A Brief Guide to Holiday Tipping

I'm getting more requests this year for holiday tipping info than ever before. For example, Nina wrote: “Can you provide some guidelines for Holiday Tipping Etiquette for the holiday season? I'm at a complete loss…”

To be honest, I don't know much about holiday tipping. It's not something I was raised with. I covered it briefly in my guide to how much to tip, but I'm basically as in the dark as Nina is. To learn more about the subject, I did a little research. I learned that in some places and for some jobs, holiday tipping is customary.

The December 2009 issue of Consumer Reports includes a survey on holiday tipping habits. Housekeepers are by far the most commonly tipped profession. A full 75% of folks tip their cleaning person — and no wonder. More than half tip their child's teacher. Other than that, holiday tipping is more sporadic. (Only 8% tip the trash collector.)

Here are some general holiday tipping guidelines:

  • Holiday tipping is never required. Even when it's the social norm, you shouldn't tip if you can't afford it or you don't feel the person deserves it.
  • Tipping tends to be more common (and on a larger scale) in big cities than in small towns. The best way to determine the etiquette in your area is to ask around.
  • In general, you should consider giving a holiday tip to the folks who take care of your home and family, especially those you see often. The more often you see someone and the longer you've known them, the more you should tip. (Someone who works in your home regularly — such as a housekeeper — usually expects a tip.)
  • For personal services like manicures, massages, pet grooming, and fitness training, tip up to the cost of one session, but only if you see the same person regularly. For example, if you get a $60 massage every six weeks, your holiday tip should be about $60.
  • Public servants are not allowed to accept cash tips in the U.S., but it's acceptable to give a non-cash gift of up to $20. You might give a plate of cookies to your mail carrier, for example, or a book or a gift certificate to your child's teacher.
  • When you give a tip, include a card or a hand-written note thanking the person for their service.
  • If you tip cash, crisp new bills make a better impression than old wrinkly ones.

Here's a list of people who often receive holiday tips and what they typically receive:

  • Babysitter: one week's pay
  • Nanny: one week's pay
  • Housekeeper: one week's pay
  • Gardener: one week's pay
  • Doorman: $10 to $100, depending on what they do for you
  • Garbage collector: $15 to $25
  • Janitor: $15 to $25
  • Newspaper delivery person: $15 to $25
  • Parking attendant: $15 to $25

This is just a list of people who commonly receive holiday tips. Tipping service people with whom you have regular contact can build goodwill. Everyone likes to feel appreciated; we tend to remember the little gestures others make on our behalf. If you want to tip the bus driver, go ahead. Use your best judgment.

Further reading: The New York Times Bucks blog recently ran a series on holiday gift-giving and tipping etiquette. You can read part one, part two, and part three.

What's your experience with holiday tipping? Is it customary in your area? Who gets tipped and how much?

Photo by mysza831.

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Andrew @  webuildyourblog.com
Andrew @ webuildyourblog.com

It’s always difficult to know what’s right and what’s wrong.

Here in the UK, I tip the newspaper boy $15 (approx sterling to $ conversion), the gardener, $30 and our rubbish collectors, $30.

When we go our for our Christmas dinners it tends to be more – about 15 – 20% – mainly because we’ve had too much to drink and feel more generous!

Andrew

marie
marie

I don’t have any of the above, but what about apartment building managers? Do they need a tip?

Gladys Nobriga
Gladys Nobriga

This is exactly my question! My Manager goes above and beyond her duties, no matter what time of the day or night, she helps you! Some tenants think they are intitled to her kindness so therefore don’t believe in tipping her! They can afford it!

Tootie
Tootie

Don’t forget your mail carrier! Per post office rules, I don’t think they can accept more than $20, so I usually give a $20 gift card and some baked goods.

Erin
Erin

A friend of mine didn’t know after his first year living in Manhattan that it’s customary to tip the doorman at the holidays and didn’t do so. The doorman was very offended and was very rude and unhelpful to him after that. His friends were horrified to find he hadn’t tipped his doorman and clued him in. So if you live in NYC in a doorman building make sure to tip, the doorman can make your life miserable if you don’t! It’s not fair because a tip is supposed to be discretionary, but someone who works at your home has… Read more »

Manuel
Manuel

Erin raises a good point, tips should not be expected, but in some cases that’s become the quasi standard. Doormen are an interesting phenomenon, they have tremendous power over your life from receiving mail to letting your friends into the building. I think if you can afford to live in a building with a doorman, you ought to be able to afford to tip him. As to knowing about the etiquette, there a tons of resources out there, GRS is just one of them (thank you for summarizing though).

