Who? What? How? Seeking advice on holiday-time tipping

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WHO do we tip and what should we give? (Photo by: Mae ArmstrongCC BY 2.0)
Growing up in New York City, I was vaguely aware that my parents “tipped” the doormen and the superintendent of my apartment building sometime around the end of December. I’m pretty sure they tipped the mail carrier who usually served our building, too.

Now as an adult newly living in a city in Texas, in a rental apartment complex, and I have no idea what I should do about holiday tipping… or is it more like a “bonus” to say thank you… or even a bribe intended to secure future services in the coming year?

My partner and I know and like the two apartment managers and maintenance guy. We also adore the three teachers in our baby daughter’s daycare classroom. Are these people we should be tipping? Should we be giving cash or gift cards? If so, how much? Should we be giving cookies? Should we just give a thank you/happy holidays card? We are really lost and really want to do this right!
-Annie

Let’s hear your who, what, and hows of holiday tipping!

Comments on Who? What? How? Seeking advice on holiday-time tipping

  1. As a daycare teacher I can help with that part of the question. In my year of experience so far perhaps a quarter of the families give a Christmas gift. Usually a $5 gift card to the closest coffee chain, sometimes something like shower gel or a mug and candy. Personally I prefer a coffee/booze/books gift card to anything soapy,smelly or able to take up space in my house. It is absolutely not necessary though.
    A small card with a drawing or scribble from the child would be nicer. Actually what would have been most meaningful for me would be a small photo of the child. I have worked closely with many children but due to the rules of the centres I’ve worked in I’ve never been able to take any photos of them out of the centre. That kind of little momento would mean the world.

    • Good to know! It would never occur to me that anyone would want a picture of my child who wasn’t a blood relative, yet (because of a special being run by the studio) I just ordered a sheet of pictures of him with no idea what I’m going to do with them all. I would gladly give half of them away to his Pre-School teachers.

    • I work as a nanny, and I totally second giving a picture of the child. The family I work for gives me a general holiday card and Christmas present from them, and a handmade card with a picture of the little girl I watch (and if they have a good one of the two of us I get a copy) from her, and the picture and scribbled card are so special!

      Also, my mom has been a teacher for years, and still has all the photos her students have given to her. The pictures really do mean a lot!

  2. I think for your apartment manager, it would depend on your relationship with that person, and whether they get paid by percentage of filled apartments or not. For example, if I have to go to my apartment manager’s home to pay rent, and he’s paid per apartment rented, I would give some sort of tip or gift. But if it’s a massive complex and the manager is paid a flat salary, and I didn’t come down to see him and chat all the time, I would only leave a nice holiday/thank you card.
    It is always nice to leave a tray of cookies or other treats in the leasing office for all the staff.

  3. Sometimes I will do this, depending on how things have worked out. However, with my apartment manager living underneath us and causing such chaos, we will likely skip the tip. With that being said, the fudge I left the postman? I got a nice note in return. Didn’t melt in the Houston heat either.

  4. Businesses often give tips to their mail carriers, but residents do as well sometimes. My dad is a postman so I get the info, lol. Anyway, we sometimes do a $5 gift card to someplace with hot coffee. Newspaper delivery guys get tips as well from what I hear.

  5. Growing up, my dad was (and still is) a mail carrier in a pretty affluent town, and he would get crazy kinds of stuff from people. Mostly money, but there are a couple of people that would give him really nice bottles of booze and one guy that despite moving to Florida, sends my dad a huge box of oranges each year.

    My family and I would also tip our mail carrier with a nice holiday card, and always got our landlady, who we were very close to, a gift. Easy steps or ways to consider giving a gift or tip or what have you around the holidays is: 1) Consider your relationship with them. How close are you? Is it just a sort of “hi, how are you?” wave when you see them, or have you built up a significant relationship with that person? 2) Stay within your means, because it is logical and they will appreciate anything you give them, even if it’s just a nice card and $5 to Starbucks. 3) Don’t feel obligated to do or give anything to anyone. Give what you can and what you deem appropriate.

  6. If it is a large complex, I’d say it is not at all necessary to tip the two apartment managers and the maintenance guy. Perhaps if you’ve had a lot of maintenance issues and the maintenance person has been particularly helpful, you might consider a small gift or gift card. If you live in a small building where the owner lives there as well, perhaps a gift for them would be appropriate as well as long as things have been going well with the apartment. My parents rent out an apartment on the top floor of their townhouse, and some of the nicest tenants they had gave them a big box of chocolates every Christmas.

