Dear Millennials, Stop Being Bad Tippers

Know when to share cupcakes, and when to graciously gift some extra cash.

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Nov 21 2018, 1:45pm

Illustration by Jimmy Simpson

Millennials are notoriously bad tippers. Blame the generation’s heap of student loan debt or perhaps the proliferation of no-tip cafes and app-based convenience services like Uber. The numbers tell the story: 63 percent normally tip below 20 percent at restaurants, compared with less than half of older generations, and 14 percent of millennials pick the lowest preselected tip options (for example, the 15 percent on a Square payment tablet, rather than 2 percent), according to a 2018 CreditCards.com survey. One in ten say they routinely don’t tip at all.

Whether you’re cheap or not (survey results also show that women of any age typically tip more than men), tipping during the holiday season is essential—some workers rely on holiday tips to budget for the holidays, or even the year, plus, it’s seriously a kind and generous thing to do—but who do you tip and how much? Especially when gift-giving and holiday potlucks and end-of-year donations may have a bigger drain on your finances than usual.

“The end of the year is your chance to show your appreciation to those people who make your life easier,” says etiquette consultant Jodi RR Smith. “Tips are very subjective, and dependent on your relationship with the individual and the norms for your area, as well as your budget. Tips should be crisp, new bills placed in an envelope with a card or note of appreciation. When appropriate, small gifts can be given along with the tips.”

So who are you giving these appreciative bills to? Etiquette expert Maggie Oldham has a simple method for determining the ever-lingering who-and-how-much question.

Who to tip—and who not to tip

First, has this person provided a service for you? “Tipping is appropriate when someone provides a service to you, but not when they provide a product or good,” Oldham explains. “For example, if you get your dry cleaning delivered, the delivery person is providing a service. If you pick up your dry cleaning, dry cleaner is providing a product. Tip the delivery driver, not the dry cleaner.”

For service providers, consider how many times you’ve benefited from this person’s service in the past year. Do they regularly give you a manicure or clean your apartment or watch your dog when you visit your cat-loving in-laws? If this person provides a service less than a dozen times per year, or less than once a month, a tip is not expected, Oldham says. If you’ve benefited from the service, but a different person is helping out each time, i.e. an anonymous company is helping out, then see if you can contribute to an employee holiday fund. “For example, when we lived in New York City, our building set up a ‘holiday fund’ each year for everyone to contribute to,” Oldham says. “The holiday fund was this divided amongst the multiple doormen, maintenance staff, and valet attendants.”

See a doctor, lawyer or teacher regularly? They’re not expecting tips, nor would it be appropriate. “If someone is providing a professional service, in most cases, it is unprofessional and even illegal for these individuals to accept monetary tips,” Oldham says. Especially in the case of government workers, even postal carriers, who aren’t allowed to accept gifts valued at more than $20.

Deciding how much to tip

“The amount you tip should feel comfortable within your budget, and yes, you should budget for it with your holiday shopping,” Oldham says, noting that couples should probably tip a little more (but not necessarily double her recommended amount). Oldham shared her ranges for holiday tipping, pointing out that people can obviously tip more or give this amount in a gift card if cash feels uncomfortable:

Housekeeper: $20 to $100
Babysitter/nanny: $50 to $100 or gift certificate for shopping or a spa
Apartment super or handyperson: $20 gift certificate or homemade cookies or wine
Doorman: $20 to $50
Dog walker: $20 or a small gift like homemade cookies or a bottle of wine
Barista: $10 placed into their tip jar with a "Happy Holidays!" smile
Personal trainer or coach: Gift certificate in the $25 to $50 range for a healthy restaurant or athletic store
Front desk/security/reception: Small, shareable gift such as chocolates or homemade cookies
Gardener or landscaper: $20 to $100
Hairdresser/barber: If getting your hair done is a team effort, bring in festive cupcakes to share with all the employees or another shareable gift. Otherwise, the Nest suggests tipping $25 to $50 on top of what you regularly give for a haircut.

Tipping can get tricky if a team of people is getting the job done, such as in a landscaping or maintenance situation. This year, Oldham plans to hand out $5 Starbucks gift cards to the landscapers on-site at her home. “Everyone has their own tipping style—cash, homemade gifts, gift cards—and it can be a fun tradition to make it your own,” Oldham says. You can always have small gifts and gift cards in small amounts on hand during the holiday season, should an urge of generosity take over.

If you want to share appreciation for someone who doesn’t meet the service criteria Oldham lays out, she recommends sharing a tin of homemade baked goods and a thank you card or a bottle of wine and a holiday card.

Tipping is about gratitude for good service

Unexpected emergency expense or financial fallout? Don’t stress out about tipping the aforementioned people. “Remember, tips are never mandatory. They are at your personal discretion,” Oldham says. “The criteria is simply a framework to decide who might be expecting a tip and who it would be appropriate to tip. Tipping is meant to show gratitude for good service, so if you've received good service throughout the year, a tip is a great way to show your appreciation.”

And holiday tips can be postponed. “If you have had an economically down year, if you have lost your job, or if money is truly tight, you will still need to be thoughtful,” Smith says. “To skip the tip is to imply to your service providers that they are not valued or have done something wrong. Instead, write a heartfelt note thanking them. Include a small token of appreciation and when your finances are fluid again, please do tip them.”

Keep in mind that just because it’s the holidays doesn’t mean that you need to tip more for one-off service experiences, like dining out or getting a spiked eggnog at a trendy bar. “It’s not necessary or expected, but if you're in the holiday spirit and feel like being generous, go for it!” Oldham says.

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