New York is an expensive town–on that point there can be little debate. Regardless of your means, sometimes it can feel as though everybody from the waitress at your favorite coffee shop to the person who sacks your groceries is trying to get every last nickel out of you. Tip jars are everywhere, sometimes decorated with winsome appeals for change ("Tipping is good karma!"), sometimes just sitting there expectantly, waiting for you to pony up. The holiday season compounds the issue: there are gifts to buy, travel accommodations to book, parties to attend, inclement weather to worry about… and the anxiety that many of us feel when we try to figure out what kind of tip to give the people who (hopefully) make our everyday life a little easier: our building staff.
Clearly, a reward for work well done is a welcome gift, especially at this time of year. Supers and handymen often find themselves under sinks or in sub-basements at odd hours, patching frozen pipes or coaxing temperamental boilers back to life. They shovel snow, scatter salt, and do a score of other tasks made that much harder by snow, ice, and the bitter cold. Doormen and lobby attendants wait patiently, bundled up to their ears against the chill, ready to help you with your shopping bags or call you a cab. Not only is it customary to show your appreciation for the work your building staff does for you and your neighbors, it’s just good manners.
"But," you may ask, "why tip at all? Opening the door and helping residents out is the doorman’s job–he gets a salary already." A good point, and one that bears closer examination.
Tipping Through the Ages
Though there is some disagreement about the origins of tipping, most historians agree that it’s likely the practice began during the heyday of the Roman Empire with rich, landowning Roman Citizens throwing a few coppers to the peasants who served them as a gesture of the master’s wealth and generosity. It has also been suggested that "tipping" was the term used by feudal lords in Medieval Europe to describe their practice of throwing gold to their serfs as they passed on horseback; the gold appeased the peasants and assured the nobleman safe passage through the crowd.