The whole practice of holiday tipping feels like it’s littered with etiquette landmines: How do we decide who to tip, and how to give an amount that feels just the right amount of generous? Is there anyone it’d be weird to tip? What should we do when money’s too tight?
We’re covering all your holiday tipping questions, starting with…
Who exactly should I tip?
Anyone who helps make our lives easier throughout the year, says etiquette expert Elaine Swann. Think: people who regularly help out with our homes, bodies or loved ones, like…
Apartment superintendents, doormen, maintenance staff, garage attendants
Handymen, pool cleaners, lawn care specialists, trash collectors
Babysitters, pet sitters and pet walkers
Hair stylists, massage therapists, personal trainers
How much should I give them?
For caretakers, health and beauty service providers and cleaners, tip the equivalent of one regular session or week’s pay, says Daniel Post Senning, great-great-grandson of etiquette queen Emily Post and cohost of the Awesome Etiquette podcast.
For people who regularly provide a service, but not at a set rate—like your apartment super, handyman or doorman—aim for at least $25 per person, though upwards of $150 may be appropriate, depending on the level of service and your relationship, as well as your budget and region. What’s appropriate in Tennessee may feel low in New York City, for example.
Is there anyone I shouldn’t tip?
No matter how much you love your doctor, it’d be odd to slip her a $50 at your December physical. Same goes for therapists, lawyers and real estate agents—essentially, anyone in white-collar (or white-coat) professions. Be sensitive, too, to tipping anyone if it could be misinterpreted as a bribe, like writing a fat check to your kids’ teachers. Instead, express appreciation with a thoughtful gift, like a tin of homemade cookies.
That’s probably best for public service employees, too. USPS workers, for example, are subject to federal limitations prohibiting cash, gift cards or gifts that exceed $20 in value, and some municipalities prohibit tipping trash collectors. (But if not, a tip between $10-$30 is nice if you’re friendly with your trash collectors.)
What’s the best time to tip?
According to a survey of residential building staff in New York, holiday tips roll in between December and February. But keep in mind that, just like us, the people we tip may factor the extra cash into their own holiday budgets—so the earlier, the better.
What if I can’t afford to give as much as I did last year?
Don’t stress. Budgets change, and one year’s tip doesn’t lock you in for every year to come, Senning says.
Can I make something instead?
Generally, cash or gift cards are most appreciated—even if it’s a small denomination. If that’s outside your budget, try getting a discounted gift card online (they don’t need to know you paid less than face value). Or look for other ways to show your appreciation, like delivering homemade treats or writing a heartfelt card. “The important part is to make the effort to connect with people and thank them,” Senning says.