Holiday Tipping: Who To Tip and How Much

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The holidays present us an opportunity to reflect on family and goodwill toward all. And that includes the service industry workers who help us throughout the year.

During the holidays, who you should tip — and how much? Investment firm Fidelity has a tipping guide that helps shed light on the subject so as to spread the wealth appropriately, so to speak, during the holiday season.

How Much Should You Tip?

Among the many questions that surround tipping, the first is usually, “How much?”

Although many receipts you get these days in restaurants may include suggested amounts, there is no set rule on how much to tip someone no matter the service or industry. Ideally, you want to tip an amount that properly conveys your gratitude, even if the service was lacking a bit.

Who Should You Give Your Tip To?

What can be even more important than the amount you tip is whether the worker receives it or not.

Money expert Clark Howard says that when he takes a cruise, he makes sure to reward the workers who make his experience what it is: “It’s the only time I carry a wad of cash,” he says.

Although many cruise lines have prepaid options for tips, Clark makes sure to tip those who have assisted him personally.

“The only way you know that the people … who have really mattered to you are really getting the money is when you hand them the cash.”

What Types of Workers Should You Tip?

Fidelity suggests making a list of workers who help you routinely, perhaps throughout the year. Some helpers on its list include:

  • Babysitter
  • Dog walker
  • Housecleaner
  • Personal trainer
  • Hairstylist

A long-held tradition in many parts of the country includes tipping the mail delivery person. But the United States Postal Service says, “… carriers are permitted to accept a gift worth $20 or less from a customer per occasion, such as Christmas. However, cash and cash equivalents, such as checks or gift cards that can be exchanged for cash, must never be accepted in any amount.”

What Would a Tipping Guide Look Like?

Looking at your lifestyle and the type of services you use and the people who help you with them, you can get an idea of how much you should tip based on the roles listed above and a few more. Here is an example of tip-worthy workers and suggested amounts according to Fidelity and Gottsman’s Tipping Guide.

WorkerSuggested Amount/Gift
Au pair/nannyOne typical session/one week's pay
BabysitterOne week's pay
Petsitter/dog walkerOne session
Day care provider$25-$75 (or the amount equivalent to week's work)
Home nurse/caregiverOne week's pay
Massage therapistOne session
Yard/garden workerOne session

Stay Within Your Means

One of the main things you do not want to do when spreading good cheer is to spread yourself too thin. Fidelity suggests creating a tipping budget.

Diane Gottsman, national etiquette expert and founder of the Protocol School of Texas, has told that you should start by looking at your personal budget.

If money is tight, Gottsman says to prioritize based on the service providers who mean the most to you.

“Your budget is first priority when deciding who — and how much — you should tip this holiday season. Next, think about the service the person provides throughout the year and the frequency of your visits.”

What About Gift Cards?

While Clark is generally not a fan of gift cards, he’s in favor of buying them if the deal is good enough or if you’re doing so to support a local business.

“There are people buying gift cards to try to help businesses stay open, not intending to use the cards for now, but to just push cash toward companies,” Clark says. “I think that’s fine.”

If you go the gift card route, tell the recipient to use it promptly: You don’t want the business to go out of business before they’ve cashed it in! 

Tipping Alternatives

If you just don’t have the finances to tip, you can still spread some holiday cheer. The Fidelity article suggests baking holiday treats, which can be especially valuable to workers who aren’t allowed to receive cash gifts or tips. 

You could also opt for things that may carry more sentimental value like homemade crafts or hand-drawn pictures.

Here are some free or cheap gift ideas that could surely warm someone’s heart.


Greeting Card

A simple thank you card can brighten the day of someone that waited on you in a restaurant or other business. Not only are greeting cards relatively inexpensive, but they can be customized to include any message you want.

Thank You Letter

Writing a thank you letter to the worker’s superior can go a long way toward adding some extra coins to their wallets. In many cases, the boss may reward the worker with a day off or your kind words may lead the way to a promotion, which could mean a meaningful raise down the line.

Final Thoughts

In line with the experts who say you should reward those who’ve helped you throughout the year, adding a little extra tip for your favorite server at your favorite restaurant during the holidays couldn’t possibly hurt your dining experience one bit.

Above all, keep in mind that tipping should never be a stressful thing. If the idea of tipping burdens you, then it’s perfectly fine to express your gratitude with words. While cash is always nice, some heartfelt sentiments said at the right time will always be in season.