The last few months have been—to put it very lightly—a little contentious, given the tenor of our times. So if the holiday season—with its gift lists, party planning, and tipping etiquette—may have caught you off guard even more so than usual, you're not alone.
[Editor's note: This story first ran in 2013, but has been re-reported and updated to reflect 2016 numbers.]
But the bright side of the holiday season—and in particular, New York City's holiday tipping season—is that in a time of discord, it gives us extra opportunity to give back and show gratitude to the hardworking staff that keep our apartment buildings running like clockwork.
And while tipping is a great way to show your thanks, especially as the season of giving progresses and your doorman or concierge begins to double as your personal package drop (which deserves a little extra when the time comes to hand in the tips, by the way), it's also fraught with pressure: Whom should you tip? How much? When? Or, in some cases, should you tip at all?
Below, we've updated our tried-and-true strategies for mastering the season of Yuletide gratuities, and collected our best FAQs about everything you need to know about holiday tipping pools, as well as alternatives to cash tips, the renter-versus-owner tipping divide, and how to tip staff you hardly ever see. Plus, our two-minute video guide to tipping, and the inside scoop from doormen themselves.
To find out what your neighbors are planning to tip this year, take our two-click annual tipping poll.
Q. Do I have to tip?
No. You’ll be in the minority, but tipping the staff during the holidays is a custom, not a requirement. Many tell us they treat non-tippers the same as tippers, just as plenty of others admit to extending fewer favors and fewer smiles to non-tippers, or subtly encouraging them to "pay as you go"—in other words, tip for each extra service they perform for you.
Q. How much should I tip building staff?
The precise amount depends on the size of your building (the larger the staff, the smaller the individual tips), quality of service, staff seniority, length of time you’ve lived there, whether you own or rent (more on that below), personal chemistry, your financial circumstances, and whether you're frugal, generous or somewhere in between.
Here's a general framework—adjust accordingly:
- Super, resident manager: $75 to $175 on average (broad range: $50 to $500)
- Doorman and/or concierge (the latter of which handles more personal requests, like reservations and wake-up calls): $25 to $150 on average (broad range: $10 to $1,000)
- Porters, handyman, and maintenance staff: $20 to $30 on average (broad range: $10 to $75)
- Garage attendant: $25 to $75 on average (broad range $15 to $100)
Q. How much should I budget in total for the entire building staff?
Much will depend on the size of your staff and the other factors cited above, but it may help to review the results of BrickUnderground's 2015 tipping poll completed by more than 1,400 New Yorkers to get a sense of what others do. Here's an overview:
Q. My building's 'doormen' are actually security guards who don't do much besides sit there. How much should I tip them?
While some security guards do just sit there, others work just as hard as doormen. In the former case, it's okay to tip on the light side.
Q. One of my doormen is a jerk, and I never see my super. Do I have to tip them?
Rather than make what amounts to an all out declaration of war by completely withholding a tip, many residents in this position tip on the low end of the scale.
In Brick Underground's 2012 Naughty vs. Nice Holiday Tipping Poll, 65 percent of nearly 600 voters with "bad" doormen said they still planned to tip them, usually in the range of $25 to $50 apiece. As for those with delinquent supers, only 49 percent of the 455 respondents planned to give them some extra cash, clustering in the lower part of the $25 to $100 range.
Q. Should I tip the new doorman the same amount as the one who’s been here 20 years?
Newer doormen in their first few years of service often receive smaller tips. For instance, a first-year doorman may collect half what a senior doorman does.
Q. Is it okay to tip my favorite doorman more than the rest?
It’s okay to play favorites, like tipping some doormen better than others depending on how useful they are to you. Just try to keep everyone’s tip within the range of acceptability.
Q. Should the amount I tip correspond to the rent I pay, or to how many people live in my apartment?
Tipping is (theoretically) about rewarding service, not about how big your apartment is or how much you pay for it. If you’re a family that enlists a lot of help at the door corraling kids and strollers (or someone who works from home and receives a lot of deliveries or visitors), you probably get more assistance from the staff than a single person who travels a lot for work and doesn't order much online, so tip accordingly.
Q. I’ve had a financial setback and can’t afford as much as last year. What should I do?
The staff is accustomed to senior citizens on fixed incomes tipping lightly, and they're usually “forgiven," though some workers say they won’t perform extra services for these residents gratis.
As for lost jobs, divorce, and other life challenges, many doormen tell us that if they receive a small amount—particularly from someone who normally tips just fine—they automatically attribute it to financial trouble and that there is no need to say “wish I could do more.” Of course, this won’t fly if you’re still taking your annual jaunt to St. Bart’s and waltzing in with Bergdorf’s bags. And if you frequently ask for favors, the “unable to make ends meet" excuse may eventually run its course.
Q. My building has a tipping pool. Do I need to give individual tips on top of that?
In practice, many residents continue to tip individually, too, at least to the staff they see the most.
