Angie's List: Clear up the confusion over tipping during the holidays

Who should you tip and how much?

TAMPA - Tipping is a topic many of us wrestle with throughout the year, and especially during the holiday season. Trying to figure out who to tip and how much can be confusing. Angie's List asked some highly rated service providers to weigh in. "This time of year the question of tipping your service company comes up really often," said Angie's List founder Angie Hicks. "Most people automatically think I need to pay cash. What they don't realize is there are lots of other options. For example, I think one of the most powerful ways to say thank you to a provider to write a nice letter to their company telling them what great service they provided to you throughout the year."

When tradespeople do get a tip, cash is the most-common gratuity offered. Other gratuities can come in the form of food and drink, gift cards, personalized gifts, referrals, and letters or reviews. Landscaper Ryan Curry agrees. He said tip can come in many different forms. "I've had customers cook us dinner. We've been given sports tickets. The best form of appreciation that customers can show me is by having me back for more projects... and also just referrals to friends, family, neighbors."

Angie's List Tips for Tipping:

  • You should never feel obligated to tip: However, if you do decide to tip your tradesperson this holiday season, first talk to the owner of the company to ensure tips are allowed. Some companies expressly forbid them.
  • The gift of praise: If tips are not allowed and you feel strongly about the work, or you are looking for an alternative to a cash tip, consider writing a letter to the company owner praising the employees' work; or, write a positive online review that spells out that great experience. This written proof will likely be appreciated just as much as a tip and may have a much longer lasting effect.
  • Creative gifts: If money is tight this holiday season, you could still put forth an effort to let your service providers know you appreciate them. We've heard from Angie's List members tell us they'll bake a sweet treat for their service providers and add a handwritten thank you note.

Angie's List offers the following tipping advice to help consumers get through the holiday season.

Holiday-related services:

  • Contractors who help hang your decorations, lights, etc.: A tip of $20 to $50 for the crew may be in order, based on the complexity of the task.
  • Bag boys or others who help carry your packages to your car: A tip of $1 per package/bag may be in order, though probably no more than $5.
  • Personal shoppers/concierge/errand services: A tip of 15 to 20 percent is recommended, possibly more, depending on the complexity or amount of work you have them do for you. Some of these services will do shopping, gift wrapping, mailing of gifts, etc.
  • Event entertainment: A tip of 15 to 20 percent is appropriate for Santa impersonators, carolers or musicians.

Year-round services:

  • Yard workers, handymen, etc.: A tip of $20 to $50 may be in order depending how often they visit your home.
  • Housecleaners: Many suggest $25 to $50, a day's pay, or a gift of equal value. If you use a service that sends a different housecleaner each time, this may not be necessary, unless you ask them to do some one-time tasks to help you prepare for the holidays – such as helping unpack and put up decorations, a deep cleaning before a party, etc.
  • Childcare providers: For babysitters, the recommendation is a gift at the holidays from your kids, plus one or two nights' pay. For a full-time nanny, one to four weeks' pay plus a small gift from your kids is appropriate. For standard childcare providers, a gift at the holidays and $25 to $75 each. This may not be appropriate for some pre-Kindergarten child care/education providers. Check with the manager of the facility to see what's appropriate, which might be a small gift from your kids.
  • Mail and paper delivery:  Though the U.S. Postal Service frowns on gratuities and gifts for mail carriers, authorities request that the gift or gratuity be $20 or less.  For daily newspaper delivery, a holiday tip of $15 to $25 is appropriate
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