Tipping is a wonderful way to say "thank you for your service." Giving a holiday tip is definitely the nice thing to do, but it is still optional. Some people give tips because they feel they genuinely received good or special service, but some give tips because they worry that the coming year's service will reflect the amount of any gift given or not given.
During the holidays, it's customary to give a cash tip or gift to the people who provide you with personal service (hairdresser, manicurist, personal shopper), who take care of your children, pets or home (baby sitter, pet groomer, landscaper) and who provide other services (letter carrier, sanitation workers, teachers, barista who always remembers your order). Apartment dwellers may also want to remember attentive doormen and handymen for the holidays.
Some companies frown on employees receiving cash or gifts. For instance, the Postal Service doesn't allow its employees to receive cash or any gift valued at more than $25, and some school districts have rules regarding cash gifts for teachers. You can make sure you are following the rules and not putting anyone's job at risk by asking around or making a phone call to the company headquarters. Alternatives to cash tips can be gift certificates to local restaurants, theaters and stores. In the case of a professional office with multiple staff members, a plant, a tray of cookies or another set of goodies that can be shared is a nice way to say "thank you." Where there is a total no-tip/gift policy, think about making a charitable donation in the honoree's name.
If your budget doesn't allow for too much, it is acceptable to reduce the amount you tip or to substitute homemade gifts or baked goods. Though many service people appreciate cash in hand, it is still nice to be acknowledged with a card and small gesture. Be reasonable, though; if you can't afford to give a tip for certain services, you should consider whether you can afford the services to begin with.
You should always include a small card or note with any gift or tip expressing your gratitude, and never hand open money to the recipient. If you need to leave the tip somewhere (for example, at a concierge desk), enclosing it in the form of a check will help ensure it is received. It's a good idea to keep a yearly record of what you have given and to whom so you know what to aim for the following year. If you believe you have been slighted because of the size of your tip, then look for someone else to provide those services.
With the custom of tipping -- whether it's cash or a gift -- whom to give to and the amount or value vary regionally; however, there are some recommended guidelines. The Emily Post Institute and other etiquette experts make the following suggestions:
--Live-in nanny: up to one week's pay and a small gift from your child.
--Live-in home services (maid, cook): one week to one month's wages.
--Periodic cleaning service, lawn maintenance, snow clearing: up to the amount for one service call, to be split among a regular crew.
--Beauty salon or spa: up to the cost of one visit, to be split among the people who serve you.
--Garage attendant, newspaper delivery person, building handyman: $15 to $40.
--Trash pickup: $10 to $30 each (not municipal employees).
--Doorman, elevator operator: $20 to $80, depending on personal attention.
--Dog walker: up to one week's pay.
--Child's teacher: group collection (up to $25 per student) toward a store/mall gift certificate or gift card. (Keep in mind that teachers often lay out their own money for classroom supplies.)
If you've given regular tips through the year at the time of service, it is acceptable to reduce your holiday gift by approximately half. You do not have to tip your landlord, doctor, lawyer or real estate manager; if you want to express your gratitude, try a tray of cookies, a bottle of wine or a charitable donation.
Whatever you give this holiday season, it should be a true reflection of gratitude for the care and service you've received throughout the year.