A Recession Guide to Holiday Tipping


In 21st-century New York, you can ask someone if she's having a threesome or using Botox, but it feels oddly off-limits to inquire about the dollar amounts being given to the super. One brave neighbor in my building recently weighed in on the subject, offering a view I used to subscribe to for several years: Take the monthly maintenance and divide it among the workers. But my maintenance costs have recently skyrocketed, and building worker productivity has not.

I'm not alone. Others are wondering about this stuff too. At Tipping.org, there's a list that dares to spell things out: Give $20 to $30 to the custodian, $25 to $100 each to the doormen, $20 to $30 to the handymen and $30 to $100 to the superintendent. The site says--as does everyone who addresses this issue with intelligence--that it "depends on how fancy the building" is. And for some tippers that might be the toughest task of all: coming to terms with exactly the kind of place you are living.
The low-on-cash crowd might be asking itself a question: Can we just substitute a fruitcake and be done with it? After all, at EmilyPost.com, the modern-day equivalent of the etiquette book, there's a wise reminder that we can only afford what we can afford. The site says: "If your budget does not allow for tips, consider homemade gifts; and if you're not good with crafts or in the kitchen, remember that words are always a great way to express your thanks for a year of good service."

I thought that this was not a move that would work in New York City, but Lynn Whiting, the director of management for Argo Corporation, says some baked cookies might not be such a bad move. Building staff members might be moved. "I think they would be very touched by that," she says. "Would they prefer cash? Of course. But I think they might go home and tell their family members that Mrs. So-and-So baked cookies for them."

Overall, Whiting says that owners and renters should both tip. She says that a rent-control tenant who plans to stay until he or she dies would probably not want to alienate the building staff. On the other hand, Whiting admits that a short-term renter might not invest as much in tipping.

Back in 2007, Sewell Chan of New York Times opened the City Room blog to this very topic. Chan said the question of how much to tip apartment workers stretched back at least to 1911. In 1965, according to this report, the Times recommended $100 for the superintendent and $20 to each staff member.

Looks like some of us are stuck in the '60s.
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