(Our 2012 Holiday Tipping Guide is here! Check it out>>)

The end of Thanksgiving marks the beginning of tithing season in New York City co-ops and condos.

To help you divine the Right Number, we’ve trolled the message boards, interrogated acquaintances and checked in with building staff to compile a guide to the ultimately subjective science of holiday tipping.  

Our effort is divided into four sections: The basics, the variables, the payback, and some other stuff you should know, even if it hurts a little.

THE BASICS:

Depending on the size of your building, the phalanx of staff members vying for your holiday favors includes the doorman, concierge, porter, superintendent, handyman, elevator operator, and garage attendant.    

While a minority of tippers compensate staff equally regardless of job description, the vast majority tip the super and/or resident manager the most, because their help is more critical to domestic harmony.  Doormen and concierges come next, then elevator operators, with porters and handymen in last place.

Below, we've put together an anecdotally-derived range of tips sorted by job, followed by a narrower range where gratuities seemed to cluster. Your magic number will depend on the variables outlined in the next section--including, most especially, the size of your building.

Super, resident manager:  $75 – $500 ($100 - $150 avg)
Doorman,  concierge:  $50 - $250 ($50 - $150 avg)
Porter, handyman:  $10 - $75 ($20 - $30 avg)
Garage attendant:  $25 - $100 ($50 - $75 avg)

Cash (or check) is king; cookies are appreciated but don’t count.

THE VARIABLES:

  • Building size:  More units generally translates into smaller tips per staff member, but the total amount disbursed in a 300-unit building shouldn’t differ much from a 75-unit building.  One theory holds that the total amount should equal the size of your monthly maintenance, while some residents in large buildings say they try to keep it around $1,000, and others say $500-600 is plenty.
  • Year-round tipping:  People who tip throughout the year—such as $10-20 for each act of above-and-beyond service—typically adjust year-end bonuses lower. 
  • Recessionomics:  It’s not okay to give less because the Dow is down, though flat may be acceptable if things are tight. If you’re unemployed—and you can’t afford to tip, OR shop at Barneys, OR go to the Caribbean this winter—you may get a pass.
  • Partial year:  If you moved in only a few months ago, you can pro-rata your gratuities.  But if you didn’t tip for extra services received during your move—like breaking down all those boxes--consider upping the ante.
  • Bad service:  Bad service is typically rewarded by a tip on the lower end of the scale rather than no tip at all. Fearing revenge, many people are wary of going too far off the reservation.  
  • Good service:  It’s okay to play favorites, like tipping some doormen better than others depending on how useful they are to you. Just keep everyone’s tip within the range of acceptability.
  • Buildings with lots of senior citizens:  Some residents tip on the higher end to compensate for neighbors on fixed incomes who may give lower amounts.

PAYBACK:

Better-than-average tips will probably be rewarded by better service, at least through the beginning of next year. 

Average tips are said to maintain the status quo...no harm, no foul.

The effect of bad tips depends on the worker. Some will behave noticeably worse, though it might be temporary:   An underemployed young woman who tipped in cookies her first year in her co-op tells us she got the cold shoulder from her doormen for a week, but things returned to normal after that.


OTHER STUFF:

  • Cash vs check:  Cash is the preferred vehicle, but if you are relying on someone else to distribute tips to workers you don't see often, write checks as a precaution against sticky fingers.
  • Workers you don’t know: To help them connect up name, face, and dollar amount, put a family holiday photo in the envelope too.
  • Tipping pools:  Some buildings ask residents to contribute to a general fund that is distributed among the staff.  In practice though, many if not most residents continue to tip privately, so don’t think you’re off the hook.
  • Gifts and personal messages:  As one Park Avenue doorman on explained on StreetEasy.com, gifts and personal messages aren’t substitutes for tips, but they are very much appreciated. 
  • Your neighbors are lying about how much they tip:  Among the many fascinating insights packed into Doormen, Peter Bearman’s seminal 2005 sociological study of the liveried species, is the one about how most of us residents underreport the amount we tip.   Apparently, we assume that our neighbors will tip a little bit higher than whatever we tell them, transforming us into cheap tippers, when we would prefer to be at the top or middle-top of the pack in order to get the most payback on our greenbacks.  

Related posts:

A doorman speaks: Yes, Virginia, we keep lists too

Co-op bans holiday tipping

Stiffed again! Doorman blasts bad tippers

 

Note: BrickUnderground articles occasionally include Featured Partners and Resource Directory members when their expertise is relevant to the story.