Getting a Little Tipsy A Guide to Holiday Tipping Etiquette

Whether you live in a suburb or in the heart of the city, life is expensive. Sometimes it can feel as though everybody from the barista at your favorite coffee shop to the kid who bags your groceries is trying to nickel-and-dime you half to death. Tip jars are everywhere, sometimes decorated with winsome appeals for change, and sometimes just sitting there expectantly, waiting for you to pony up. 

The holiday season compounds the issue: there are gifts to be bought, travel to be booked, parties to attend, often 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 and HOA staff. 

Clearly, a reward for work well done is a welcome gift, especially at this time of year. Building superintendents, maintenance persons, and handymen often find themselves under sinks or in dark basements at odd hours, patching leaky pipes or coaxing temperamental hot water heaters back to life. At this time of year, it’s not only customary to show your appreciation for the work your building or association staff does for you and your neighbors—it’s just plain good manners. 

Tipping Through the Ages

 “But,” you may ask, “why tip at all? Opening the door and helping residents out is the doorman’s job—he or she 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 the practice likely began during the heyday of the Roman Empire with rich, landowning 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 gesture assured the nobleman safe passage through the crowd. 

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