Worldwide, the holiday season is filled with a sense of giving. No matter where you happen to be, you may be swept up in this spirit of generosity.
The concept of holiday tipping can be a challenge for the present day tipper. With the ever changing standards, and different rules for each job position, it’s difficult to say what is best.
While there are no specific rules about how much or who to tip in the U.S., the time period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s day, is usually used to express gratitude by tipping those who have shown loyalty through the year. The “gratuity” can be in the form of cash tips, gifts, and even simply notes. The guide below on navigating Holiday Tipping 2018, will ease stress and spread the giving spirit.
- Budget First: Calculate how much you’re willing and able to spend. Remember, holiday tipping is not an obligation. Below, we list alternatives to big spending to soften that January blow to the bank balance.
- Prioritize: Make a list of those you wish to tip, placing those who help most frequently at the top. This may include anyone from employees or assistants to household help to your hair stylist or massage therapist. Keep in mind local and regional customs, service quality and frequency, and relationship length.
- Tipping on a Budget: Tipping doesn’t necessarily have to be monetary. Consider other ways to show gratitude such as a heartfelt card, a homemade holiday treat, or a gift card with enough value for at least two specialty coffees.
- Handwrite a note of appreciation: A personalized, handwritten thank-you note is a heartfelt, low cost way to show genuine gratitude. Buy fine paper stock and calligraphy pens. In the note, express your appreciation for the recipient’s loyalty and services throughout the year.
- Bake: Consider baked specialties like Czech kolache, baklava, or peppermint bark.
- Go Local: Local artisan crafts make great holiday gifts. Candles or soaps, tea towels crafted by a local artisan, a bar of fragrant, organic soap, votive candles, and locally roasted coffee or tea blends are excellent alternatives to monetary tips.
- Encourage Children’s Creativity: Your child may want to make a gift for a babysitter, au pair, or nanny. Encourage them to make a drawing, card, or craft. A cash gift can also be paired with your child’s gift.
Who & What To Tip
Business & Organizations (Check Corporate Policy):
- Assistant: Bonus or gift based on relationship length. Avoid anything too personal.
- Colleagues: If not gifting to each individual, discreetly give items for sports, hobby, or dining, gift card.
- Office Gift Exchange: Don’t go rogue, follow the spending guidelines and gift protocol.
- Clients: Business gift baskets of chocolate, fruit, nuts, cheese, wine, artisan baked treats (investigate food allergies) and non-logo items.
- CEO/Boss: Group gift to their favorite charity or non-profit organization. Avoid personal gifts to the boss.
- Package & Mail Delivery: The United States Postal Service (USPS) provides the public with a tipping and gift receiving policy on their website, however FedEx and UPS do not. The information provided for FedEx and UPS is from customer service representatives who declined to provide their names.
- United States Postal Service (USPS): Employees may accept baked goods (homemade/store bought) items to share with the branch office. Customers may give edible arrangements, gift cards for merchandise or services valued up to $20 per occasion (such as Christmas). Gifts cannot exceed $50 per calendar year. Gifting cash, VISA, MasterCard, or gift cards that may be used as cash are prohibited per USPS Employee Tipping and Gift Receiving Policy
- FedEx: Company policies discourage cash gifts or gift cards. The FedEx driver will politely decline the holiday gratuity. If the customer is insistent, gifts up to $75 may be accepted by the driver.
- UPS: does not have an official limit, but due to safety concerns, UPS prefers that drivers decline cash. Tipping is left to the customer’s discretion.
- Amazon Delivery: According to Amazon Customer Service, the carriers assigned for deliveries are third party. For Amazon logistics, there is no policy and holiday tipping is left up to the customer.
- UberEats, Postmates, GrubHub and other meal delivery services: Though none of these services were able to provide holiday tipping data for guidelines, consider a higher tip of 25-30% for food deliveries on and around each holiday during the season.
Education (Check School District Policies):
- University Professor: Holiday card, no gift
- Principal: Holiday card & baked goods or flowers in vase
- School Teacher: Group gift with pooled funds along with child’s handwritten note.
- Multiple Teachers: Group gift with pooled funds
- Assistant /Aide: $25 – $50 gift certificate
- School Secretary: Café gift card, small gift or gift certificate
- School Nurse: Café gift card, small gift or gift certificate
- Tutor or Private Music Instructor: Café gift card and handwritten thank-you note
- Day Care Staff: A card from your child for each staff member plus a cash or group gift.
