Tipping pools: How they work and who they work for

By Marjorie Cohen  |
December 5, 2012 - 9:10AM

In an effort to alleviate the maelstrom of doubt that grips apartment dwellers every year at tip time, some buildings organize a holiday tipping pool for their staff. But even the tipping pool can be a delicate thing.

Here's how it works: Residents put whatever amount they wish into the pool, which is collected by the super in a rental building and often by the board in a co-op or condo.The total collected is then divided by a formula set  by management and/or the board, which usually apportions the funds according to seniority and full-time or part-time status.  

Only a handful of the 90 buildings his company manages have chosen the tipping pool solutions, says property manager Michael Wolfe, president of Midboro Management.

As Wolfe explains, this system can save embarrassment if someone doesn't want to tip a particular person and may also help a  “not very generous” tipper save face.

Some feel that it is a way of assuring equal treatment of all tenants by the staff — no special favors for the big tippers, no obvious slights for the little ones. 

The tipping pool method operates in only three to five of the 175 buildings that Halstead manages, says Paul Gottsegen, president of Halstead Management Company. Gottsegen thinks the method is only practical in large buildings, with many employees.

Some tenants like the convenience, he says, but most give individual tips in addition to what they put into the pool.  Big tippers generally avoid pooling--continuing to give individual tips rather than anonymous pooled ones--in order to receive the appropriate recognition and credit from the staff.

Wolfe reminds us that "just because you don't see the guy cleaning the lobby and hauling garbage on the midnight shift doesn't mean that he's not working really hard."

Gottsegen agrees: “The porter working behind the scenes is as deserving of a tip as the more visible doorman.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, it's the front of the building staff that is often least enthusiastic about the pool arrangement and its potential to more evenly distribute tips among the front and back end of the house.

As  real estate lawyer Eric Goidel pointed out to BrickUnderground last year, tipping pools don't necessarily reward service.

"Pooling assures that all employees receive tips," he said "but it does not ensure that tips are fairly distributed to reflect the perceived value of particular employees. Pools can encourage a 'lowest common denominator' effect, as individual staff members may not see going the extra mile as worthwhile anymore."

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Marjorie Cohen

Contributing writer

Marjorie Cohen is a New York City-based freelance journalist, editor and author of over seven non-fiction books. Her real estate reporting has appeared in amNewYork, Investopedia, and The West Side Rag. Since moving to New York five decades ago for graduate school at the Teachers College of Columbia University, Marjorie has lived on the Upper West Side, with a brief detour to West 15th Street when she got six months free rent in a new building.

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