TIPPING THE BUILDING STAFF: BRICKUNDERGROUND’S 2014 GUIDE

by Teri Karush Rogers

Some tips for mastering the season of Yuletide gratuities.

Does the service at your building seem a little more top-shelf lately? Most likely, that’s because Thanksgiving Weekend marks the kickoff of holiday tipping season.

Below, we’ve updated our tried and true tips for mastering the season of yuletide gratuities, including how much to tip, who to tip, and how. (Spoiler alert: Even your landlord might deserve some extra cash.)

Need more info?  Check out the links following this article, which include everything you need to know about tipping pools, as well as alternatives to tipping in cash, the renter-versus-owner tipping divide, and how to tip staff you rarely see. To find out what your neighbors are planning to tip this year, take our two-click annual tipping poll:

THE BASICS

Q. Do I have to tip?

No.  You’ll be in the minority, but tipping the staff at the holidays is a custom, not a requirement.  Plenty of staff tell us they treat non-tippers the same as tippers—just as plenty of others admit to extending fewer favors (or making them pay-as-you-go) and fewer smiles to non-tippers.

DOLLARS AND SENSE: HOW MUCH TO TIP

Q. How much should I tip building staff?

The precise amount of each tip depends on the size of your building (the larger the staff, the smaller the individual tips), quality of service, staff seniority, length of time you’ve lived there, whether you own or rent (see below), personal chemistry, your financial circumstances, and whether you’re frugal, generous or somewhere in between.

Here’s a general framework—adjust accordingly.

  • Super, resident manager:  $75  to $175 on average (broad range: $50  to  $500)
  • Doorman, concierge:  $25 to $150  on average (broad range: $10  to $1,000)
  • Porter, handyman:  $20 to $30 on average (broad range: $10 to $75)
  • Garage attendant:  $25 to $75 on average (broad range $15 to $100)

Q. How much should I tip total?

Much will depend on the size of your staff and the other factors cited above, but it may help to review  the results of BrickUnderground’s 2013 tipping poll completed by more than 700 New Yorkers to get a sense of what others do. Here’s an overview:

  • Owners in doorman buildings: Twenty-five percent of Scrooges  owners in doorman buildings reported  tipping nothing at all, with the bulk (38 percent) reporting tips totaling between $250 and $1,000.  On the high-roller end, 21 percent tipped in the $1,000 to $2,500 range, while just 4 percent said they anted up more than $2,500.
  • Owners in non-doorman buildings: Like owners in doorman buildings, about a quarter said they tipped nothing at all.  More than half tipped up to $250, with only about 20 percent handing over more than $250.
  • Renters in doorman buildings: In some ways, renters in doorman buildings were more generous than owners last year: Just 4 percent (compared to a quarter of owners) said they planned to tip nothing at all.  About 25 percent of  renters in doorman buildings tipped up to $250, another quarter tipped  in the $250 to $500  range, and another quarter in the $500 to $1,000 range.  About 20 percent tipped more than $1,000.
  • Renters in non-doorman buildings: Twenty-six percent of renters in non-doorman buildings reported giving nothing to the staff, which, in a non-doorman rental, is likely comprised of just a super.  A third of renters tipped up to $250, while 9 percent gave $250 to $500 total and 6 percent handed over $500 to $1,000. In a  break from prior polls, 23 percent (23 respondents) reported tipping more than $2,500.  (Perhaps a testament to the Airbnb sharing economy where renters rely  on supers  to turn a blind eye and/or lending a helping hand?)

Q. My building’s ‘doormen’ are actually security guards who don’t do much besides sit there. How much should I tip them?

While some security guards do just sit there, others work just as hard as doormen. In the former case, it’s okay to tip on the light side.

Q. One of my doormen is a  jerk, and I never see my super.  Do I have to tip them?

Rather than make what amounts to an all out declaration of war by completely withholding a tip, many residents in this position tip on the low end of the scale.

In BrickUnderground’s Naughty vs. Nice Holiday Tipping Poll two years ago, 65 percent of nearly 600 voters with “bad” doormen said they still planned to tip them, usually in the range of $25 to $50 apiece.  As for those with delinquent supers, only 49 percent of the 455 respondents planned to give them some extra cash, clustering in the lower part of the $25 to $100 range.

Q. Should I tip the new doorman the same as the one who’s been here 20 years?

Newer doormen in their first few years of service often receive smaller tips. For instance, a first-year doorman may collect half what a senior doorman does.