Jenn S.
Jenn S.

I usually give my hair stylist a nice holiday tip – I’ve been seeing the same person for 10 years, so I think my $40 cash tip in December is a worthy investment for keeping my hair in shape. We give our dogwalker the equivalent of 2 weeks’ pay – $110, which is more than is generally recommended, but we think its more than fair for the excellent care she takes with our dog. We take a week off for the holidays, so the 2-weeks’ value tip pays her for that week off, plus another week as a thank you.… Read more »

PK
PK

Every year I see these blog posts, and honestly until reading it in the blogs I had NEVER heard of tipping at Christmas time for anything. I think it’s ridiculous. For example the doorman. I used to live in a condo that had several guys that would work the door. However, they don’t actually DO anything they just watch the door and sometimes receive packages if they arrive late enough in the night. They were all retired gentlemen, so widowers, that lived in the building. As a board member of the HOA, I knew how much they made to just… Read more »

No Debt Plan
No Debt Plan

If my parents did holiday tipping when I was growing up then I was completely ignorant of it. I had never heard of tipping during the holidays until a few years ago. It baffles me and we don’t do it. I suppose we might be unique because we don’t pay anyone to maintain our yard, or clean our house, or be a doorman… 🙂 Maybe I should tip my wife and she can tip me! I’ve always thought that if the service provider expects a tip then why don’t they just build that expected income into their costs? I also… Read more »

Jackie
Jackie

I tip my massage therapist everytime I see her, but other than a mail carrier (who seems to change frequently now) the only service provider I use from the list is the trash collector. And our trash is a huge barrel in the alley that serves multiple houses. Really it’s never crossed my mind to tip for that.

I don’t think the kind of tipping described here is very common in this area. Maybe in the wealthy areas where people do have all those services, I don’t know.

Beth
Beth

I found this list kind of funny because I don’t have any of these service providers except a hair dresser (who I tip throughout the year) and a building manager. I guess if you can afford all these services, you can afford to tip.

Kris
Kris

I’m still not sure how people go about tipping their garbage collectors! Ours come by at 6 in the morning or after we’ve left for work, and the checks go to a company (Groot) not a person.

I have to say I don’t tip the postal carrier, especially since at Christmas you never know if the person picking up the mail that day is your regular carrier or not. I do tip my hair stylist when I have one I see regularly.

Honestly, the amounts shown for tips are close to what I spend on family members’ gifts.

Little House
Little House

This is good to know. I was completely clueless on tipping etiquette as well. Luckily for me, the only person on the list that I may need to tip this year is my gardener. I’m glad that I don’t have a long list of people to tip!

kdice
kdice

I do different things… I just got back from dropping off pointsettia plants to our dentist and eye doctor’s offices… both have office staffs that are exceptionally friendly and accommodating and we have gone there for years… but I can’t tip each of them. I’m giving a $20 gift card to the newspaper delivery person for the first time this year because for the first time we have someone who gets the paper to us on time ALL the time. This year I’m wondering about my yoga instructor at a large gym… she’s really good, but I’m not sure about… Read more »

Brent
Brent

Problem for me is that the only person that I see regularly is the janitor at work. I don’t have a fixed haircutter, don’t see the mailman, or the garbage collector and don’t have much in the way of routine service. Tipping never made a whole lot of sense to me. It seems to me to be a leftover from a fuedal/haggling type of system. Seems that in a day of standardized pricing and labor liquidity we could just include it in the price and if the service wasn’t good enough to ask for a discount under threat of losing… Read more »

Clare
Clare

Don’t forget daycare! Emily Post says “A gift from you or $25-$70 for each staff member and a small gift from your child(ren).” My brother’s girlfriend works at a daycare – she usually gets some baked goods “from the child”, and a gift card from the parents. They definitely make your life easier, so I think it’s worth it!

