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Here's a tip: There's no standard

Anyone who's innocently asked friends about their holiday tipping practices knows that's a subject of heated opinions. I nearly started a feud when fellow parents learned I'd given $50 massage certificates to our day-care providers last year. I f...

Anyone who's innocently asked friends about their holiday tipping practices knows that's a subject of heated opinions.

I nearly started a feud when fellow parents learned I'd given $50 massage certificates to our day-care providers last year. I felt snubbed when a mail carrier failed to take her small gift from our stoop. And I was mortified when I learned a colleague gives the garbage collector a six-pack of beer every year. My guy hasn't received more from me than a bin of smelly trash.

Emily Post is the etiquette maven most turn to for holiday tipping advice.

But as I scoured her "do" list, I started thinking: What does she know about taking care of kids, cutting hair or cleaning house?

So instead, I turned to those on the front lines -- the pros themselves -- to see what gifts they're typically given to thank them for their hard work and what they wish they'd receive for a very merry.

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Unfortunately, they weren't much help.

"There is no set standard," said Laurie Ludwig, general manager of Details Salon Spa in St. Paul. She says tips spike a few dollars around the holidays; most clients normally tip 10 percent to 20 percent.

A client who has a long-term relationship with a stylist might bring wine or a gift card. That said, "the girls and guys in the salon don't say, 'Ooh, it's Christmas season, we're going to get this and get that,' " she said.

But the gift-giving culture depends on the salon's culture. Ludwig said clients of some high-end salons give "over the top" gifts. If you're unsure, "you can always ask," Ludwig said.

Most customers of Maid Brigade say "thank you" with tips of $50 to $100, owner Quentin Ritchie said. Others give $25 or $50 gift cards or jewelry and candles, although most maids prefer cash "that they can use for their own holiday," he said.

Gift-giving is a frequent topic at Twin Cities Professional Nannies meetings around this time of year, said Becky Kavanagh, the support group's president.

One year, the family she's been with for 16 years bought her a van, although she says it's the handmade pottery and handprint sweatshirt she's liked the best.

Most families stick with a much lower price point -- gift certificates to the nanny's favorite stores or presents that relate to her outside interests. Other families give a cash bonus. A week's salary is a common amount.

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Then there are those families who "just don't do anything for holiday gifts at all," she said. "The family may not be into gift-giving."

Spanish teacher Paula Boe receives few gifts, in part because some students at Humboldt Junior High School in St. Paul don't celebrate Christmas. Teaching in a wealthier area, she got ornaments, gift certificates and flowers.

"I don't expect anything from my students, but it is fun to get a card, especially if they try to write their message in Spanish," she said.

Still confused? University of St. Thomas marketing professor Susan Heckler wishes service providers would give tipping guidance to customers. "Service providers are sometimes not happy because they're not getting what they thought the customer should give," she said. "The customer is not happy because they are not sure if they're giving the right thing."

She suggests a menu of tip and gift recommendations at a variety of prices. Not only would it make everybody happier, but it would also make customers more loyal. Happiness, loyalty, clarity -- what great gifts.

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