It can be tricky any year to know how wide to open your wallet for end-of-year tipping.
Add in the current pandemic — in which service workers have continued to show up despite stressful conditions and potential dangers — and it can feel challenging to put a price on appreciation.
Get instant access to members-only products and hundreds of discounts, a free second membership, and a subscription to AARP the Magazine.
So who should get that holiday tip and how generous should that appreciation be?
"Because of COVID, I believe we should be more thoughtful about tipping a little more if we are able,” says etiquette expert Elaine Swann, 54, founder of the Swann School of Protocol in Carlsbad, California. “If you can give 5 percent to 10 percent more than you normally do, that would be sufficient."
If finances are strained, however — the reality for many people these days — give what you can. If you wish you could give more, say so, advises Swann. And don't forget to explain how thankful you are for a job well done. “That way the person understands it has more to do with your financial position” rather than whether they provided good service, she adds.
Rules of thumb for tipping
So what constitutes a standard end-of-year tip? Many experts recommend an amount equivalent to the cost of one service. For example, a $50 haircut would merit a $50 tip.
According to the Emily Post Institute, the nation's most well-known name in etiquette, when deciding how much to spend, you should consider:
- The quality and frequency of the service you receive
- Your relationship with the service provider
- Location (tipping averages tend to be higher in larger cities)
- How long you've been using the service
Aside from any nonmonetary gifts, the institute, based in Waterbury, Vermont, suggests tipping up to one week's pay for a live-in childcare provider, dog walker or housekeeper, and the cost of one session for a personal trainer, pet groomer or massage therapist.
When in doubt, ask around. And perhaps think about tipping people you haven't in past years — such as the delivery driver who brings your food and supplies to help you avoid the grocery store.
As for restaurants, a decent tip is around 20 percent. Delivery drivers who work double time should get a tip equivalent to 15 percent to 20 percent of your total order. Ordering directly from restaurants supports local businesses much more than ordering through Grubhub and other third-party delivery services, which may take a commission of between 10 percent and 30 percent for every order.