Q. Why do renters usually tip lower than owners?
Renters, as a group, tend to tip lower than condo and co-op owners in comparable buildings. Here's why:
- Transience: Tips generally rise along with the amount of time you know the staff—and the amount of time you expect to need their services in the coming year—so part of the tipping disparity has to do with the less permanent nature of a renter’s life.
- Landlords: Some renters believe that holiday bonuses are the landlord’s responsibility, whereas in a co-op or condo, residents are their own landlord.
- Disposable income: There are far more renters at the early stages of their careers—and earning power—than owners. They simply have less money to spend on tips. Moreover, first-time renters who are also first-time New Yorkers may not be familiar with the custom of holiday tipping.
- Property values: With so much invested in the building, owners have a bigger stake in how the building is cared for.
Q. Should I tip my landlord or management company?
What? Isn't the rent enough?! No, seriously, there are actually situations where a gift, if not a cash tip, makes sense. If you have a close rapport with your mom-and-pop landlord, a nice bottle of wine is not out of order. Similarly, if you are calling the management company every other day to see if a larger apartment has become available to accommodate your growing family, a little something to stay top of mind (and waitlist) certainly wouldn't hurt.
Q. How much should I tip non-building workers?
- Cleaning person/housekeeper: One to two weeks of pay.
- Cleaning service: Tip 15 to 20 percent throughout the year, as a portion of their earnings goes to the cleaning service. If the same crew cleans your apartment each time, a holiday tip (one week) is appreciated.
- Full-time nanny: One week's pay minimum, or two if you can afford it. Or, one week's pay and one week's vacation.
- Regular babysitter hired occasionally: Consider $25 to $50 in cash or a gift card
- Regular dog walker: One week's pay
- UPS delivery: Since UPS assigns drivers to specific addresses, $25 to $50 if you have a lot of packages delivered. More if you have a lot of business-related deliveries.
- Mail carrier: By law, mail carriers can't accept cash or anything worth more than $20. In reality, some (but by no means most) residents do tip in the $25 to $50 range, especially if they receive a lot of deliveries or a lot of mail that requires signatures. For a fuller discussion of the postal carrier tipping question, click here.
FYI, you do not need to tip your property manager, contractor (plumber, electrician, etc.), or real estate broker.
Q. When is the best time to give a holiday tip?
Doormen collect year-end tips from December all the way into February, but the bulk crosses palms in the couple of weeks leading up to Christmas.
This is not, however, what the staff necessarily prefers. Many doormen tell us that the beginning of December is better, as it helps with their own holiday shopping. A few say they prefer the gratuities to be spread out, cutting down on the temptation to spend it all at once.
Q. Do I have to tip at the holidays if I tip all year round?
Residents who tip year-round for extra services often go on the lighter side at year's end—at least with the staff who’ve been receiving those a la carte tips.
Q. Do I have to tip for a full year if I just moved in?
It’s okay to prorate your gratuities, unless you didn’t tip for services performed in connection with the move itself.
Q. Are checks okay or do I have to give cash?
Cash is preferred, but as a precaution against sticky fingers, write a check if you’re handing the tip to a super or another staff member to distribute. (Note: Most doormen we spoke to prefer to get their tips directly rather than via the super or another doorman.)
Can't afford to tip in cash? All is not necessarily lost. Check out the Brick Underground Guide to Alternative Tipping for some creative workarounds.
Q. Should I include a card or a note?
A plain white envelope is fine; no expensive cards are necessary. Most people keep notes short and sweet (“Thank you for your help this year” or “We enjoyed seeing your smile”) and that’s perfectly acceptable, though some doormen tell us they do appreciate a personal note explaining what exactly is most valued about their service.
Q. Are food or gifts an acceptable substitute for cash?
They’re appreciated, but until colleges start accepting cookies for tuition payments or ConEd for utility bills, gifts are no substitute for money.
Q. How do I tip staff I rarely see?
You can ask the super or another staff member to hand out your envelopes but as aforementioned, writing a check instead of using cash is better to reduce the possibility of pilfering. Include a holiday family photo if you think the recipient may not be able to connect your name to your face.
Q. Do staff tell each other how much they’re tipped?
Some do, so to be on the safe side, assume yes. Also, be aware that some staff members keep lists comparing your tip this year to prior years. You should do the same.
Q. Should I bump up tips each year to keep up with inflation?
You don’t have to be quite that lockstep, but a bump up every two or three years isn’t unreasonable, all other factors being equal.
Q. Are tips tax deductible?
If you run a business from home, you can claim a small deduction of up to $25 per staff member, categorized as a "business gift" on your tax return, says Manhattan accountant Koreen Jervis of Korje Tax Professionals.
The percentage you can deduct must correspond to the amount of your apartment used as office space, however. That means that if your tax return states that 25 percent of your apartment is used for business, you will only be able to claim 25 percent of the $25 deduction, which works out to $6.25 per tippee.