JJ
JJ

I was a paper carrier in the 1990s. About half the houses I delivered papers to tipped at all, but most of those that did tip would also give a $5-$10 Christmas tip. That was about 50% of the monthly paper delivery bill. I was always pleasantly surprised at Christmas time. I didn’t intentionally give different service to the tippers, but in practice, they did get better service. I spent more time talking with them, and so I was able to find out things like if they were having trouble reaching down to pick up the paper and would prefer… Read more »

stephanie
stephanie

i purchase small gifts for my housecleaner and sitter (my little one usually picks out the gift for his sitter) each year, but i just can’t reconcile an xmas tip for either of these people that is more than the budget my husband and i have set for each other! their service is fabulous, but to holiday tip an employee more than i’d gift to my family doesn’t work for me.

Sara
Sara

I hate tipping! I’m with “No Debt Plan” (#8): if a tip is basically required, why not just charge that much instead of making people guess?

I was taken by surprise when my “sanitation engineer” left a Christmas card (an obvious hint for a tip) with my trash can last week. I had never heard of tipping the garbage collector before!

Rachael
Rachael

For families on a tight budget, all this holiday tipping is prohibitively expensive. As someone else pointed out, add up those suggested amounts and it could exceed the budget I’ve set for my own family during the holidays.

Avistew
Avistew

In France, holiday tipping is called “étrennes”. As far as I know, it’s only common to give it to children in your family (if you’re a grandparent or uncle) and to the “concierge” (person who cleans the building you live in and keeps your mail for you.) For the postman, the garbage man and the firemen/police, you buy their calendar. Otherwise, I’ve had experience with gifts (doesn’t count as étrennes if it’s not money I believe), but from the other hand. My father is a doctor and he would always get gifts, not only throughout the year (thanks for saving… Read more »

RMS
RMS

I think if I were a service person I would feel just as happy if you baked me cookies to thank me, but maybe others think differently. In my current job as a consultant for architects, my clients don’t typically thank me by paying me extra! I’ll be happy if they just paid their regular bills on time.

I have found empty envelopes in our mail from fire department or the police during the holidays. Is this normal and is this even allowed?

Brent
Brent

If you have multiple ‘Postal People’ that deliver your mail and you leave a $20 gift card, why should that person that happens to be working that day you leave it out get that gift and not the others?

This goes for garbage collectors too… just seems like this is an antiquated system and I can only see this working for babysitters and maids or someone you regularly see all the time.

Sandy L
Sandy L

My paper boy wrote a letter asking for a tip this year AND he’s terrible. One out of 4 papers never shows. I used to be a waitress, so I tip generously, but this year, he gets nothing. To solicit a tip for bad service is just poor taste. When a paper shows up at 11 am, does that count?

Jay
Jay

Kris @ #11 In Pittsburgh it is customary to tip your garbage collector. Easiest way, outside of getting up early, is to tape an envelope on the underside of the lid. Old hands at the collection company will clip the lid when they remove it. My father gives the collectors a case of beer and a 1/5 of Jack Daniels at Christmas. During the rest of the year he could put dead bodies on the curb and they would pick them up. It is also customary to tip them during the year if you put out a large amount of… Read more »

partgypsy
partgypsy

I’m thinking the Christmas tipping started because a)it is a replacement for salary for service people who depend on tips who have unadvertent time off during the holidays because restaurant is closed, people on holiday etc, or b) for people who work all year round for you who have more work to do during the holidays (doorman, postal carriers), to thank for extra work. So I think everyone needs to think what works for them. Yes for mail carrier. I’m sorry no, I’m not going to start tipping the garbage man (The city publishes their salaries and they are good… Read more »

Craig
Craig

I live in a walk up so I don’t have to worry about tipping there, but what about mailman?

Cali
Cali

I always tip my housekeeper at Christmas. The amount is equivalent to her bi-weekly rate.

