Just because tips are expected to be on the lighter side this year doesn't mean they will be any less fraught with the usual uncertainty, awkwardness, anxiety, and potential for repercussions.
BrickUnderground has compressed its annual attempt to answer your most pressing tipping questions into this tidy, hopefully comprehensive FAQ. And remember to take our two-click 2011 Holiday Tipping Poll to find out what your neighbors are tipping.
How much should I tip the staff?
The precise amount of each tip depends on the size of your building (the bigger the staff, the smaller the individual tips), quality of service, staff seniority, length of time you’ve lived in the building, whether you own or rent (see below), personal chemistry, personal financial circumstances, and whether you're frugal, generous or somewhere in between.
Here's a general framework against which to impose the specifics of your situation:
Super, resident manager: $75 -$175 on average (broad range: $50 - $500)
Doorman, concierge: $25-$150 on average (broad range: $10 - $1,000)
Porter, handyman: $20 - $30 on average (broad range: $10 - $75)
Garage attendant: $25 - $75 avg (broad range $15-$100)
How much should I set aside to tip in total?
Below are the ranges reported by nearly 1,800 respondents to BrickUnderground's 2010 holiday tipping poll. Bear in mind that unlike this year’s poll, last year’s didn’t distinguish between doorman and non-doorman buildings, or between renters and owners.
55% tipped $0-$500
30% tipped $500-$1,000
11% tipped $1,000-$2,000
4% tipped $2000+
How much should I tip non-building workers?
- Cleaning woman/housekeeper: One to two weeks pay.
- Cleaning service: Tip 15-20% throughout the year, as a portion of their earnings goes to the cleaning service. If the same crew cleans your apartment each time, a holiday tip (1 week) is appreciated.
- Full-time nanny: One week pay minimum, or two if you can afford it. Or, one week's pay and one week's vacation.
- Regular babysitter: Consider tipping $25-50 in cash or gift card
- Regular dog walker: One week's pay
- UPS delivery: $25-50 if you have a lot of packages delivered. More if you have a lot of business-related deliveries.
- Mail carrier: By law, mail carriers can't accept cash or anything worth over $20. In reality, some (but by no means most) residents do tip in the $25-$50 range, especially if they receive a lot of deliveries or a lot of mail that requires signatures. For a fuller discussion of the postal carrier tipping question, click here.
FYI, you do not need to tip (nor should you) your property manager, contractor (plumber, electrician etc.), or real estate broker.
Do I have to give a holiday tip?
No. You’ll be in the minority, but tipping the staff at the holidays is a custom, not a requirement. Plenty of staff tell us they treat non-tippers the same as tippers--just as plenty of others admit to extending fewer favors (or making them pay-as-you-go) and fewer smiles to non-tippers.
(For more, see What happens to bad tippers. )
Do renters tip less than owners?
BrickUnderground is hoping to delve more into that via this year’s holiday tipping poll. Our working theory is that renters, as a group, tend to tip less than owners. Here’s why:
- Transience: Tipping levels generally rise along with the amount of time you’ve known the staff—and the amount of time you expect to need their services in the coming year--so part of the renter vs owner tipping disparity has to do with the more transient nature of a renter’s life. (Or of market-rate renters at least. According to NYU’s Furman Center, owners and rent-regulated tenants stay put an average of 16 years and 12 years, respectively, while market-rate renters move every 4 years on average, with a median of 2 years.)
- Renter mentality: Some renters believe that holiday bonuses are the landlord’s responsibility, whereas in a co-op or condo, residents are their own landlord.
- Disposable income: There are far more renters at the early stages of their careers--and earning power--than owners. They simply have less disposable income. Moreover, first-time renters who are also first-time New Yorkers may not be familiar with the custom of holiday tipping.
Should the amount I tip correspond to the rent I pay, or how many people live in my apartment?
Tipping is (theoretically) about rewarding service, not about how big your apartment is or how much you pay for it. If you’re a family of five—or someone who works from home and receives a lot of deliveries or visitors--you probably receive a lot more service from the staff than a 25-year-old equities trader who lives alone.
I’ve had a financial setback and can’t afford to tip as well as I did last year. What should I do?
Staff is accustomed to senior citizens on fixed incomes tipping extra-lightly, and they are usually “forgiven," though some workers say they won’t perform extra services for these residents for free.
As for lost jobs, divorce, etc., many doormen tell us that if they receive a low tip—particularly from someone who normally tips just fine—they automatically attribute it to financial trouble and that there is no need to say “wish I could do more.” Of course, this won’t fly if you’re still taking your annual jaunt to St. Bart’s and waltzing in with Bergdorf’s bags. And if you frequently ask for favors, the “unable to make ends meet" card may eventually run its course.
Do I have to tip at the holidays if I tip all year round?
Residents who tip year round for extra services often go on the lighter side at year's end--at least with the staff who’ve been receiving those a la carte tips.
Should I tip the new doorman the same as the one who’s been here 20 years?
Newer doormen in their first few years of service often receive smaller tips. For instance, a first-year doorman may collect half what a senior doorman does.
When is the best time to give a holiday tip?
Doormen collect year-end tips from December all the way into February, but the bulk crosses palms in the couple of weeks leading up to Christmas.
This is not, however, what the staff necessarily prefers. Many doormen tell us that the beginning of December is better, so they can do their own holiday shopping. A few say they prefer the gratuities to be spread out, cutting down on the temptation to spend it all at once.
Are checks okay or do I have to give cash?
Cash is preferred, but as a precaution against sticky fingers, write a check if you’re handing the tip to a super or another staff member to distribute. (Note: Most doormen we spoke to prefer to get their tips directly rather than via the super or another doorman.)
How do I tip staff I rarely see?
You can ask the super or another staff member to hand out your envelopes but as mentioned above, write a check instead of using cash to reduce the possibility of pilfering. Include a family photo if you think the recipient may not be able to connect your name to your face.
Should I include a card or a note?
A plain white envelope is fine; no expensive cards are necessary. Most people keep notes short and sweet (“Thank you for your help this year” or “We enjoyed seeing your smile”) and that’s perfectly acceptable, though some doormen tell us they do appreciate a personal note explaining what exactly is most valued about their service.
Are food or gifts an acceptable substitute for cash?
They’re appreciated, but until colleges start accepting cookies for tuition payments, gifts are no substitute for money.
My building has a tipping pool. Do I need to give individual tips on top of that?
In practice, many residents continue to tip individually too, at least to the staff they see the most.
Do I have to tip for a full year if I just moved in?
It’s okay to pro-rata your gratuities, unless you didn’t tip for services performed in connection with the move itself.
Do staff tell each other how much they’re tipped?
Some do, so to be on the safe side, assume yes. Also, be aware that many keep lists comparing your tip this year to prior years. You should do the same.
One of my doormen is a total jerk. Do I have to tip him?
Rather than make what amounts to an all out declaration of war by completely withholding a tip, many residents in this position tip on the low end of the scale.
Is it okay to tip my favorite doormen more than the rest?
It’s okay to play favorites, like tipping some doormen better than others depending on how useful they are to you. Just try to keep everyone’s tip within the range of acceptability.
Should I bump up tips each year to keep up with inflation?
You don’t have to be quite that lockstep, but a bump up every two or three years isn’t unreasonable, all other factors being equal.
My building's 'doormen' are actually security guards who don't really do much besides sit there. How much should I tip them?
While some security guards do just sit there, others work just as hard as a doorman. In the former case, it's okay to tip on the light side.
2011 Holiday Tipping Coverage
2010 Holiday Tipping Coverage: