New York is an expensive town - on that point there can be little debate. Regardless of your means, the holiday season compounds the issue: there are gifts to be bought, travel accommodations to be booked, 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 - and expected - 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.
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 lowly peasants and assured the nobleman safe passage through the crowd.
Though noblemen and ladies no longer ride through the streets on horseback, casually tossing gold pieces to the ragged masses, the practice of tipping has stayed with us. The word "TIPS" in modern parlance is actually an acronym for "To Insure Prompt Service," and the list of people who are commonly tipped includes hair and nail salon workers, bellhops, cab drivers, newspaper delivery people, porters, valets, bartenders, and, of course, restaurant wait staff.