Q. Is it okay to tip my favorite doorman more than the rest?

It’s okay to play favorites, like tipping some doormen better than others depending on how useful they are to you. Just try to keep everyone’s tip within the range of acceptability.

Q. Should the amount I tip correspond to the rent I pay, or how many people live in my apartment?

Tipping is (theoretically) about rewarding service, not about how big your apartment is or how much you pay for it.  If  you’re a family of five—or someone who works from home and receives a lot of deliveries or visitors–you probably receive a lot more service from the staff than a 25-year-old software developer who lives alone.

Q. I’ve had a financial setback and can’t afford as much as last year.  What should I do?

Staff is accustomed to senior citizens on fixed incomes tipping lightly, and they are usually “forgiven,” though some workers say they won’t perform extra services for these residents gratis.

As for lost jobs, divorce, etc., many doormen tell us that if they receive a small amount—particularly from someone who normally tips just fine—they automatically attribute it to financial trouble and that there is no need to say “wish I could do more.”  Of course, this won’t fly if you’re still taking your annual jaunt to St. Bart’s and waltzing in with Bergdorf’s bags.  And if you frequently ask for favors, the “unable to make ends meet” card may eventually run its course.

Q. My building has a tipping pool. Do I need to give individual tips on top of that?

In practice, many residents continue to tip individually too, at least to the staff they see the most.

Q. Why do renters usually tip lower than owners?

Renters, as a group, tend to tip lower than condo and co-op owners in comparable buildings. Here are a few reasons why:

  • Transience: Tips generally rise along with the amount of time you know the staff—and the amount of time you expect to need their services in the coming year—so part of the tipping disparity has to do with the less permanent nature of a renter’s life. (Or of market-rate renters at least.  According to NYU’s Furman Center, owners and rent-regulated tenants stay put an average of 16 years and 12 years, respectively, while market-rate renters move every four years on average, with a median of two years.)
  • Landlords:  Some renters believe that holiday bonuses are the landlord’s responsibility, whereas in a co-op or condo, residents are their own landlord.
  • Disposable income:  There are far more renters at the early stages of their careers—and earning power—than owners. They simply have less money to spend on tips. Moreover, first-time renters who are also first-time New Yorkers may not be familiar with the custom of holiday tipping.
  • Property values: With so much invested in the building, owners have a bigger stake in how the building is cared for.

FROM DOORMEN TO DOG WALKERS: WHO TO TIP

Q. Should I tip my landlord or management company?

What? Isn’t the rent enough?!  No, seriously, there are actually situations where a gift, if not a cash tip, makes sense. If you have a close rapport with your small,  mom-and-pop landlord, a nice bottle of wine is not out of order. Similarly, if you are calling the management company every other day to see if a larger apartment has become available to accommodate your growing family, a little something to stay top of mind (and top of the wait list) certainly wouldn’t hurt.

Q. How much should I tip non-building workers?

  • Cleaning person/housekeeper:  One to two weeks of pay.
  • Cleaning service: Tip 15 to 20 percent throughout the year, as a portion of their earnings goes to the cleaning service. If the same crew cleans your apartment each time, a holiday tip (one week) is appreciated.
  • Full-time nanny: One week’s pay minimum, or two if you can afford it.  Or, one week’s pay and one week’s vacation.
  • Regular babysitter: Consider tipping $25 to $50 in cash or a gift card
  • Regular dog walker: One week’s pay
  • UPS delivery: Since UPS assigns drivers to specific addresses, $25 to $50 if you have a lot of packages delivered. More if you have a lot of business-related deliveries.
  • Mail carrier: By law, mail carriers can’t accept cash or anything worth more than $20. In reality, some (but by no means most) residents do tip in the $25 to $50 range, especially if they receive a lot of deliveries or a lot of mail that requires signatures. For a fuller discussion of the postal carrier tipping question, click here.

FYI, you do not need to tip  your property manager, contractor (plumber, electrician, etc.), or real estate broker.

TIMING IS EVERYTHING: WHEN TO TIP

Q. When is the best time to give a holiday tip?

Doormen collect year-end tips from December all the way into February, but the bulk crosses palms in the couple of weeks leading up to Christmas.

This is not, however, what the staff necessarily prefers. Many doormen tell us that the beginning of December is better, so they can do their own holiday shopping.  A few say they prefer the gratuities to be spread out, cutting down on the temptation to spend it all at once.