    For teachers, my parents always gave them a small present, such as a pair earrings costing around $30 or so. As I got into grades where there were lots of teachers, we got presents for my favorite teachers, since getting ones for everyone would be difficult.

    • $30 on teachers gifts can get into iffy territory.

      The question specifically asked about daycare aides, so it would generally be safe–though unexpected–to give a a day care aide that amount. If your children go to a center where there are multiple day care aides working with all youth, it is feasible to send a small thank you gift to be shared by all the employees.

      I would keep any K-12 teachers gift below $20. Many schools and districts actually do not allow teachers to accept such pricy gifts, as it could look like bribery for grades.

      • Just a side note: in other countries, there can be very different attitudes or rules about this kind of stuff. For example, as far as I know in Germany, it’s more or less illegal to give teachers gifts (though there are some ways around it, like everyone in the class going in on something). This is because teachers are public servants, so it’s basically considered bribery.

      • I should have explained in more detail in my original comment, so here are some clarifications.

        I went to private school, so district rules were not a concern. Also, this was in New York City, where a $30 gift would be considered an inexpensive gift, not a pricy one.

        If your children go to public school in the US, inform yourself about the rules related to gifts for teachers in your school district. Some private schools might have gift policies as well.

        In general, when thinking about holiday gifts or tipping keep in mind regional variation when considering how much is appropriate. A gift or tip that might seem small in a big city might seem inappropriately extravagant in a place with a lower cost of living.

  7. I could use some more clarification on tipping the mail carrier! I live in a house in a residential neighborhood and get mail delivered to (a mailbox on) my porch. I seem to have different mail carriers all the time, though, so it seems like any tip I left would just go to whoever happened to deliver my mail that day. Plus, my mail carriers never pick up anything from my mailbox; they just deliver. Do I tip in that situation? Thanks!

    • Since you don’t have a regular carrier, I would suggest forgoing an actual gift or cash. Instead, maybe leave some cookies or a treat with a nice card that can be shared with their family, or with the other carriers back at the office.

    • I’ve never understood this tradition, because like you I’ve never had a consistant mail carrier. I think this tradition is perhaps more practiced in smaller towns or was more common when mail carriers for an neighborhood were always the same from day to day. I’d say there is no need to tip. Same with UPS and FedEx delivery people, even though I’ve heard that some people tip them. I never see them long enough to talk to them let alone tip them! They drop the package, ring the doorbell and run, or in the case of my current apartment they leave packages at the apartment office for us to pick up.

      • My family is not the sort to “tip” mail carriers.
        That being said, when I was a kid my parents got REALLY into eBay. We had packages coming and going from the house daily. We really got to know our UPS guy Ted. He also delivered to my dad’s businesses nearby. My dad would always give him free service and price breaks on goods from the store. When I started working at a local fast food joint where Ted liked to eat, I would always do my best to let him know about good deals & adding some extras if I could. He was a REALLY great delivery guy!

        • Like your parents, I’m thinking about tipping my UPS/FedEx guy (for the first time ever this year!) because of my Amazon Prime membership. Due to that lovely two-day-shipping, I see the same 2 or 3 dudes at least twice a week. And they’re always super-sweet.

    • We just bought a house, and I’m considering leaving a gift for our mail carrier. I order a lot of stuff through Amazon, and the carrier always leaves packages on our porch so that it’s away from the road and doesn’t just cram them into our mailbox. Since our house is set back kind of a ways, and our front door situation is iffy (no good way at the moment to designate which door is the main door), I feel kind of bad for making extra work for the carrier. I was going to leave a bag of Lindor truffles in the mailbox with a note.

  8. I’m assuming the original poster and most of the commenters are from the USA, or at least North America. Can any Brits weigh in? I’ve never even figured out whether I’m supposed to tip my hairdresser, and I’ve never met my landlord or postman. From a bartender/retail perspective though, the Christmas tips I get from regulars who would never normally tip give me the warm and fuzzies, and are usually pooled and go towards the staff night out in January. To make it easy for people we just leave a clearly marked jar on the counter, so there’s no English dithering about whether or not to ask or how much to give. We don’t expect anything, but we’re always grateful!

  9. Our trash collector leaves a plastic baggy with a card basically saying he accepts tips taped to top our garbage bin about 2 weeks before Christmas. I find this a bit rude. If he was an AWESOME garbage man, I would absolutely tip him. But he leaves our bins toppled over blocking our driveway every week in such a way that I can’t back my car out of the drive way or pull in if I’ve left before he arrives! (I feel like I should point out that he’s done this since we moved in and not as a result of our not tipping him).

