Cash is king when it comes to holiday tips: Give cash if you can--and cash if you can't.
But if you really can't, read on.
In preparation for Holiday Tipping Week on BrickUnderground, We polled about 20 building staff members in New York City to find out what--besides cash--they'd like to receive from the most cash-strapped tenants
1. Gift cards or vouchers. A big "Hell Yes" to a Visa or American Express gift card. Yes also to Starbucks or Duane Reade gift cards. Target, Amazon, whatever. In fact, a Midtown doorman in a luxe rental building told us that to him, gift cards are “in the same gift category as cash."
Who would say no to a pair of movie vouchers? Or even a movie rental voucher? iTunes gift cards are always appropriate (at least, if you know your doorman likes music and likes to listen to music to pass the time).
Starbucks occupies a favored rung on the gift card hierarchy, particularly with the nightshift.
These things can be bought in bulk, at a discount, online or at places like Costco (we're fans of the movie tickets and Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf cards from Costco and the iTunes cards from Sam's Club for example).
Or if you get gift cards throughout the year--maybe from work or as a "reward" for spending a certain amount on a credit card--you might consider saving them for year-end tips.
Restaurant vouchers are not a bad idea either, say the building staff we spoke with, as long as the place is not too exotic. (Unless you know they like that kind of thing), or for too pricey a place (i.e. the tip they'd have to leave would be more than what they'd like to spend on an entire meal).
2. Tickets. Maybe you have a membership that gives you a great deal on Broadway shows. Perhaps you have tickets to see the Knicks do their thing. Even if you're not sure if your staffer will like the show, say the doormen we spoke with, tickets to go see something is a great option especially if you can personally recommend the show. It may give them the chance to experience something new, or push them to go out and “use the city more, like we always say," one doorman told us.
3. A bottle of wine or liquor. Along with a plate of cookies, if you must. (Yes, what about that plate of cookies? I'll come to that). A bottle of alcohol may be a bit of a soft option, but again, as far as "the thought that counts" goes, a thought accompanied by a decent bottle of wine or tipple of their choice is always welcome. (Steer away from the Two Buck Chuck. I mean, please.)
For this, it helps to know your recipient well enough to know what they like to drink (you may want to ask before just in case they're vehemently anti-drinking).
Careful, though. As one long-time doorman pointed out "the cleaners in the neighborhood give us wine for giving them business." So if the cleaners are handing out bottles, you should step it up a bit. Again, a bottle you're happy to recommend will always be appreciated more. A case of good wine will run you something, but here's where re-gifting bottles from friends or a wine club could come in handy.
4. Anything, really. Like a plate of cookies, or a fruitcake. Or, as a wizened building attendee on West 84th Street put it, “how about just some holiday cheer for once? That would be a nice change from some people.”
See gift-giving to your building staff in the same light as you would giving to a more personal acquaintance. In other words -- put some thought into it.
When asked what he would consider a lovely present, one Chelsea doorman promptly replied "a warm hat or a scarf."
An Upper West Side doorman said he was once given a really nice dress shirt and he thought that was pretty cool. It may have been a re-gift or not, but it suited his style perfectly and “it didn’t feel random.”
Of course, this is not possible in all buildings -- small buildings with small staffs are much more conducive to "being a family" as I heard over and over from nearly all doormen in such buildings. But even in the larger rental buildings, a present with some thought can hit the spot just as well.
The fact is, the thought does count. Unless you’re in “one of those buildings on the East Side” building staff doesn’t expect that much, and they don’t expect it from everybody.
If you’re one of those residents that’s always asking the desk guy to run up and check if you left the oven or the lights on, or run your packages up to your apartment, unpack them, and then recycle the packing materials, you probably should show your appreciation in some material way.
But if you’re really hard up this year, don’t improvise by re-gifting some candles or questionably-scented perfume. Don’t worry about it. They probably know already know your situation, and -- at least for one year --they’ll understand.
Take BrickUnderground's 2012 'Naughty vs Nice' Holiday Tipping Poll