The ultimate holiday tipping guide

Wondering how much to tip your mail carrier, dog walker or hairdresser for the holidays? Here's some help.

By Christian Zappone, staff writer

NEW YORK ( -- Christmas has become synonymous with spending in America. And spending in America goes hand-in-hand with tipping. Put the two together and you have the unique institution of holiday tipping.

For some, the holiday tip is given in the form of a gift, like the cookies received by St. Louis-based letter carrier William Lister. Lister saw them as appreciation "that you serve all year long."

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For others, the cash tip is more than a gesture of kindness. "A lot of our Christmas bonuses are what allow us to make our ends meet," New York doorman Gil Santiago said. "Whatever we get, we deserve."

Santiago said doormen are aware of who can afford to tip and who can't. No matter what the tenant's likelihood of tipping, everyone gets the same service, he says. "There have been times I've paid for things out of my own pocket" for elderly or cash-strapped tenants who requested something, he says.

It's those who can afford to tip but don't that irritate him. "Certain [tenants] come around and say, 'We'll see you later on.' That means they know we deserve a tip. But that 'later' never comes," he said.

"Doormen are like elephants," Santiago said. "We never forget."

"Tipping is never required," according to Cindy Streit, president of Etiquette Training Services. "It may be expected in many situations... [but] should be thought of as a reward for excellent service."

Streit counsels tippers to "follow your own heart and what your pocketbook dictates." She says generous holiday tips are mainly for "those who serve you all year long and with whom you have a personal relationship."

"Delivery should occur in an appropriate time in advance for the particular holiday," she said.

And the final word on what kind of holiday tip to give should always come down to whatever the local tipping or gift custom is, Streit says.

Of course, questions of how much and to whom create a lot of angst for holiday tippers seeking to show their appreciation. They don't want to offend their recipients with too little money. But like anyone else, holiday tippers don't want to needlessly over give, either.

In this year's holiday tipping guide, with Streit's help, we've listed professions that often receive tips and offered guidelines for giving appropriately. Top of page

Childcare, education
Baby sitter One night's pay, plus a small gift from your child.
Full-time nanny One week to one month of pay based on tenure, plus a small gift from your child.
Au pair One week's pay, plus a small gift from your child.
Day care service $25-70, plus a small gift from your child.
Teacher $25-100. A gift certificate is always appropriate. If you know the teacher's hobbies or interests, then a gift certificate would be nice from the local movie theater, hobby shop, mall, fine restaurant or day spa. If you are unsure, ask your principal first.
Coaches, tutors, ballet instructors, music teachers A small gift from your child.

Around the house
Maid One week's pay. If you use a service and never know who is coming out, don't tip at all.
Gardener $20-50
Garbage collector(s) $15-30 each. Nowadays, however, many garbage collectors are really truck drivers who operate an arm that does all the work. If this is your situation, there is no need to tip.

On and about town
Country Club Tipping at Christmas/holiday season is appropriate regardless of the club's tipping policy. $50 for your special waiters, locker-room personnel, front-desk employees and golf professionals. For headwaiters or special service, make it $100.
Parking attendants $10-20 each
Driver/limousine service $20-50 each - If this is your regular driver tip 20% of a month's bill.

Apartment services
Apartment building superintendent $50-200. Tip less if you tip throughout the year.
Apartment Doorman/concierge $10-80 or more each, depending upon building. Those who serve you more should get a bigger tip.
Apartment building handyman $15-40 each
Apartment building elevator operators $15-40 each

Personal care
Shampoo $10
Manicurist/pedicurist Cost of 1 session ($15 or more)
Hairdresser/stylist Cost of 1 session ($15 or more)
Massage therapist Cost of 1 session $15 or more
Personal trainer $60-100 upon reaching goal, or cost of 1 session

Pet services
Dog groomer 1/4 - 1/2 cost of a session
Dog walker or sitter 1-2 week's usual pay

Deliverers, postal carriers
USPS Mail carrier Non-cash gifts with value up to $20. This is for mail carriers that you know and see regularly.*
UPS - Regular driver Has no formal policy. Drivers don't expect tips but can accept them.
FedEx Not allowed to accept anything over the value of $75. No cash gifts accepted.
Newspaper carrier Daily - $25 - 50, weekend - $10
Regular overnight delivery person $10-30
*Civil servants are not allowed to receive cash tips. But if you wish to recognize your mail carrier, the U.S. Postal Service asks that your gratuity not exceed $20 in cash value.

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