The COVID-19 pandemic will impact U.S. tipping customs so holiday gratuities will look different in 2020. We have all been affected by the coronavirus pandemic so we will need to be more thoughtful. It can be difficult to determine how much to spend and what gifts are acceptable this year. It’s important to note that two of the major recommendations from experts involve health and safety.

First, medical experts are advising us to avoid gifting homemade and home-prepared goods outside our pod or social cohort in 2020.  As much as we enjoy baking, this isn’t the year to do so for health and safety reasons.

Secondly, avoid cash, and instead use contactless apps to pay holiday tips or bonuses such as Cash App, Google Pay, Square, Venmo, or Zelle.

Beyond these recommendations due to the pandemic, while there are no specific rules about tipping in the U.S., the time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s day is typically when gratitude is expressed. If you can afford to do so, consider:

  • 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. Keep in mind local and regional customs, service quality and frequency, and relationship length.
  • Monetary Alternatives: Medical experts advise that 2020 isn’t the year for homemade goods. Consider a heartfelt card, retail or pre-packaged holiday delivery, or a gift card with a value of at least two specialty coffees.
  • Handwritten Appreciation Note: A personalized, handwritten thank-you note is an authentic, low-cost way to show genuine gratitude and express appreciation for the recipient’s loyalty and services.
  • Local Artisan Items: Consider essential oils, embroidered face coverings, votive candles, tea towels, organic soap, and pre-packaged coffee or tea blends.
  • Encourage Children’s Creativity: Encourage your child to make a drawing, card, or craft item for a babysitter, au pair, or nanny. Pair with a contactless gift.

Who & What To Tip

Business & Organizations (Check Corporate Policy):

  • Assistant: Bonus based on relationship length. Avoid anything too personal.
  • Colleagues: Discreetly give a dining or gift card.
  • 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.

Delivery Services:

  • 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): During the pandemic, individual employees may accept materials, services, and supplies related to Covid-19 as set forth in a new 2020 policy. Employees may accept gift cards from stores for merchandise or services, or restaurants, valued up to $20 per occasion. Gift cards for each employee cannot exceed $50 per calendar year. Giving food, homemade goods or refreshments as gifts is prohibited. 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. FedEx drivers are prohibited from accepting payments from customers. The FedEx driver will politely decline the holiday gratuity. If the customer is insistent, gifts up to $75 may be accepted by the FedEx driver.
  • UPS: A pre-packaged basket of goods left on your doorstep is recommended. UPS doesn’t bar drivers from taking tips or have an official limit. Due to safety, 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’s discretion.
  • 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 each holiday season.
  • Personal Shoppers: Instacart, PrimeNow, Shipt, Favor: Depending on the platform, a gratuity may be included. Adding a holiday tip reflects gratitude.

Education (Check School District Policies):

  • University Professor: Holiday card, no gift
  • Principal: Holiday card and retail goods or flowers in a 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 card
  • School Secretary: Café gift card or small gift
  • School Nurse: Café gift card or small gift
  • Tutor or Private Music Instructor: Café gift card and handwritten thank-you
  • Day Care Staff: A card from your child for each staff member plus a group gift

Child Care Services

  • Live-in nanny or au pair: a week’s pay
  • Babysitter: an evening’s pay
  • Day Care Center Staff: a week or a month’s pay

Personal Services (Check Policy):

  • Hair Stylist, 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 value of one session, or a week, depending on your frequency. Avoid unhealthy food gifts such as cheese or wine.
  • 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 prohibit tips. For example, a lifeguard may be required to decline a tip three times before they accept.
  • Golf or Tennis Pro: Depending on the club or facility culture, many of these salaried employees don’t expect a tip. Some may be offended, others not so much. They regularly receive tips and holiday bonuses from clients.

Home or Building Personnel (also those who rely on tips):

  • Housekeeper: Once a week: equivalent of a day’s pay or $75. Daily: equivalent of a week to a month’s pay
  • 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 $20 and $50 or give a small gift
  • Garbage/recycling: If city permits, $20-$40 each for extra holiday effort
  • Doorman: Between $50 – $100 each depending on extra duties
  • Elevator Operator and Handyman: Between $25 – $60 each
  • Newspaper delivery: Between $10 – $35
  • Live-in help (cook or butler): Between a week to a month’s pay, plus a gift

Pet care:

  • Groomer: Equivalent of one session or a gift.
  • Walker: A week’s pay equivalent or “1-2 visits” per 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):

  • Accountant
  • Attorney
  • Auditor
  • Banker
  • Bookkeeper
  • Civil Servants
  • Cobbler
  • Contractor
  • Dean
  • Dentist
  • Disaster relief worker or volunteer
  • Doctor
  • Electrician
  • Executive Coach
  • Financial Advisor
  • Government Employee
  • Landlord
  • Lawyer
  • Members, Board of Directors or Trustees
  • Nurse
  • Physical Therapist
  • Plumber
  • Police Officer
  • Professor
  • Psychiatrist
  • Realtor/ Real Estate Agent
  • Red Cross volunteer or worker
  • Seamstress
  • Security Guard
  • Sheriff/Deputy Sheriff
  • Tailor
  • Veterinarian

Though tipping expectations and standards may vary year to year, as they have this year with the recommendation to forego all homemade goods for safety reasons, 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 any of the above establishments will assist in determining whether there is a tipping/gift-giving policy, what it is, and how it may differ based on location. For informal relationships, such as a dog walker, or a personal trainer, opt for a text message to inquire as to what other clients do or what they prefer. Consider a small gift or a modest contactless tip to express your gratitude and wish them a happy holiday.

Sharon Schweitzer, J.D., is a diversity and inclusion consultant, cross-cultural trainer, modern manners and etiquette 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 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, won a coveted Kirkus Star, and 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.