  10. I may be able to help with some of the mailmain questions. 🙂 My boyfriend’s a mail carrier (mostly walking up to people’s porches, some city driving) in a small town here in PA, and while cash is always nice, it’s not expected, and a holiday card and some cookies are always very appreciated. If you have multiple mail carriers and you leave food, their office probably has their own tradition about gifts (bring it in to share or take it home), however the office politics swing. Same goes for cash, if you leave it: if you know your carrier’s name, put it on the envelope and it should get to him, even if you have a sub that day. If you address it to “mailman” and you have multiple carriers, they can decide how they want to handle splitting it.

    Now, if you live in a cold climate, I can say with some confidence that your mailman would LOVE a thermos of something hot to drink (and for you to salt your sidewalks!!). It gets bitter cold walking around 7 hours or more, especially since it gets so dark now. If you tend to be around when your mailman comes, this could be a nice idea.

  11. My husband & I rent a condo in Toronto. The building every December collects money as a ‘bonus’ or ‘tip’ for our different concierges. Our concierges are amazing (especially the M-F dayshift). I always donate $10 to the pot because they deserve it.

    When I was growing up in Wisconsin my mom would leave a small gift or gift card for our newspaper delivery person and postwoman. Living out in the country you get to know the people who drive out there to deliver stuff for you. Oh and the Schwan’s guy too! He’s being coming to our house for must be 25 years.

    Being a Barista in Seattle I always got extra tips, cards, gifts from my regular customers. That was always a surprise, but it was a small affluent neighborhood where they regularly tipped well!

    I think it varies location to location and how well you know the person.

    • I was just thinking the same thing. This is a thing? People do this? I’ve never once tipped our building’s manager. It would never have even occurred to me to do so.

      • I agree, it would never occur to me to do so unless I lived in a small (one-three apartments) owner occupied building. I used to live in New York, and perhaps this is what people did at the fancy buildings with doormen and such, but it was certainly not expected elsewhere, in my experience.

  12. We like to leave a card with a $5 for dunkin donuts, since there is one in town, for our mail lady, it’s the same women everyday and she usually leaves us a card so we like to return the favor 🙂 We also give a nice gift for our daycare provider since 1)She rocks! and 2)She gives the kids little gifts for their birthdays and holloween etc. We always prefer small gifts over straight cash, if the person is used to getting tips it’s still nice and if they are not used to getting tips a gift can seem less awkward to give.

  13. I’d say that a tip is for exceptional service. If your maintenance guy or apartment manager has gone above and beyond to help you, then by all means, tip them then and tip them now if you want. People will pretty much never get mad at you for appreciating them too much (unless you’re stalking them. That’s too far.)

    If they’re doing their normal service and you’re simply thanking them, then view what you give them as a thank you present. In that case, the above options of cookies, a card, a small gift card, etc. are great options. Also include a nice note saying thanks.

    If you’re giving the present as a Christmas present, then the same options apply. And include a note.

    I think the basic moral of the story here is you’re trying to do something nice. They’ll probably appreciate it. Kind words will probably mean more to them than anything. Everyone like to be thanked, especially when they’re probably the first ones who get yelled at when something goes wrong.

  14. Tipping gives me so much anxiety. Ugh. Anyway, I’ve never tipped an apartment manager or maintenance guy only because I never had any real interaction with them. Same for our mail carrier, but our mail is delivered to a bank of mailboxes down the street, so it’s not like we see the person. I know a kindergarten teacher and she says that her student’s parents always give her little presents or gift cards, though one year they all teamed up together and bought her an iPad, which is pretty amazing if you ask me. My kid goes to a home daycare provider and we gave her a bonus last year equivalent to almost a week’s pay, which was apparently way more than she’d ever gotten because she was like stunned that we gave her so much. I thought it was actually less than normal from what I’d read online. But then I felt weird about giving her too much, which is dumb because we could afford it and she appreciated it, but it still made me feel weird, which is why I hate tipping/bonuses, etc.

  15. I’m also wondering about this from the daycare side. My son attends a small in-home daycare, with only three other kids. And we looooove our daycare providers. So we’re considering a non-trivial holiday bonus (Maybe what we pay for a week of daycare? I still need to do research, but all of the is coming straight from us.) I’m curious what other people do in this situation.

    The mail carrier and stuff I’ll give something small, maybe a gift card, depending on how well I know them. But it seems pretty optional.

    • I posted just above you, but my son also goes to a small in-home daycare (3 to 5 kids) and I tipped almost a week’s pay since that was what I read (on multiple parenting forums) was normal. As I mentioned above, it was apparently more than she was used to. I don’t think you need to do more than a week’s pay, but maybe it depends on your location. I live in a middle class neighborhood, but I imagine if you live in a large city versus a more rural area, that’s going to make a difference in the bonus.

