Tipping points: A guide to who gets what at the holidays

Giving cash for Christmas
Giving cash for Christmas (Catherine Lane, iStockPhoto, Baltimore Sun)

Amy Dickinson had just been to the bank for what she called a major cash withdrawal.

It is the holidays, and the nationally syndicated advice columnist was ready to tip.


"It is one of the pleasures of my holiday," she said. "It is the perfect time to express your appreciation to people you may not know very well but who serve you."

She tips doormen, garbage collectors, the woman who cuts her hair and the guys at her service station, for a start. Everybody.


"I spend one day running around delivering tips. It is a complete joy."

Hearts are full of gratitude at this time of year, and though cash may seem a crude way to say thank you, holiday tips are a generous way to treat those who wait on us and care for us and for those we love.

Baby sitters, house cleaners, manicurists, the people who deliver the newspaper and the guys who cut your grass. Even your favorite bartender or barista.

"The regulars will leave an extra $20," said Brendan Dorr, head bartender at the B&O American Brasserie on Charles Street. "We don't expect it. We like what we do. We like to take care of our guests the best we can."

Lorraine Whittlesey, a composer who lives in Canton, dines out several times a week and says she is always more generous at the holidays, often tipping an extra 25 percent to 50 percent.

"I appreciate the service," she said. "I appreciate the fact that they are working very hard, and I realize their salary is very little.

"Tipping is part of the ambience of going out. I like the whole feeling of it, the humanity of it all."

Tipping at the holidays is a way of saying thank you. But how much?

The Emily Post Institute offers guidelines for tipping at holidays, and the suggestions range from $10 for a newspaper carrier to a week's pay for a live-in nanny. The proper tip for the people we see regularly, like the hairdresser or the barber, is the cost of a single visit, the etiquette people say.

"It isn't like a corporate bonus," laughed Lorri Walker McCleary, who works at Henninger's Tavern in Fells Point. "It is just a little extra, and it is just nice."

McCleary has worked bartending shifts at Christmas parties — work that she says is fun and profitable.

"But I am going to be nice, no matter what. I like working for those tips, even if it isn't a reliable source of income."


As someone who knows about tips, McCleary is generous at the holidays, too. "That happens a lot in Fells," she said, laughing again. "It all gets passed around."

Gia Blattermann Fracassetti, owner of Gia's Cafe in Little Italy, says regular customers often bring holiday gifts to her small staff — cards with cash or bottles of wine to share.

"Our diners on Christmas Eve — in particular our regulars — generally leave a higher tip percentage," she said.

If you aren't in a financial position to hand out $20 bills at Christmas, a small gift and a handwritten note will let people know you appreciate what they do for you, the folks at Emily Post say.

In any case, not everyone can accept cash, including schoolteachers, mail carriers and medical care givers. Fruit, flowers, candy or cookies are an alternative.

If you aren't sure what is appropriate, ask around to find out what the establishment's policies are or what other customers do for staff at the holidays.

"I grew up with nothing," said Dickinson, who travels with a wallet full of $5 bills to leave each morning in her hotel rooms for those who make up the room each day. "I knew nothing about tipping anybody.

"Tipping makes me feel like I've made it, and I am going to spread it around," she says. "It is a small price to pay for a wonderful feeling."

@SusanReimer on Twitter.com

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