The tense art of celebratory tipping

THE CHRISTMAS CAROL “Silver Bells”, first recorded by Bing Crosby, more or less captures the festive mood in New York. “City sidewalks, busy sidewalks | Dressed in holiday style,” he purrs. “Street Lanterns | Even traffic lights flash bright red and green | While the buyers rush home with their treasures.” All that’s missing is a text about tips on vacation. In the Big Apple, it’s not just Santa who worries about lists. Many New Yorkers make “tip lists” — and double-check them.

Festive tips go to those who make life easier for New Yorkers. Bouncers, dog walkers, caterers, garage attendants, barbers, nannies, yoga instructors and the like all expect a Christmas tip. Trying to figure out who to tip and how much is as much a part of seasonal planning as picking a tree or eating Chinese on Christmas Day.

Tips are given as thanks for services rendered; if not a formal requirement, they are expected in America. At Christmas time it is customary to give a dog walker the equivalent of a week’s wages. A nanny should be paid for one to two weeks. Grocery delivery 20-25% per order. Streeteasy, a real estate website, suggests tipping FedEx or UPS couriers $20.

Tipping porters is particularly vulnerable. Some residents say they consider their bouncers almost family. They are trustworthy, discreet and look out for the safety of residents, including children. Nobody wants to give too little – or too much. “It’s all so potentially embarrassing,” says one stressed-out New Yorker. Elaine Swann, an expert on etiquette, suggests that as long as a tip isn’t given in a crumpled ball, it’s likely to be gratefully accepted. But to avoid inconvenience, she adds, many donors these days use electronic payment systems like cell.

At least among bouncers, cash is still king. Every bouncer your correspondent has interviewed says that while cookies or poinsettia potted plants are all very good, they always hope for an accompanying envelope of money. One, standing at the entrance of a swanky building on Park Avenue, says celebratory tips accounted for a tenth of his annual income in 2021.

How much bouncers get can depend on the type of building. On average, tenants are more stingy with tips than owner-occupiers. For those who toil in posh buildings along Fifth Avenue, especially executives, tips can run into the thousands. “You could get $900 from a resident and $60 from the neighbor,” says a bouncer.

Those in luxury apartments overlooking Central Park may be an exception. But most New Yorkers, including bus drivers and teachers, live in buildings where it’s customary to tip a janitor or porter. Even during the pandemic, when many employees were able to stay at home, appreciation for those doing their jobs grew. Streeteasy suggests giving a bouncer $25 to $150 and maintenance workers $25 to $75. Streeteasy’s Casey Roberts says, “It’s really just about showing your appreciation.”

Most recipients are grateful for everything they receive. A facility manager says a colleague sees them as a gift rather than a tip. “He doesn’t open the envelopes right away. He will happily wait and open them all on Christmas Eve.”

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