    • I’m a nanny, and the people I work for usually give me a gift certificate for a massage or a nice restaurant, and it’s always appreciated, but never expected.
      Do you know any of the other parents? Can you ask them what they usually do? The last family I worked for gave me cookies, and I thought that was standard until I started working for this family. If you have some idea of what the precedent is for your specific day care providers that might help.

  16. It may seem silly to point out, but I have not seen anyone mention those people that we sometimes employ, like landscapers, childcare, cleaning services.
    Our landscaper also does our snow removal, and that little $10 dunkin donuts card we get him ensures that our driveway is cleared first after every snowstorm!
    The cleaning lady gets a bonus equal to one service, and she always makes sure we are taken care of when she has an emergency.
    We don’t have children, but the dogsitters always get a small tin of cookies and a thank you card from the furbabies. My sister gives her regular babysitter a small giftcard to a popular teen clothing store, and she never has a problem booking the babysitter when she needs her.

    • As a homecleaner, I do appreciate holiday bonuses. From my clients who are usually home and chat a bit while I work, I’ve received thoughtful gift cards to places they know I enjoy (Whole Foods, a nice restaurant around the corner from my house, etc). From people who don’t know me quite as well, cash always makes my hard work feel appreciated. I’ve read online that a service’s worth is appropriate, but I’ve never received that, nor have I missed it. Many of my clients don’t tip or gift at Christmas, and while I never do less than 100% for them the rest of the year, I try to throw in some extras here and there for the people who have made me feel appreciated at Christmas. I charge appropriately for the 100%; if they gift me a bit more, it makes me feel good to “gift” them a bit extra now and then too.

      • Also, I should add that I enjoy getting homemade treats too. Cash is nice, but I always feel kind of special when someone makes me something awesome, especially if it’s a family on a budget that carves out the $ each month to have my help with their home.

    • Thank you for pointing out the OTHER people out there who may not get appreciated.

      I plan on bringing by a bundle of carnations to our local Dunkin Donuts. Everyone uses their gift cards at gifts, without thinking about the guys and gals behind the counter at DD. I work in public safety, and I can say that the cops and firefighters here drink a LOT of DD coffee. So, without the Dunkin employees, there’s be a lot more cranky public safety people out there. Their counter says “no tipping please” but I thought a bundle of flowers that could be dolled out might be nice.

      On that same vein, it’s never a bad idea to bring in some cookies or doughnuts to your local police or fire department. If you live somewhere snowy, don’t forget your local highway or road department. I noticed our plow guys were doing a phenomenal job keeping the roads cleared and ice-free, so last year I brought them a dozen donuts. They all mention it anytime any of them see me.

  17. I worked in daycare for 8 years, so I can give you my opinion on tipping for childcare staff. Daycare staff are almost always very low paid. Most of my daycare jobs I earned minimum wage or just above, for a 9-hour day with lots of physical work. I’ve also worked in a bar and I’d say daycare felt like an equivalent amount of work – you always have to be ‘on’, you can’t take a coffee or bathroom break whenever you like, and you often have to lift heavy things and deal with unreasonable people yelling at you for no reason. Cleaning up vomit happens sometimes at a bar, almost daily in daycare. Most of my day care worker colleagues had a degree in early childhood or at least some college and were paying off student debts. Tips were never expected, but very much appreciated. I’d say about half of my families used to bring in a gift or tip at christmas. I used to get a ton of cookies and chocolate. It was lovely, but to be honest I think most people preferred the gift cards so that we could treat ourselves to things we wouldn’t normally be able to justify buying. There’s only so much chocolate a person can eat! A heartfelt card would be appreciated as well – childcare workers know our career is never going to earn us much, we go into it for the love and satisfaction, and it’s always nice to know we are getting it right!

    • The first poster said she would appreciate a picture of the child. Do you agree or would that seem narcissistic on behalf of the parents?

      • As someone who is also a former daycare worker, there were certain families that I would have LOVED to get a photo of their kid, because I had a bond w/ that kid/family.

        Other families… I probably would have “forgotten” the picture at work or tossed it as soon as I got home because the last thing I wanted to see when I got home was a picture of THAT little booger.

        So basically, it depends on your relationship w/ the provider. If you know them/they genuinely seem to be really engaged with your kid, give it. But know that it may not be as appreciated if your child is a… “feisty” kid.

