December 4, 2018
Of the people who make our lives simpler, cleaner, safer, and easier on the eyes all year-round, a survey by Consumer Reports has found that we are most likely to gift our housekeepers during the holidays—and least likely to tip our trash collectors.
Indeed, fully 60% of us gave gratuities to one or more service providers during the holidays last year, according to the results of the inquiry; which was conducted last spring, in order to ensure that the 2,000-plus respondents remembered what they had given during 2017.
Overall, Americans doled out an average of $45 in tips—up $5 from the prior year. The majority of those fringe benefits were in cash.
“Cash is going to be most prized,” Thomas P. Farley, a New York-based etiquette expert also known as Mister Manners, told the magazine. “Don’t forget, the people we tip may have their own tips they have to give out.”
Housekeepers received the largest gratuities—usually up to one day’s salary—an average of $65. And although just 30% of Americans who used a gardener tipped those service providers, the landscapers who did get tips raked in an average of $50. Hairdressers (52% of whom were gifted) and garbage collectors (14%) were on the lower end of the spectrum, each receiving a median tip of $20.
While it seems as if everyone has a hand out during the holidays, deciding whom to tip doesn’t need to be complicated, Daniel Post Senning, the great-great-grandson of etiquette maven Emily Post and a spokesperson for the Emily Post Institute, told Consumer Reports.
“To simplify the process, just consider tipping service providers in key areas of your personal life,” he says.
Such people may include those who take care of your family—say, a nanny or health aide—as well as those who take care of your home, like a housekeeper or handyman. Just under half of respondents (41%) made sure to tip their pet-care providers—and the median value was $25.
Where you live can also have a major impact on whom you tip. Senning, who lives in rural Vermont, tips the person who plows his driveway when it snows. For someone in southern Florida, though, the tip may go the person cleaning the swimming pool.
New Yorkers and other urbanites often grapple with how much to tip a doorman, apartment superintendent, or other building worker. There’s no clear answer, but Farley suggests talking to other building residents to get an idea of what’s appropriate. The sum can vary a lot, depending on whether you live in a walk-up row house with a part-time super or in a full-service luxury flat.
You can also consider giving to those who help you look good and stay healthy, such as a stylist, barber, or personal trainer.
Senning pointed out that in some cases it’s inappropriate to tip. “Be careful when it comes to salaried professionals,” he says. “Nurses and doctors, for example, are professionals you shouldn’t tip.”
How about teachers? Consumer Reports’ survey found that 57% of Americans with school-aged children gave teachers a holiday gift. That, however, is not always such a good idea. “You don’t want to create the impression of any tit-for-tat, or that you’re paying someone who is grading your kids,” Senning says.
He advises that you check the gift-giving policy at your child’s school before giving teachers a present. If it’s okay with the school, Senning recommends collecting money for a gift that’s from the entire class. “Make sure it’s clear that the gift comes from everyone, whether they’ve contributed or not,” he says. “The same goes in the office if you’re planning to give a gift to the boss.”
The sense of obligation can feel stressful and awkward to many people, Senning says.
However, there are ways to ease your jangled nerves. “Rather than looking at tipping as an obligation, we should think of it as an opportunity to honor the people that make our lives better,” Senning says.
A gift or prepaid card, placed in a greeting card with a sincere message of thanks, can be a good alternative to the awkwardness of handing over cash. Farley says he prefers bank-based gift cards, like those from Visa or American Express, that aren’t connected to a particular retailer. “I don’t want to presume that the person has a need to download more music on iTunes,” he says.
Senning says that you also can consider sending a gift basket or a tin of cookies. Because those gifts can be shared, they’re especially useful in places where a number of workers provided you with service.
One way of giving to avoid is a peer-to-peer payment through a service such as Apple Pay, Venmo, or Zelle, Farley says. “The act of actually handing someone something, shaking their hand, and thanking them is lost in a P2P transaction,” he notes. “If there were ever a time to give P2P a rest, it would be the holidays, when we’re really looking for the human connection.”
And a few more words of advice from Consumer Reports
- Be aware that the U.S. Postal Service restricts the gifts that mail carriers can accept. Presents worth up to $20 are fine, but carriers can’t accept cash.
- Don’t give food unless you’re certain the recipient can eat it. With many people changing to more restrictive diets, your symbol of generosity might end up regiftedor thrown out. Similarly, not every recipient would appreciate wine or spirits as a gift.
- If you’re giving cash, go to your bank to get nice, crisp bills, which present better and show a bit more effort on your part.
- If you really can’t afford to buy a gift or give cash—and don’t feel you have the talent or time to bake or make a gift—a heartfelt note of thanks is better than no recognition at all. As Senning points out, money isn’t everything. “We like to say that holiday tipping is really holiday thanking,” he says.
Research contact: @octavionyc