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You're grooving to the tunes at your holiday party and the D.J. plays the song you requested. Hand him a dollar bill.

You're having your hair put in an up-do for your company's holiday party. Slip your stylist 20 percent of the bill.

Your housekeeper is looking for a show of appreciation for Christmas. Give her at least a week's pay.

Yes, it's that time of year when you open your hearts — and your wallets to shell out tips. Make an etiquette blunder and it could cost you embarrassment. Tip too much and it could cost you a fortune. But tipping for a one-time service is different from showing appreciation for those you can't live without — such as the maid, nanny or dog groomer.

"There's nothing set in stone that says you have to give a certain amount," said Jacqueline Whitmore, owner of the Protocol School of Palm Beach. "Everyone has a different budget and there are a lot of factors that go into it."

Tipping is that rare occasion when you give away money. And yet most people don't have a clue. No one wants to commit a faux pas when it comes to doling out end-of-the-year cash encouragement to the person who keeps your house bug-free, your lawn looking good or your pool sparkling.

So what's an appropriate holiday tip?

An amount equal to a one-time service — about $15 to $20 for the exterminator, the pool cleaner and the lawn service, according to Whitmore, a protocol expert. She says sometimes a gift might be the better route — two tickets to a sporting event just might be your ticket to a cleaner pool.

Sometimes it may seem sticking a fistful of cash in someone's hand may offend them.

Bob Hale, the security/concierge at the Biltmore II condominiums in Coral Gables, Fla., says initially he was bothered when residents gave him cash for taking luggage up to their condo. He formerly had been a grocery-store manager and had to make the adjustment to a service profession. Now, eight years later, he says he's thrilled when he gets a little something extra to pocket.

Hale says people usually slip him anywhere from $25 to $40 as a holiday bonus — in excess of the money the building collects for a holiday fund that's divided among building personnel.

Then there's the crowd that blatantly asks for tips: the waiter who tacks gratuity onto the tab, the masseur who attaches a small envelope to the bill, the personal trainer who sends a holiday card just begging for a bonus. In those cases, tipping remains discretionary, a reflection of the service you received, say etiquette mavens.

Gary Matzner of Miami ponders how much he should stick in the white envelope that his newspaper delivery person has inserted into his paper.

"I've never seen the guy, but I don't want my newspaper to end up in the bushes every morning," Matzner says.

Mike Acosta, assistant home delivery manager for The Miami Herald, says the envelopes are sent out from the carriers, not from the company. He says subscribers should take into consideration the service they've received and tip accordingly.

"Has your paper been delivered on time? Has it been placed in a dry location? Was it stopped when you went on vacation? Anywhere from $15 to $20 is considered generous. The average is about $10," Acosta said.

Linda DeMartino remembers how guests marveled over the delectables at her dinner party and admired the silver platters they appeared on. But she wasn't sure whether the whopping food bill included extra money for the servers. She now asks the caterer ahead of time for a suggested range. DeMartino says she usually gives the lead server 5 to 8 percent more than the others.

"You don't need to tip if it's a good caterer because I pay my staff well. Gratuity is not required but graciously accepted," said Elizabeth Silverman, owner of Catering by Lovables in Coral Gables. "If you feel the server has done an exceptional job and helped make your event a grand success, you may want to tip."

Silverman said general guidelines are $10 to $25 per staff member paid directly to them.

Partygoers face awkward tipping moments as well.

Anyone who's been to a company holiday party with an open bar has wondered what to do when the bartender mixes a martini or pours a glass of wine and hands it to you. Tip or assume the company is tipping?

Etiquette gurus say it depends on whether there's a tip jar out. If there is, stuff it with a dollar or two.

And when you pick up your car from the valet, shell out $1 to $2 or more if it's a fancy establishment. However, experts say you should tip on the front end if you plan to leave early and request your car be placed where it can be retrieved quickly.

Ada Holian of Coral Gables, Fla., struggles with another holiday dilemma. She remembers when she selected a giant Christmas tree from the lot, and watched as a teenage worker lugged it out for her. She wondered whether a $3 to $5 tip was sufficient.

"Although all our employees are paid, tipping is a nice gesture," said Capt. Paul Boutin, manager of the tree lot run by the Coral Gables Firefighters Benevolent Association. "We have about 40 high school boys and some college students trying to make some extra money for the holidays. Usually people give a dollar or two, but if it's a larger tree they give anywhere from $5 to $20."

Don't forget those service providers who make you look good for your holiday party and all year round — your hair dresser, manicurist, colorist.

Julie Hallman, a hairstylist at Salon Savvy in Plantation, Fla., said most of her clients are long-time customers who consider her a friend. She gets holiday tips of $25 in cash or gift certificates.

"It's really a personal thing," Hallman said. "It's a way for people to show their appreciation for service."

During the year, she said, people should tip 20 percent of the bill for a hair cut or color.

"It shows that you are pleased with the outcome," she said.

Is tipping the owner of a salon or any service business appropriate?

That depends on whom you ask. Whitmore says she's asked a variety of owners and has come to this conclusion: "If you go to a salon and see the prices and realize the owner charges more, don't tip because he or she has accounted for the fact that they will not get tips. But if he or she is not charging more than the others, tip that person at least 15 percent."

Having flowers, furniture or food delivered during the season?

Manny Gonzalez, creator of the Original Tipping Page at www.tipping.org, says give about $2 to the pizza delivery guy, from $5 to $10 per person to the furniture delivery people and $2 to $5 to the floral delivery person.

During the bustling season lines can get long at local restaurants, especially in South Florida as snowbirds flock to popular establishments.

Mark Brennen, author of "Tipping for Success" (Brenmark House, $12), says it's not how much you tip but how you conduct yourself that can help you get in. He applies that to getting a reservation in popular restaurants to catching a taxi on a crowded street, even to airline, hotel, or rental-car bookings and upgrades.

"To get in a situation you would normally be shut out of you can't throw money into someone's hands," Brennen said. "It could be demeaning. You give the tip afterward when there's a good-faith implied bargain between the patron and the service professional."

Brennen has strong feelings about end-of-year tips.

"I think you miss the boat when you wait once a year to give your doorman or your manicurist a tip. Take the opportunity during an off month like June or July and bring them a Starbuck coffee or a sandwich. It may be something modest but it says a lot. It sets you apart. You don't have to spend a lot of money to send the message to someone that they are important," he says.

Cindy Krischer Goodman is CEO of BalanceGal LLC, a provider of news and advice on how to balance work and life. balancegal@gmail.com

Tipping guidelines

For those who provide a one-time service

Bartender: 10 to 15 percent of total drink bill.

Shampoo tech: $1 to $2.

Hotel maid: $1 to $10, depending on how expensive your room is and how messy you are.

Taxi driver: 10 to 15 percent of the total fare.

Dog groomer: 15 percent of the bill, no less than $2 per dog.

For those providing an ongoing service

Personal trainer: $50 or more.

Hairstylist: $25 or gift certificate.

Day-care worker: $15 to $25.

Custodian: $20 to $30.

Babysitter: Two nights pay or a gift.

Mail carrier: No more than $20.

Pest control, pool or lawn service: Equal to one-time service fee.

SOURCE: Miami Herald

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