Getting Tipsy A quick guide to holiday tipping etiquette

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.

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3 Comments

  • how about managing agents for co-ops? i remember there was a managing agent that even wrote a memo to the board that it was customary to tip them and gave a figure that he requested. i have always been against tipping managing agents. especially when they were doing a crappy job.
  • My building tips our managing agent as well as other managing agent staff.I do not think it is a very wise thing to do as now it equals in the thousands of dollars a year. Does anyone else tip their manaaing agents?
  • I thinking the Tipping System is out of control! The staff should get a bonus through the Building Board. I've heard of cases where a owner had not tipped some of the staff, and the staff members decided to provide shoddy service just to the this particular owner / tenant. I can see tipping the Garage Attendant, and anyone else who does not make minimum wage. Moroever, not everyone living in a high rise is wealthy. I hate the fact, that even the cashier in the local deli has a tip cup. Why? I paid for the cup of coffee. Why should I have to tip this person, just because they are underpaid? Many years ago, people did not tip in the UK, however, it is catching on very fast.