Q. Do I have to tip at the holidays if I tip all year round?

Residents who tip year round for extra services often go on the lighter side at year’s end—at least with the staff who’ve been receiving those a la carte tips.

Q. Do I have to tip for a full year if I just moved in?

It’s okay to prorate your gratuities, unless you didn’t tip for services performed in connection with the move itself.

QUESTIONS OF ETIQUETTE: HOW TO TIP

Q. Are checks okay or do I have to give cash?

Cash is preferred, but as a precaution against sticky fingers, write a check if you’re handing the tip to a super or another staff member to distribute. (Note: Most doormen we spoke to prefer to get their tips directly rather than via the super or another doorman.)

Can’t afford to tip in cash? All is not necessarily lost. Check out the BrickUnderground Guide to Alternative Tipping for some creative workarounds.

Q. Should I include a card or a note?

A plain white envelope is fine; no expensive cards are necessary. Most people keep notes short and sweet (“Thank you for your help this year” or “We enjoyed seeing your smile”) and that’s perfectly acceptable, though some doormen tell us they do appreciate a personal note explaining what exactly is most valued about their service.

Q. Are food or gifts an acceptable substitute for cash?

They’re appreciated, but until colleges start accepting cookies for tuition payments, gifts are no substitute for money.

Q. How do I tip staff I rarely see?

You can ask the super or another staff member to hand out your envelopes but as mentioned above, write a check instead of using cash to reduce the possibility of pilfering.  Include a family photo if you think the recipient may not be able to connect your name to your face.

Q. Do staff tell each other how much they’re tipped?

Some do, so to be on the safe side, assume yes. Also, be aware that many staff members keep lists comparing your tip this year to prior years. You should do the same.

TAXES, INFLATION AND MORE FINANCIAL CONCERNS

Q. Should I bump up tips each year to keep up with inflation?

You don’t have to be quite that lockstep, but a bump up every two or three years isn’t unreasonable, all other factors being equal.

Q. Are tips tax deductible?

If you run a business from home, you can claim a small deduction of up to $25 per staff member, categorized as a “business gift” on your tax return, says Manhattan accountant Koreen Jervis of Korje Tax Professionals.

The percentage you can deduct must correspond to the amount of your apartment used as office space, however.  That means that if your tax return states that 25 percent of your apartment is used for business, you will only be able to claim 25 percent of the $25 deduction, which works out to $6.25 per tippee.

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First Thanksgiving? Consider This Your Stress-Free Guide to Hosting

Real Simple

First Thanksgiving? Consider This Your Stress-Free Guide to Hosting

So you decided to have everyone at your home this year. It’s a big undertaking, but we’re here to help.

Thanksgiving is one of the biggest family holidays of the year—and maybe the most delicious. There’s nothing like the after-dinner food coma that evening, and knowing you have leftovers to get you through breakfast, lunch, and dinner practically until Christmas. If the hosting baton has been passed to you this year, we know your first instinct is to panic.

“It always feels overwhelming and very stressful,” says Debi Lilly, owner and chief planner at A Perfect Event. “There are a lot of details that have to be fairly synchronized.”

Not to worry: We’ve mapped it out. Here, a foolproof timeline and checklist so no detail goes forgotten.

TWO TO THREE WEEKS BEFORE:

Make a plan.
“Start planning out simple things, like event flow,” says Lilly. Think about where you want guests to sit, and where you want to set your food (if you’re doing buffet style). With more than eight guests, buffet is the easiest way to go—especially if you’re short on space.

“You can do a beautiful party in a small space by utilizing all of your sitting areas,” says Lilly. This means you may want to purchase cheap lap trays for older guests or young children who might have trouble balancing dinner on their knees.

Create a menu:
When creating a menu, go for recipes that are simple and trusted—like these easy stuffings, or these colorful sides. While it’s fun to have one unique item at your meal, go for a signature cocktail, not a stuffing recipe that requires bizarre ingredients and three days of prep. Once your menu is set, write out grocery lists. You should divide the list into perishables and nonperishables to make shopping and storing easier. Need menu inspiration? Find it here.

Pro organizing tip: “Print out a blank November calendar, and then fill in with when you will shop, when you will make certain dishes ahead, and any pick-ups you may need to make or deliveries coming to the house,” says Diane Phillips, James Beard Award nominee cookbook author and cooking teacher.

Order your turkey.
“For the turkey, you will need three-quarters to a pound of turkey per person,” says Phillips. This will still leave you with a day’s worth of leftovers. Buy the bird as early as possible and freeze it. Just remember: You need one day of thawing for every four pounds of turkey.

