to be a bit more cautious about putting them in what we'll call "awkward situations." With them you should plan the dates of their visit, instead of providing an open-ended invitation. That said, I wager (but not for money) that you'll find most people happy to put up with such minor inconveniences for a weekend at the beach.

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Social Grace

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