  18. Regarding dog-walkers…. my best friend is a dog walker and has had many of her same clients for years. Most of her regulars tip her. I can tell you cash is always appreciated. Gift cards are welcome (she loves when her clients give her movie theatre gift cards.) Personal items – soaps, candles, wardrobe accessories are way more hit or miss. Obviously she is thankful and appreciative of any gift, but, often her clients don’t know her taste that well and it isn’t always something she’d choose.

    Value ranges from $10-$20, to $100 (but, like i said, these are long term clients, she’s in their home and with their pets every day, and we are in Toronto. Probably very different in a smaller city or town.)

    • Yes! I’m a professional petsitter and my experience is similar. My long-term clients tend to give (very generous!) cash bonuses around the holidays. I definitely prefer the cash bonus or gift cards to a personal item that I’m not inclined to use. Being appreciated for working our butts off this time of year (sometimes 12-15 hour days!) in any way is super awesome though!

  19. Come Christmas time our garbage men leave a crappy holiday card with their names in it. It’s really a please tip me card.
    We do not tip out garbage men, they are paid by the town and throw the garbage cans often breaking them and drop 1/2 the recycling on the floor and just leave it there.

    I will be tipping people we have direct contact with such as our cleaning lady and my sons therapists

  20. I used to work as a nanny so I will throw my two cents in! 🙂

    I worked for a very nice family, in Chicago, that truly appreciated everything that I did for their daughter. In return every Christmas season I received a nice gift (one year I got an iPod, one year the boxed set of Harry Potter on Blu-Ray) as well as a $200 bonus and a box of cookies.

    None of this was necessary and I loved their daughter regardless of how much they gave me but I did appreciate being appreciated. That meant a lot to me and its why I am still in contact with that family even though I haven’t worked for them in a number of years.

  21. You know, reading this thread makes me really appreciate my garbage men. Last Friday, they actually stopped, and then reversed down the street when I ran out of my house flagging them down because I had forgotten to put my trash out in time. I *definitely* should get those three guys and my maillady (who recently did something similar) a holiday gift/tip. I’m a sucker for anyone who smiles and compliments my kid after I chase them down in PJ pants 😛

  22. I’m planning on tipping:

    Our diaper service guy. He picks up on Monday mornings when we’re kinda nuts and he’s waited a bunch of times for us to get our shit together. I was planning on getting him a $25 gift card.

    The woman who runs our co-op preschool and our big kids summer camp. Maybe another $25 gift card?

    We’ll chip in for a class gift for our big kids teacher – last year we gave $10.

    A gift card for our kids reading specialist at her school. How much is appropriate? While I know the teachers always get tons of stuff, this woman has worked wonders and I’d like to say thanks.

    A plate of cookies for our maintenance guy. Probably cookies for everyone actually.

    When I was a nanny I got things like:a $50 amazon gift card, a gift certificate for a mani/pedi, a gift certificate for a really nice hour long massage. Obviously not all at once.

  23. I have to say, some of the tipping from the original poster might be a little region driven. I know that NYC, and New Jersey are notorious for tipping. I know when I was getting married everyone was like “Oh you tip this person and this person this much” but when I looked online there seemed to be a lot more wiggle room. Plus living in a city, I am sure your parents really appreciated what the staff did. It sucks not having a doorman to pick up your packages, walking several block to pick up packages, figuring out what to do with your trash, not getting things in the apartment fixed.

    And I work retail at a glass gallery. We have a few returning customers who get gifts for teachers every year. I think I can say I think teachers get the better end of the stick than daycare providers, which in my opinion sucks. But people spend anywhere from $15 to $50 per teachers, depending how many their kids have. This includes anything from jewelry, to personally engraved paper weights. I have also been told, that in South Jersey/Philadelphia the whole gifting your teacher thing is really big. Heck I just remember giving my teachers roses from my garden at the end of the year, and that was pretty much it! XD

    And since some people were mentioning how to tip their baristas and stuff. I use to work as a barista and currently also a line chef. I notice people tend to be more generous with tipping, which is nice because people in that line of work tend to not get bonuses. Also if you are REALLY friendly with the staff at one of your favorite place, don’t hesitate to ask how they split tips. If they split them at the end of the week, you might want to toss in a big bill. If they split it the day of as people come and go, you might not. We stopped and a told a regular this since we noticed he kept dropping fives and tens in the tip jar.

    Honestly, I think some of the best “tips” are gift cards and little gifts. It is just more thoughtful than money. Period. I really don’t tip anyone because we don’t have a consistent mail man- and they are sooo inconsistent. Although after reading everyones comments I am thinking about making cookies for the mail and delivery guys at my work. They are so nice and friendly, they deserve a little gift.

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