We all want to enjoy a happy and relaxing holiday season. And being confident about when and how to tip people that help you run your life year round can go a long way toward heading off unnecessary stress.
This year decisions around tipping require extra attention. Inflation means that expectations around the amount of anticipated tips you’ll give have likely ratcheted up. And that may hold true even if your salary hasn’t changed. Still, say experts, if you take a thoughtful approach, there’s no reason to feel awkward.
“The key here is to express your sincerity and thankfulness,” says Elaine Swann, founder of the Carlsbad, Calif.-based Swann School of Protocol. “Show that gratitude in the best way that you’re able to.”
To help you get it right—and feel relaxed about the process—we talked to experts about who you should tip, as well as when, and, of course, how much. If you’ve felt your tipping game hasn’t been strong in years past, this year may offer a chance at a reset—whether this means you’re tipping more or less.
Holiday tipping basics
Who to tip
Focus on the people who make your life more pleasant all year long, according to experts. “The people who make us look better, make our lives easier,” says Patricia Napier-Fitzpatrick, founder of the Etiquette School of New York. “Now’s our chance to show our gratitude for what they do for us.” This doesn’t include professionals like doctors, accountants, dentists and veterinarians.
How to tip
Crisp bills in an envelope with “Thank You” written on the outside is a classic way to tip. You can even include a card or brief handwritten note if you think it would be appreciated. Try to find a private moment without a lot of people watching—and make sure you look the recipient in the eye and express your gratitude for the work they’ve done. “It should be straightforward,” says Swann. “Be very clear about the fact that you’re giving for the holiday season because they’ve gone above and beyond.”
If you normally pay this person via app, it’s fine to tip them that way. Just be sure to include a thank you note in the memo that lets them know this is an extra holiday thank you.
When to tip
Any time between the beginning of November and mid-December. “Don’t wait until Christmas Eve,” says Napier-Fitzpatrick. “A lot of these service people are relying on this money to buy their holiday gifts.”
How much to tip…
The cost of living varies greatly across the U. S.—and so do lifestyles. That makes it difficult to say precisely how much the typical American should tip. But the following amounts, based on consultations with experts, can serve as a starting point.
Those who help care for your home
Housekeeper: From the cost of one service to two weeks’ worth of service, depending on how frequently they come and how long they’ve worked for you. “And if they came all through the pandemic in hazmat suits and breathing apparatus, you’re gonna tip more,” says Jodi R.R. Smith, founder of Boston-based Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting.
Landscaper or gardener: $25 to $50 per worker or the cost of one service
Snow removal: The cost of one service
Pool cleaner: $10 to $30 or the cost of one service
Those who help care for your kids and pets
Babysitter : The cost of one service. “Maybe a bit more if they’re there often, or if they sometimes stay a little bit longer because you have some sort of emergency at work,” says Swann. You can also include a small gift from your children, like a gift card or tickets to a show.
Nanny: The cost of one week’s worth of service. If they’re a live-in nanny or they’re at your home every day, you might want to extend it to two weeks’ worth—or more. “If you’re in a place like Manhattan, it’s very competitive,” says Napier-Fitzpatrick. “So, depending on how much you want to keep them, you might give them a month’s pay.” Like with your babysitter, you can also include a small gift from your child.
School teachers and coaches: Teachers and coaches aren’t employed by you, so you shouldn’t be tipping them directly. Plus, you don’t want to give the impression that you’re trying to earn your child preferential treatment. A good alternative is a group gift—all the kids’ families can group together and give according to their means, with the included card being signed by everyone. Since most teachers need to buy their own supplies, Swann says, gift cards to Michael’s or Staples are always appreciated.
Private instructors: It depends. If the instructor is running their own small business, a small non-monetary gift will do. If it’s a college student working for a larger music or sports academy, give them a monetary tip up to the cost of one service. “I’m also going to tip based on how difficult my child is,” says Smith. “If my child is tone deaf and we’re still forcing this poor child to take piano lessons, I might tip them a little bit more for their trouble.”
Pet groomer: The cost of one service
Dog walker: $25 to $50 or the cost of one service
Those who help care for you
Barber or hairdresser: The cost of one service—maybe more if you see them often, or if they’ve gone above and beyond. “Your hairdresser might fit you in in a pinch, or maybe they added an extra service on and didn’t charge you,” says Swann. “Tip accordingly.”
Nail salon: The cost of one service
Personal trainer: The cost of one service
Massage therapist: The cost of one service
The staff of your apartment building
Building superintendent: $25 to $150, depending on how nice your building is and how long you’ve lived there. “You’re going to be tipping more if you’re in a luxury building,” says Smith. “But also factor in whether they do things for you like open up your apartment to bring packages inside when you’re gone.”
Doorman: $25 to $150 per worker. “And don’t forget the poor person who’s there at midnight,” adds Napier-Fitzpatrick.
Building handyperson: $25 to $50 per worker
Elevator operator: $25 to $50 per worker
Garage assistant: $25 to $75 per worker, depending on how often you use your car and how expensive it is. “If you have a really fantastical car that needs extra care, then you should be tipping more,” says Smith.
Other service providers
Mail carrier: U. S. Portal Service mail carriers are federal workers, and they aren’t legally allowed to accept non-monetary gifts worth more than $20 or monetary gifts at all. Gift cards can be a good workaround, though it’s still a legal gray area. UPS or FedEx workers aren’t supposed to accept cash either. Your best bet is to give them a small gift. “Maybe some sets of thermal ski socks if you live somewhere with rough winters, or a basket of doggie treats if you know they have a dog,” says Smith.
Sanitation workers: $15 to $30 per worker. But beware—different municipalities have different rules, and some dictate that sanitation workers can’t be tipped in cash. If you’re permitted to give a gift, hand it to them in person, or put it in a brightly colored envelope and tape it to the inside of your garbage can.
Car wash: $10 to $20 per worker, but only if it’s an establishment that you frequent
Newspaper delivery person: $25 to $50
Food delivery person: $20 to $50, but only if you use the same person often, whether they work at a grocery store or restaurant. “We order pizza from the same place over and over again,” says Smith, “and even though I tip every time they bring the pizza, at the end of the year I’m going to tip a little bit extra.”
This article was originally published in The Wall Street Journal on November 21, 2022, and written by Kevin J. Ryan
- Image courtesy of iStock/Buy Side from WSJ Photo Illustration
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