Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Tipping Pointers: Showing Your Gratitude With Gratuities

Every day we rely on the kindness of strangers. They give us delicious details about menu specials, they touch up our roots, zap our zits and take care of our “charming” children. In rain, snow, sleet or hail, we depend on people we may never have met to deliver the mail and daily newspaper to our door and we count on people we barely know to keep our nails buffed and pinky toes look pretty. To show our appreciation to these intimate strangers who work so hard to help make our lives easier, we voluntarily bestow upon them billions of dollars each year - in the form of tips.

Tipping is an financial phenomenon that may have started as far back as Roman times when feudal lords tossed coins to beggars to ensure a safe journey. Other theories claim that the concept of tipping to improve service began in England in the sixteenth century when Ye 'Ole Starbucks coffee houses and pubs first put out brass urns to collect change in advance, “To Insure Promptness” of service.

Whenever or wherever tipping first got it's tip-off, it is now a significant source of steady income for millions of modern-day workers worldwide. This is especially true in today's shaky market, when many service workers are seeing an overall decline in paying customers, making their tip income even more important. Keep in mind, just because the Dow drops, there is no excuse for incongruity with your gratuities. As long as the service you receive is up to snuff, it's good business - and good karma - to provide those who count on tips with the usual and customary amount.

But just how much is that, you may wonder? While there's no need to go into hock to show your debt of gratitude, there are some basic guidelines you can follow for this holiday season, and throughout the year. Here are a few tipping pointers I've gathered, “to insure promptness” of service, and to help keep you off the list at; a site that names-names and boldly warns, “There is a consequence.”

Baby The Babysitter - and Teacher, too!

Stumbling upon a reliable babysitter in the suburbs can be as difficult as spotting the elusive leopard in the savannah…and once you find her, you want be sure to keep her in your den, right there on the couch in front of the tv with your tots. One way to insure she'll show up on Saturday night is to make sure that she'll have enough to spend at the mall during the day. For steadfast service, make sure to round up her hourly pay, even if you come in only a few minutes into the next hour. If your child, or your kitchen, looks as good or better than when you left it - you might want to throw in a few extra bills on top of that, too!

For the holidays, consider giving your steady sitter a small gift from your child and one typical evening's pay. If you use an au pair, nanny or daycare service everyday, a week or two's pay would be an appropriate amount. If your little angels are also a little active - a little more might mean a lot!

Hit the jackpot and scored a sitter for New Year's Eve? Expect to pay double - or nothing! Here's another tip for dealing with babysitters - once you find a good one, don't share her name with anyone!

While many school systems prohibit teachers from accepting cash or extravagant gifts, there are many thoughtful ways to show them that you care. A small gift, or gift card to a bookstore or a shop that you know he or she frequents is always appreciated. Expect to spend at between $20 and $50 during the holidays, and then again at the end of the year. Try to avoid “apple” themed gifts, as most teachers already have closets full of fruit inspired items.

Don't forget about a small token for the teaching assistants, specialists and bus drivers who also help your child throughout the school day. A $5 or $10 gift card to a coffee shop or store like Wal-Mart or Target can always get put to good use. Not sure your child's teacher is worth it -- try home-schooling for a day…or even just an hour!

Come Clean With Your Housekeeper

Your housekeeper knows all your dirty little secrets, so if you want to make sure that she'll stick around and keep picking up all that dirty laundry, plan on tipping her at least one week's pay for the holidays. If you use a cleaning service that rotates or sends a team, then a box of candy or cookies that can be shared is an appropriate alternative. Throughout the year, consider giving “bonuses” for extras such as big dusting projects or a freezer defrosting and you may find that your dust bunnies will stop reproducing so quickly!

The Best Beauty Tips

It's fairly standard that most hairdressers get between %15 and 20% of the total cost of services at each visit. If you there's someone else that shampoos you, it's always nice to give him a dollar or two as well. If you get a great blow out by another stylist altogether, don't give her the blow off and be sure to leave them a separate tip of at least $5 or so. You can deduct that amount from your regular stylist's tip if you want - but keep in mind in just a few short weeks, they'll be standing over your head again with a sharp pair of sissors, and they're often happy to cut loose with the latest gossip, especially about bad tippers!

