Tipping Point

‘Tis the season for little envelopes stuffed with cash. The minute December hits, we who live in a city with lots of service providers start to fret about the holiday tips we must distribute. You’d think this question would get settled once and stick. But every year most Upper East Siders I know have the same discussion. Whom do you tip? How much do you tip?

There’s a running joke in buildings that the doorman and super start lobbying for tips just before Labor Day. Normally surly or sleepy doorman (see related post) wake up and charm-up just as the leaves turn amber. If you want your squeaky door fixed, here’s your signal for immediate action: Santa waving hello at the Macy’s-Day Parade

The who, what, where of tipping is a carefully guarded question. You don’t talk about it, any more than you talk about your weight, or salary. One doesn’t want to be thought stingy, or, in contrast, a pushover. Very close friends will tell you how much they tip– sometimes. Mostly, if you ask how much someone gives as a Christmas tip, they’ll evade. “Oh, I forget. It changes every year. Look over there! That Christmas tree is on fire!”

So, in the interest of at least some disclosure here’s my list.

The tipped:

In our building: Four doormen, one handyman, one porter, the super

Others: dog walker, barn manager, Pilates instructor, garage attendants.

It seems that there is no official rhyme or reason to tipping. My personal rule is if they can make your life miserable in the coming year, give them a tip. I have to say, though, tipping the garage does not seem to have kept our car from dings and scratches. On the other hand, who knows how bad it would be if we didn’t tip?

Not tipped:


Nail salon person


The reasoning here is (A) The post office is going bankrupt anyway. And half my mail goes to the people on 9, with no other reason than their name begins with M. If email had a postman, I’d tip him. (B) Only the real pushovers tip the nail salon. (C) You could make a legitimate argument here about the hairdresser. Let’s see if my hair comes out green in March.

In my opinion, this whole topic should be more data-driven. Who wants to start a website for an anonymous survey of tipping on the UES? Any takers?

A final thought: Tipping is a measure of thankfulness to people who take care of you in a personal way throughout the year. All griping aside, in this season, I am thankful to them and to our city that provides so many opportunities for personal connection.

Whom do you tip?


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