When it comes to doling out below-market gratuities to the building staff, there are three kinds of apartment dwellers: Those forced by circumstance, those who undertip by design, and those who do it out of ignorance. Read on for the consequences...
Frugal by circumstance
Who: Under- or unemployed as well as retired residents on fixed incomes.
Consequences: Though some staff say they won’t perform extra work for free inside these residents’ apartments, most say they don’t treat this group any differently from regular tippers. In fact, many doormen we spoke to say if they receive a low tip—particularly from someone who normally tips fine—they automatically attribute it to financial trouble and that there is no need to say “wish I could do more.”
Example: With profits from his high-end renovation business down last year, one downtown condo owner says he tipped the 20-person staff about 30 percent less. He didn't detect any ill will.
"It was reflective of the economy, so the staff understood," he says. He expects to give at 2008 levels this year.
Who: This group of undertippers includes residents who are frugal by choice rather than circumstance; those who reject holiday tipping as a form of blackmail; those who reward bad service with bad tips; and short-term tenants or subletters who assume tipping is the owner’s responsibility, or who don’t plan on living there long enough to reap the benefits of a decent tip.
Consequences: Some staff maintain that they extend the same degree of service to good tippers and bad tippers alike: “What can you do, not open the door for them?” says the doorman of a large postwar co-op on lower Fifth Avenue. “It just has to be the same.”
But others admit to a change in behavior: “You don’t exile or excommunicate them,” the doorman of a 60-unit Upper West Side prewar co-op told us. “It’s just more of an attitude that changes.” That means fewer smiles at the door. It can also translate into fewer favors like bending delivery rules, putting up a shelf, walking your dog, unlocking your door without charging a lockout fee.
(Note: If you hand out a low tip to a low-performing staff member, assume that he or she will find out how their tip compares to the others you dole out. Especially in smaller building, staff gossip about who gives what.)
Example: An Upper East Side co-op owner in a 20-employee building plans to cut his super's tip in half this year (to $50) because the super hasn't been responsive to complaints about inconsistent hot water.
He is not worried about the consequences for two reasons: "To be honest, our super is old and on the way out soon." Also, he says, "The porters in the back and the handymen get everything done. I go to them primarily."
He plans to bump up tips to employees lower on the totem pole this year, to about $50 each. But the elevator man will get the highest amount, $100, because the co-op dweller sees him the most--and because the elevator operator is a fellow Red Sox fan.
Who: Newer, younger residents who don’t have a clue, and much older residents whose tips haven’t gone up much since the Nixon era.
Consequences: Frequently, less service for the first group, but it probably won't bother them since they won’t know what they are missing anyway. For the second demographic, consequences can range anywhere from business as usual to a pay-as-you-go approach toward extra work or favors.
Example: Newly separated from her husband a few years ago and spending her first holiday alone, one apartment dweller was in the dark about how much to give the 19 staff members in her Upper West Side building, many of whom had helped her move in. She wound up giving some back-of-the-house staff $10, while the super got $50. Service was "poor" afterward, and after asking around in the following weeks, she learned she should have given more.
"I had a feeling of inadequacy," she said. She bumped up her tips the next two years before moving out (the super received $100) but it didn't seem to make much of a difference. Whether she had gotten off on the wrong foot or the staff underperformed for everyone, she never knew.