If you come into the salon at a steady clip, you may want to consider giving your stylist an amount equal to the cost of a single cut for the holidays, as a token of your tonsorial appreciation. Take care of your hairdresser and they'll be sure to take of you - especially when you try to squeeze in a last minute touch up on a busy Friday afternoon!

What if your stylist is also the salon owner? Contrary to popular believe, most proprietors do accept, and depend, on their tips. If you're not sure about how your stylist may feel about it - just check in with the receptionist when you check out!

Nothing is more stressful after a relaxing beauty treatment than making sure that you're tipping out right! Most folks hand over between %15 to %20 after each mani/pedi, facial or other standard beauty treatment. If you're a regular, a holiday gift in cash equal up to what you spend on a typical visit is appropriate. If you don't go that often, but want to still want to say “thanks” during holiday time - a small token gift or box of candy makes for a tasty treat.

There is an exception when tipping for beauty treatments that are considered “medi-spa services”. Most laser hair removal, Botox and other injectables are administered by doctors, registered nurses or nurse practitioners, who are forbidden by the medical board to receive cash tips for their services. However, most other spa treatments such as facials, peels and massages are done by trained estheticians, who are free to accept your generous tips. If you are not sure, again, the receptionist can help you out!

Don't' forget about tipping your personal trainer, who has kept you from tipping the scale this holiday season! Best to stick with cash equal to the cost of a session - and skip the cookies for this one!

If you've got a pampered pet, you'll also want to remember his stylist or walker, as well! Tips of %15 are always appropriate at the time of service - but consider a little more if you mutt is matted or a more “animated” animal! If your pet uses their services regularly, consider a small gift or cash as a holiday gift for the person who takes such good care of your four-legged BFF.

Special Delivery

Sure, your newspaper delivery person probably had some genuine well-wishes in mind when he sent you that lovely holiday card. However, if he also included his home address, chances are he's looking forward to receiving a nice holiday card from you, himself! Go ahead and send one, but be sure to include a $10 or $20 dollar bill. Many of the periodically delivery people are contract workers, who may even pay for their own gas! Think of all the embarrassment they've saved you from of having to drag yourself to the nearest newspaper stand in your PJ's each morning!

Surely you'll also want to thank your mail carrier, who has kept your mail box stuffed with all those cool catalogues and snail mail with birthday checks from Grandma. But keep in mind that the U.S. Postal service says gifts must be under $20 in value and no cash is allowed. A gift card to a local coffee shop might help give your carrier enough pep to make sure that your mail arrives on time and un-mangled.

Thank You - And Be Kind To Your Waitress…

Whether you're having a holiday meal, or even an everyday dinner at a sit-down restaurant, it's pretty much an accepted standard to tip %15 to %20, of the pre-tax bill, at each meal. Of course, as with all tips, it is always at your discretion, but if they've provided excellent service, especially if you've' been a challenging customer or had messy minors as dining companions, it's always important to take good care of your waitress! If you've used a coupon, or received a discount, make sure you add that amount back in before you calculate your tip total.

And yes, even if you've ordered an expensive bottle of wine, quit whining and be sure to include that amount in your tip as well. Are you lucky enough to eat in an establishment with a sommelier? They'll expect a separate gratuity equal to about %10 to %15 of the cost of the wine. If you've been greeted and treated like a real VIP, go ahead and reward the maitre d' with a $20 “money handshake” when you are seated - he may remember you next time - and you'll feel totally Hollywood.

If buffets are more in line with your budget - be mindful of the servers who keep your glasses full and your plates clear. Typically you should leave a dollar or two for each person dining in your party - especially if your toddler likes to redecorate with the sugar packets.

Here's another tip for you - when in doubt, visit, and leave a little extra. Think of it as your independent economic stimulus package! Remember, stiff on a tip - and you may found out the hard way that there really are consequences!