I don’t tip the postal worker, mainly because ours changes throughout the week.

elisabeth
elisabeth

I recently started with a new hairstylist — when I see her tomorrow it will only be the 4th time she’s worked on my hair. I’ve been torn about giving her a holiday greeting/tip, she’s the lead stylist/owner of the salon and some tip guides say “don’t tip the owner,” on the other hand, she’s younger than I am and has fewer resources, and she has been good to my hair… my husband grew up in a big city and wants to tip everyone — the paper deliver, the post man, etc etc, but we live in a small city… Read more »

Tyler Karaszewski
Tyler Karaszewski

This list reads like the list of staff positions at a 19th century English mansion:

Babysitter
Nanny
Housekeeper
Gardener
Doorman
Garbage collector
Janitor
Newspaper delivery person
Parking attendant

Suffice it to say I have none of these people, except a garbage collector, and he’s employed by the city and comes by at something like 5:00AM friday mornings, and I’ve never met him.

I’ve never done any “holiday tipping” nor have I ever known anyone who has, as far as I know. Is this a regional thing? Common only in certain economic classes? I’ve never even heard of it except on the internet.

KateMTP
KateMTP

My friend Cari was talking about getting her bus drivers during the work week a gift card at Starbucks. Would this be as sufficient as tipping? It is the thought that counts, right?

K.L.
K.L.

… one more reason to feel bah-humbuggish at the holidays… more guilt to push people to spend, spend spend. As Kris said (post 11), the amounts mentioned for tips here are equivalent to what I spend on my family members! (to be fair, I make a lot of gifts, so I spend more time than money in many cases) I did hire a housekeeper this year b/c I have three jobs (two very part time), but she’s getting a 20% tip for her visit this time, plus a small homemade gift and a nice note. Maybe she’ll find that insulting-?

Shane
Shane

I hate the tip system. Especially when I go out to eat. For the high price of meals, I thought it included the cost of service. I guess I am wrong, because I have to slap a big old fat tip on top of the already outrageous price. And not only that, but servers except nothing less than 20% now. I always thought 15% for the service that is expected of them, and 20% for exceptional.

Johnny Cash Forever
Johnny Cash Forever

Instead of thinking of it as tipping, think of it as giving. It doesn’t have to be cash nor does it have to be extravagant. It just has to show the recipient that you sincerely appreciate what they (willingly) do for you. Plus, in the spirit of the season, doesn’t giving make you feel good?

“Give generously to him and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to.”

— Deuteronomy 15:10

Sam
Sam

I tip my dog sitter about $50 which is basically her monthly fee (so way more than one session but she takes care of my most important possession). I tip my hairdresser each visit, and I tip her well, so I don’t necessarily tip her again at the holidays unless she has provided extra special services during the year (like the year of my wedding when she did my makeup and hair, or if she comes by my house to do my hair [she lives near me] or makes an extra special effort to squeeze me in when I’m desperate).

Lauren
Lauren

@Jay #24 —

I’ve lived just outside of Pittsburgh my entire life, and I’ve never heard of anyone tipping their trash collectors. Most people in my neighborhood don’t even use trash cans (I don’t). Maybe it is very neighborhood type thing?

Laura
Laura

Tipping our trash collector would be difficult — he doesn’t even get out of the truck. The truck has a mechanical arm on it that grabs the trash can and tips it into the truck automatically. The recycling collectors do work outside the truck, but I’ve never seen them at work.

Our postal carrier is probably tip-worthy, though — we’re technically on a rural route. Perhaps a gift card for a gas station?

The Broken Penny
The Broken Penny

I never needed to consider what the going rate was for these type of services until this year. Due to our long work hours we hired a dog walker 2 days a week. The weekly cost is $30 dollars, so I think it would be appropriate to give a $25-$30 dollar gift card. Good point about giving crisp bills if paying in cash as well! It defiantly makes a better impression

Siggy
Siggy

@KateMTP: It’s only a good gift if your friend knows they drink coffee. For some reason coffee drinkers seem to take that as a universal given. The thought that should count is whether the giver cares enough about the receiver to put some thought into the gift. If not, why even bother with the gift? Can you imagine giving a bus driver a Gamestop gift card without knowing whether or not he enjoys video games? For people I want to gift who are more or less strangers, I like gift cards for department stores. Even if they don’t shop at… Read more »

AnnieSez
AnnieSez

If we’re not suppost to tip the mail carrier more than $20, then why do they accept $50 each year? I did not know there was a limit…especially since it’s a “financial” sacrifice for me. As for the garbage persons, I never see them. I’m I suppose to take a day off from work in order to give them a tip?

