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Holiday tipping way to thank service providers, etiquette expert says

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By now, even the procrastinators are starting to cross all the names off their holiday shopping lists. But before you think you're finished, stop and consider if you've included everyone who deserves a gift.

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Whether it's your favorite baby sitter or the dependable mail carriers who deliver to your home six days a week, etiquette experts say this is also the season to remind your regular service providers how much they mean to you.

"Holiday tipping is really holiday thanking," says Daniel Post Senning, a spokesperson for the Emily Post Institute.

If lineage is anything, Senning should know what he's talking about. He's the great-great-grandson of Emily Post, the matriarch of modern American etiquette.

He's also been busy this month discussing what's appropriate in the world of holiday tipping - who you should be giving to and how much to give.

Basically, Senning says consider a holiday tip for anyone whose routine work you genuinely appreciate.

"It's a real opportunity to thank the people around us who support us, and particularly those who provide service to us," Senning says.

That's everyone from your favorite hairstylist to a trusty handyman to the person who delivered your newspaper.

It's hard to balk at the gesture of gratitude. But in a season where spending can get a little out of control, it's natural to wonder how much to give to people you might not know on a personal level.

"What's an expected amount? A good guideline is the cost of a single service," Senning says.

Of course, there are gray areas. For instance, how do you tip at a day care, which might have several people who watch over your children? Or a live-in nanny?

Well, the Emily Post Institute has more guidelines.

On its website, www.emilypost.com, the institute has a spreadsheet of suggested holiday tipping for various services.

To answer the above questions, the institute says you should give a gift of $25 to $70 for each day care staff member who works with your children, as well as a small gift from your child. And for a live-in nanny, try one week's pay and a gift from your children.

Suddenly freaking out that your holiday gifting budget can't afford to tip some people who deserve it? Don't worry.

Though the act of holiday tipping predates the publication of Emily Post's first book - "Etiquette," in 1922 - Senning says the habit has evolved over the decades. And in recent years marked by financial trouble holiday tipping has adapted.

"It's an economic reality that not everyone can support people like they have in the past," Senning says. "If this is true to you, it's entirely reasonable and appropriate to do what you can do.

"The most important thing to do is to thank them verbally or with a card."

If you can tip with a gift or cash, it's worth weighing each situation and determining if a tip is appropriate.

For instance, United State Postal Service carriers are not allowed to accept cash gifts throughout the year. But during the holidays, they can accept a gift of $20 or less or edible gifts.

"A lot of item they get are food items," Greg Johnson, Fargo's postmaster, says about the local carriers.

And at Hair Success Salon and Spa, a lot of customers ask to double their tips to service providers this time of year.

"A lot of people tip regularly anyway, but I know around the holidays people are a little more generous," says Lisa DeSpiegler, a manager at Hair Success. "If you're able, anything is always appreciated."

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