Vails were the predecessors of tip
s in restaurants and other public places; they were gratuities
given to servant
s by visitor
s to the home
s they were employed in. This practice in England
dates back to about the 1500
s and continued until at least the early 1900
s. The idea was that guest
s in the home gave servants extra work
above their usual duties, and so the vails were compensation
for that work. However, the number of servants each expecting money
could grow burdensome; Oliver Goldsmith
is said to have not gone to evening parties of his aristocratic patron
s "because he had not a guinea to spare wherewith to fee the lacquey
in attendance, who took charge of his cloak or sword" and Samuel Johnson
is supposed to have avoided some gatherings for the same reason. There are also stories of masters who took a cut of their servants' profits.
Servants could also decide to be unpleasant to those who did not hand over enough money -- injuring guests' horses or damaging their clothes, for example. In the 1760s groups of masters unsuccessfully attempted to abolish the practice, but servants rebelled, throwing rocks through windows and throwing objects at the assembled wealthy.
By 1900, the English were also blaming American visitors for overtipping servants and raising their expectations for English visitors. The practice was fairly widespread in the U.S. by that time, but after World War I the number of homes with servants declined enough to make it uncommon again in both countries. However, Letitia Baldridge's books on etiquette from the 1980s still recommended tipping friends' cooks, and any servants who made beds or ironed clothing for the visitors, approximately $10.
Segrave, Kerry. Tipping: An American Social History of Gratuities. North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 1998.