Marie
Marie

How exactly does a person tip the garbage men? They come at 3 in the morning, and the actual number of persons varies constantly. Do people just tape bills to the trash can, and hope it divides evenly?

J.D.
J.D.

Folks, you should never tip if you don’t feel it’s appropriate. If you never see your garbage collector, and you’d have to take off work to tip him, then don’t tip. I’d argue that you it doesn’t make sense to tip a garbage collector that isn’t somehow getting out and manually hauling away the trash. If he sits in the cab of his truck and uses the automatic arm, is that really tip-worthy?

chacha1
chacha1

@ Jay 24 – LOL. Your dad has clearly figured out what works for him! (and his trash guys) Our city has very well-compensated public employees and we don’t get “personal” service from any of them, so we don’t tip that way. And no doorman, no housekeeper, no nanny, no dogwalker, no no no. But DH does buy a pocket full of $5 Starbucks gift cards and gives those to the ladies at his manicure place, to the car washer, to the staff at his mailbox service, etc. And we give a small token to the resident manager in our… Read more »

Dobie
Dobie

My personal opinion is that the concept of holiday tipping is ridiculous. Why would I tip someone extra just because it is the holidays? Why should I feel obligated to pay someone extra for doing the job they are being paid to do? That said – I love Christmas. I enjoy giving gifts to people I know well. I don’t use most of the services mentioned, but I can hope that if I had a maid in my home every week to help take care of me and my home, I would have a close enough relationship with that person… Read more »

Jen
Jen

I hate the idea of tipping for these service providers. They make a normal wage like the rest of us, why tip? I always tip 20% in a restaurant, I am not cheap, it just doesn’t make sense to tip a garbage collector or a mail carrier. At least they get pensions and health insurance, most of us don’t get that. I do tip daycare workers and buy a present for teachers since my kids have a personal relationship with them. I tip my hairdresser $30 every time I go in, if I have to pay her for a whole… Read more »

Golfing_Girl
Golfing_Girl

I’ve heard of giving garbage men cases of beer and such for Christmas (but I’d wonder when to leave it out so no one else takes it). Since we don’t have a trash can than can be automatically lifted (and most others do), I guess that would warrant a tip? Anyone who has to deal with trash everyday deserves something special IMO! That being said, we’ve only historically tipped the babysitter (I cut DH’s hair and we don’t have any other services like the maid, gardener, etc.). Now that our daughter is in school, I’m giving her teacher and her… Read more »

Nina
Nina

J.D., thanks for the insightful response!

Nancy L.
Nancy L.

When we lived in a doorman building in Manhattan, the expectation wasn’t that you just tipped the doormen (and supers), but that you did so in a very specific fashion. You had to stagger your tips according to the “level” of each recipient. So, my husband and I would make a list of everyone, figure out how much $$ we were able to give, and then break down the tips accordingly. The head super got the most, the weekend doormen got the least. And you didn’t want to cheapen out on them, bc they had a lot of control over… Read more »

Leah
Leah

I was a regular babysitter for lots of families for over a decade, and I never received a holiday tip. I never expected one either. I may have gotten a few extra bucks, and I definitely got paid more for babysitting around the holidays (maybe $1-3 more an hour? and TONS more on New Year’s Eve, but I typically babysat for 10-20 kids with a friend and made bank). I do like your emphasis on not tipping unless you’d like to. I like the idea of keeping the tip as an unexpected surprise rather than an obligation for most people.… Read more »

Des
Des

“I guess if you can afford all these services, you can afford to tip.” I hate this sentiment and what it represents. There are all these hidden social expectations when your income increases. I understand percentages (like tithing 10%) but its more than that. A couple we know make about a third of what we make, but have the *same* discretionary income as us after you account for our increased taxes and their welfare benefits. Then on top of that we are expected to give more because “we have the money.” We have more money but we also have to… Read more »

BG
BG

I beleive that if you cannot afford to tip you should not let someone else do anything for you. Going out to eat?? if you don’t want or cannot afford to leave a tip I suggest you stay home. It is nice to reward people that work for you. I give gifts to my babysitter,my son’s teachers,the crossing guard and my immeadiate family(my son/husband) my parents get gifts all year round,so I normally would just send a picture card of my family for the holidays. My brothers and sisters do not expext anything just a phone call,because that would put… Read more »

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