Holiday tipping guide

The holidays are a traditional time to tip those who have made your life easier, more convenient or more enjoyable throughout the year. With 2020 being marked by widespread unemployment, holidays tips may be more important than ever for some workers. Meanwhile, other families might feel financially pinched this December and be unable to tip as usual.

“I think with the pandemic, we are rethinking our gifting and that includes tipping,” says Diane Gottsman, a national etiquette expert and author of “Modern Etiquette for a Better Life.”

Regardless of whether you are able to tip more or less than in previous years, keep reading for guidelines on who to tip, how much to give and more.

Who Should Get a Holiday Tip

There are no hard and fast rules on who to tip, but an extra gratuity can be appropriate for any person who provides a service on a regular basis. These include the following, among others.

— Delivery drivers.

— Babysitters or nannies.

— Doormen and building managers.

— Maintenance workers such as handymen, housekeepers, pool cleaners, trash collectors and landscapers.

— Pet walkers, groomers and sitters.

— Hair stylists and beauticians.

You may end up with a long list of people to potentially tip, but you are under no obligation to do so. Create a budget and then prioritize based on whose services you use most frequently, says Sharon Schweitzer, an international etiquette expert, author and founder of the organization Access to Culture.

[See: Here’s When You Don’t Have to Tip]

How Much to Tip for the Holidays

Holiday tips can vary depending on the service, your relationship with the worker and regional customs. “It should be something more meaningful than just your change,” Gottsman says.

The following represent pre-pandemic holiday tipping standards, according to Gottsman:

Restaurant delivery drivers: 20% of total bill or $5, whichever is higher.

Babysitter or nanny: One evening or one week’s pay, respectively.

Hairstylist or beautician: Equivalent to one visit.

Doorman: $20 to $100, depending on the level of service provided.

Maintenance workers such as housekeepers and landscapers: One week’s pay.

Handyman: $20 to $100.

Newspaper delivery: $10 to $30.

Trash collection: $10 to $25 per person, if allowed.

Dog walker: One day or week’s pay.

Dog groomer: Equivalent to one visit.

“I really love the concept of rigorous intention,” says Lynda Ulrich, founder of Ever Widening Circles, a positive global media company. She advises people to consider how much effort a person puts into their work when determining tip amounts.

The pandemic has made it difficult for some to complete their work as usual, which means deliveries may be delayed or services altered. However, make allowances for extenuating circumstances when tipping. “You can tell when people are really trying,” according to Ulrich, and that effort should be rewarded.

Tipping Advice for Delivery Drivers

Delivery drivers have played a vital role this year as many families opted to shop from home. If you want to provide a holiday tip for your regular delivery men and women, Gottsman offers the following guidelines for major carriers:

U.S. Postal Service: Government ethical standards prohibit postal carriers from accepting gifts of cash or gift cards. However, they can receive gift items with a value up to $20 for a special occasion such as Christmas.

FedEx: Employees can receive gifts valued up to $75 but may not accept cash or gift cards.

UPS: Delivery drivers may accept small gifts or nominal gratuities.

Meanwhile, many food and grocery delivery workers are able to accept tips. If you order from a service that charges a delivery fee, don’t assume that goes to the person who drops off your order. “There is a difference between a delivery charge and a gratuity,” Gottsman says.

[Read: Tipping Etiquette: The Ultimate Guide to Tipping]

When to Gift Rather Than Tip

While everyone can use money, a cash tip may not be appropriate in all situations. “It changes the relationship once you introduce money,” Ulrich says.

As a result, you may not want to tip people you don’t normally pay directly. These can include the following:

Co-workers, supervisors and bosses.

— Teachers, principals and school staff.

— Long-term care facility workers.

What’s more, there are some professionals who may not be able to accept tips either because of ethical or employer restrictions. These workers may include:

— Public service and government workers.

— Health care workers.

— Lawyers.

— Accountants and financial advisors.

For all the above workers, a gift may be more appropriate than a tip.

Given the ongoing pandemic, 2020 may not be the best year to give homemade baked goods, Schweitzer says. However, it might be a good time to support local, small businesses by purchasing artisan items for gifting.

[See: 25 Practical Gift Ideas.]

Tipping Standards During the Pandemic

Perhaps as a result of COVID-19 restrictions, tips for some services increased this year. Michael Lynn, a professor with the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration, analyzed data from payment processor Square and found that tips for distant transactions at quick-serve and full-service restaurants went up in the spring of 2020. Distant transactions are those in which a credit card is not physically present and typically indicate a phone or online order.

“In April, (tips) jumped way up,” Lynn says. Tips for these orders averaged 10% in March and went up to 12.5% in April. By May, they exceeded 15% before beginning to drop. The data only goes through the end of July 2020, but Lynn says that compared to 2019 numbers, in which tipping remained flat throughout the year, the pandemic appears to have affected tipping behavior.

While no one should overextend themselves financially to tip others, doing so can be a way to express gratitude for the past year of service. “When you can be more generous, it is always the kind thing to do,” Gottsman says. And at the end of a year in which many households experienced lost jobs or reduced income, a holiday tip can provide a much-needed boost to both a person’s morale and bank account.

More from U.S. News

35 Ways to Save Money

Work-From-Home Gift Guide

25 Practical Gift Ideas

Holiday Tipping Guide originally appeared on

Update 12/09/20: This story was published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.

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