As the holiday season approaches in the Big Apple, many New Yorkers may be preoccupied with choosing gifts for picky family members, finding a parking spot downtown, or snagging that coveted new smartphone. Those who live in multifamily buildings or condo associations have an extra item to put on their list of holiday to-do lists, however: tipping their community's service providers. Those might include a doorman, a chief engineer, building superintendent or handyman, groundskeepers, or any number of others who keep your co-op, condo or HOA clean, well-maintained, and secure.
How It All Began
There's no truly definitive account of how the custom of tipping began, or where, but most historians agree that the practice likely originated during the heyday of the Roman Empire with rich, landowning citizens tossing a few coins to the peasants as a conspicuous demonstration of wealth. It has also been suggested that “tipping” was the term used by feudal lords in Medieval Europe to describe their practice of throwing the occasional piece of gold to their serfs as they passed on horseback. It's also been asserted that the term “tips” itself is an acronym for “To Insure Prompt Service”—though who originally coined it is a mystery.
As for which service providers are most commonly tipped—at least in the United States—the list includes everyone from hair and nail salon workers to bellhops, cab drivers, newspaper delivery people, porters, valets, bartenders, and, of course, restaurant wait staff.
As multifamily housing became the norm in densely populated urban areas in the late 1900s, building staff joined the Who-Gets-Tipped list. From the doorman who greets you, signs for packages, and keeps an eye out for your safety to the building custodian or handyman who doesn’t grumble (much) about being called to deal with a leaky steam-pipe at the crack of dawn on a Sunday morning, building staff work hard 24/7 to make things easier and more convenient for you as a resident. When the holidays roll around, it’s simply good manners to show your staff a gracious gesture of thanks for a job well done.
It’s not unreasonable to ask why we tip at all in the United States—plenty of other countries don’t do it, and after all, keeping the boiler running and helping residents out is the super or the building engineer’s job—he gets a salary already, right?