While you’re at it, consider ordering prepared h’ors doerves trays from the grocery store or desserts from the bakery that you’ll also want to serve. One more thing checked off your list!

Confirm your guest list.
Take note of how many people are coming to your house, and in that list, how many are children. From there, ask people to help. It’s not unreasonable to ask guests to bring a dish—and often, they will offer!

“There’s a time and a place for doing it all, but I don’t think Thanksgiving is the place,” says Lilly. When you ask guests to bring a dish, be very specific, so you know exactly what is heading to your home. Phillips takes it one step further:

“If you are having people bring a dish, give them the recipe,” she says. “They will appreciate having something they can easily put together.”

ONE WEEK BEFORE:

Set the table.
Taking care of this task in advance saves you a little bit of stress on the day-of. If you can’t set it an entire week in advance, shoot for a few days ahead. Have place cards ready if you’ll all be sitting at one table to avoid any confusion.

Place yourself closest to the kitchen, and not necessarily at the head. It’s best to split up couples for a livelier dynamic, but keep small children between their parents. Bonus tip: Seat lefties at corners, where they’ll have room to eat without banging elbows.

Grocery shop.
Consult your grocery lists and get your shopping out of the way. Does anything sound worse than a last-minute trip to the local grocery store on Thanksgiving Day? If you shop about five to six days in advance, you should have little-to-no issue with your perishable items.

To ease your burden, consider passing off dessert to a guest or a local bakery, says Lilly. Offer up recipe suggestions to the family member who can bake up a storm, or visit the grocer to order ahead.

Prepare for overnight guests.
Make sure you have fresh towels and linens on hand for overnight guests, and their room is ready to go. If you have a small home and no guest room, there are plenty of ways to make guests feel comfortable without their own space.

THE WEEK OF:

Take inventory.
Do you have a thermometer? Enough casserole dishes? What about plates and silverware? Ensure that you have all of the essential turkey tools before diving into cooking.

Start cooking on Sunday.
Here lies Phillips’ secret to a stress-free holiday:make-ahead dishes. Gravy bases can be frozen, and casseroles and vegetables can often be cooked ahead and refrigerated for up to two days. If it can’t be cooked in advance, maybe it can at least be prepared. For example: your potatoes can be washed and ready to peel and mash.

THE DAY OF:

Wake up early.
On this holiday, there is no sleeping in. Make a schedule, and stick to it. Most importantly: You want to be ready up to an hour before guests are scheduled to arrive.

“Someone always arrives very early,” says Lilly. “There’s nothing worse than the doorbell ringing while you’re in the shower.”

What does this mean? The table or buffet should be set, and more importantly, the drinks should be chilled. If you give yourself an hour-long buffer, you’ll save yourself a lot of scrambling.

Keep food warm.
Use the microwave—it’s insulated, so it will keep dishes warm for up to half an hour—just don’t turn it on. Pour gravy into a thermos to keep it steaming. Spoon mashed potatoes or rice into an insulated ice bucket or Crock-Pot.

Prepare every room in the house.
Start your holiday with a clean kitchen—this means empty dishwashers and trashcans. Line your bins with more than one bag so that you have a fresh bag ready to go when one becomes full. Remove precious objects from the living room to save them from hyper nieces and nephews. If coats and bags are going on your bed, cover your duvet and pillows with a sheet to protect them from the elements. Finally, light a candle in the bathroom—it’s just a nice touch.

Roast the perfect turkey
To know it’s done, use a meat thermometer in three spots: breast, thigh, and stuffing. Place the thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh, without touching the bone, and in the center of both the breast and the stuffing. If your turkey is unstuffed, cooking times are different—see this handy chart for answers to all of your turkey cooking questions. Brining your turkey will make it even juicier, and it’s an easy skill to master.

If something goes wrong, don’t panic. Call mom, consult these turkey tips, or phone one of these helpful Thanksgiving hotlines.

Get your stain-removing arsenal ready.
When you crowd family members into a home, and couple that with delicious dinner, food will fly. White cotton cloths can sop up spills; white vinegar can handle coffee splatters; white wine can overpower its evil twin, red wine; a pre-treat stick like Tide to Go will handle major food slips.

Have fun!
This holiday is all about being grateful for what you have—even if the turkey is burnt and the tablecloth is a mosaic of stains, enjoy the time you have with family and friends, and take note of funny stories to tell at next year’s dinner.

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