Child Care Services
- Live-in nanny or au pair: a week’s pay
- Babysitter: evening’s pay
- Day Care Center Staff: week and a month’s pay
Personal Services (Check Policy):
- Hairstylist, Manicure, Pedicure, Specialist: Equivalent of a visit
- Barber: Haircut & shave equivalent or a gift
- Massage Therapist: Session equivalent or a gift
- Personal Trainer, Yoga or Pilates Instructor: Some personal trainers may be offended by a monetary holiday tip, while others are not. Review their regular fees, and determine if you want to offer a monetary tip, a handwritten card, or a verbal thanks. Consider a gift or cash value of one session. Avoid giving food gifts that might be considered unhealthy, such as cheese, wine or rich baked goods.
- Salon/Spas: If you visit an all-inclusive salon or spa such as Jackson Ruiz, tipping is not only against salon policy, but may be prohibited.
- Lifeguards/Swim Coaches: Some aquatic facilities have rules against employees accepting tips. For example, a lifeguard may be required to decline a tip three times before accepting.
Home or Building Personnel (also those who rely on tips):
- Housekeeper: Once a week: equivalent of a day’s pay or $50. Daily: equivalent of a month or week’s pay and possibly a gift.
- Gardener: Equivalent of a week’s service.
- Landscaping crew: Equivalent of a week’s service, divided among the crew.
- Pool cleaning crew: Equivalent of one session, divided among the crew.
- Garage attendant: Between $15 and $40 or give a small gift.
- Garbage/recycling: If city permits, $10-$30 each for extra holiday effort.
- Doorman: between $50 – $100 each, or gift, depending on extra duties
- Elevator Operator and Handyman: Between $20 – $50 each
- Newspaper delivery: Between $10 – $35
- Live-in help (cook or butler): Between a week to a month’s pay, plus a gift
- Groomer: Equivalent of one session or a gift.
- Walker: A week’s pay equivalent or “1-2 visits” per DogWalker.com
- Sitter: A week’s pay and a paw print note from your pet.
Healthcare & Medical Providers (Check Policy):
- Private Health Care Nurse: A week’s pay or a gift of similar value.
- Home Health Employee: Generous gift basket of holiday treats (follow policy).
- Nursing Home Staff: Gift basket of holiday treats for all (follow policy).
Business ethics prevent holiday tipping to any government employee in any country. In addition, financial, medical, and legal ethics prohibit and prevent tipping the people listed below (Consider sending e-cards from Paperless Post, or Jacquie Lawson):
- Civil Servants
- Disaster relief worker or volunteer
- Executive Coach
- Financial Advisor
- Government Employee
- Members, Board of Directors or Trustees
- Physical Therapist
- Police Officer
- Realtor/ Real Estate Agent
- Red Cross volunteer or worker
- Security Guard
- Sheriff/Deputy Sheriff
Though tipping expectations and standards may vary year to year, one aspect of it will always remain the same. If you are in doubt about what to give, ask! Don’t allow your uncertainties, reservations or inquiries about tipping expectations or rules go unanswered. A quick phone call or email to the front desk of any of the above establishments can aid you in finding out if there is a tipping/gift-giving policy, what it is, and how the standard may differ based on that exact location. For any informal relationships, where in there may not be any sort of front desk to call (such as a dog walker, or a personal trainer etc.), opt for a small gift or a modest tip that will help express your gratitude and wish that person a happy holiday.
Sharon Schweitzer wrote this post. Sharon Schweitzer, J.D., is a cross-cultural trainer, modern manners expert, and the founder of Access to Culture. In addition to her accreditation in intercultural management from the HOFSTEDE Centre and the Intercultural Communication Institute, she serves as a Chinese Ceremonial Dining Etiquette Specialist in the documentary series Confucius was a Foodie, on Nat Geo People. She is the resident etiquette expert on two popular lifestyle shows: ABC Tampa Bay’s Morning Blend and CBS Austin’s We Are Austin. She is regularly quoted by BBC Capital, Investor’s Business Daily, and Fortune. Her Amazon #1 Best Selling book in International Business, Access to Asia: Your Multicultural Business Guide, now in its third printing, was named to Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books of 2015. She’s a winner of the British Airways International Trade Award at the 2016 Greater Austin Business Awards and the 2017 New York City Big Book Award for Multicultural Nonfiction.