Tipping: When do we dip into our wallets and how much?


Everywhere you turn these days, service providers have their hands out waiting for a tip. It can be so off putting. It’s especially top of mind now as we are coming off the holiday season and our wallets are almost on empty. Yet, we care about those who help us throughout the year and want to show it with more than a “thank you” or big smile.   

In New York City, holiday season is traditionally a big time for tipping, especially if you live in a doorman building whether renting or owning. “In A Guide to Tipping Building Staff: Who, When, Why and How Much” writer Cait Etherington, (December 7, 2023) in a CityRealty newsletter, explains: “Every December, building staff across the city leave seasonal cards under residents’ doors…don’t be fooled—these cards, which usually arrive in the first week of December…are the first reminder that it is tipping season.” 

But it happens in rural and suburban locations, too. Barbara’s newspaper delivery people (and Margaret’s postal worker) always leave a card with a note and name at holiday time. There’s often a return envelope inside for guess what? A check or cash! The newspaper delivery person has heeded Barbara’s wishes for the paper to be left on the driveway early—please before 7 a.m. and not the sidewalk and to be wrapped well if it’s raining. Now it’s her time to heed his request for some financial reward… or is it? 

After our palpations subside, we utter a few choice words, roll our eyes and head to the bank. While no one is obliged to tip, choosing not to tip is discouraged if you want good service.

Holiday season aside since it’s over for almost a year, we  wonder why tipping is so pervasive and when to tip, or not. Is it necessary to tip a clerk behind a pastry counter who hands us a cookie or a slice of pizza? What about the doorman who hails a cab or helps carry our luggage to the elevator? How about the owner of a hair salon who cuts and colors our hair? Not so long ago, it was a sort of unwritten rule that you didn’t have to tip that person. You tipped others if they didn’t own the shop. Today, everything has changed, and tips are simply expected. 

To tip or not to tip (and how much), that is the question? Unfortunately, Shakespeare didn’t provide any guidelines for this service. 

Tipping, or a gratuity, is defined by the dictionary as a small amount of money given to a service worker in addition to the basic price of their service. And as prices soar and we have less disposable income, we think the practice has become much more of a conundrum. 

In the past…10 percent seemed a generous amount for a restaurant meal, and then it slowly climbed to 15, then 18 and finally 20 percent. Some restaurants even started to post desired amounts of 15, 20 or 25 percent when you inserted your credit card to pay.

You tipped primarily for a specific service—at a restaurant or hair or nail salon. If you were unhappy for a valid reason, you might lower the amount or at least speak up and share why.

In the old days you rarely tipped when you simply stood in line at your favorite coffee shop despite a big jar marked TIPS in bold letters. You waited while a barista made your latte as you requested. So, is that the reason for a tip? The worker is doing their job description well so it’s up to us since they also aren’t paid enough by their employer. It seems that the consumer is expected to take up the slack. 

Whatever the reason, the idea has taken hold, and we find ourselves tipping an extra buck or two since we frequent the same places again and again, like when the staff gets to know our names and our orders. Oh, yes, Margaret you’re the pastry gal, which one will it be today, and Barbara you like that skim latte with one Splenda and your bagel with a light schmear. We like good service and tipping generously should mean we get it. 

When did this idea of tipping everywhere and so much become viral? During the viral pandemic, Covid, when so many places found it harder to find staff. We tipped more to help them stay in business. That made sense.

We began supporting favorite establishments in our neighborhoods that we loved most. We bought food for first responders serving meals to hospital staff and Covid test station workers, the equivalent of a huge tip! All made sense, right?

But by the end of Covid and our new lives afterward, we found some restaurants were asking for more than a tip. Some added on a service fee, in addition to the tip, which was clearly stated on menus and bills to help them continue to remain in business as costs rose. Some of us found eating out at certain places just too pricey. 

Holiday season is the epitome of tipping and we think that’s when this whole idea of tipping took hold. It was a way to add yearly joy to those we depend on throughout the year—our doormen, house cleaners, car repair folks, computer guru and so on.

We do so because we like them and want them to like us because we depend on them and hope they’ll go the extra mile when we need them. That can mean they’ll be there to help us out by being available to fix our muffler, correct computer glitches remotely, freshen up our house due to last minute company, carry our grocery bags to the elevator and do so graciously and offer separate bills when we dine with friends or even split the salad in the kitchen without making us do so or charging an extra $6 for that service. 

And, of course, the question that still looms is how much to give during the holiday season—so you know for upcoming years--when we’re so fortunate to have a roof over our heads, a car to drive and furnishings to clean?

We know we’re lucky, so we fork over a full week’s wages for a housekeeper or the cost of a haircut and coloring for our stylist’s gift and a big round number for doormen…think really big. We also give nice amounts of cash or a gift card to certain folks whose taste we know well. Yes, they would love that gift card to Zabar’s, Citarella, Whole Foods or any special emporium of delicious food or drink. 

We chose to think that any tip should represent what makes any gift giver, including us, feel good. If you usually add 20 percent but that haircut was more terrific and you can, why not go for 22 percent occasionally; same goes for the meal where the server was attentive but not fawning and came over at least once to see how everything was and refilled water glasses several times promptly. When it’s a large group, consider a bit more of a tip too. And when you complained the burger was too well done, they graciously swooped it up, didn’t argue and soon delivered a nice rare one, reward the server and kitchen staff with extra money! 

Our bottom line is that we think tipping at any time, not just the holidays, should be because it’s a service performed well by our standards (which hopefully aren’t overly demanding) and not because it’s simply expected.


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