Who do you tip and how much do you give during the holidays? Etiquette expert has the answers

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Vanessa Friedman of Kentfield, Calif. tips her cleaning team, her garbage collectors and her mail carrier around the holidays.

But she doesn’t tip her acupuncturist, chiropractor or her dog groomer. 

And what about her hair dresser?

“Oh, shoot," she said. "I forgot about that."

Holiday tipping can be confusing, controversial, gratifying or a bit of all of the above. Whatever emotion you're feeling -- about what to tip and to whom to give it to -- can consume a lot of conversation around the water cooler at Christmastime. These type of questions have likely been swirling since the 17th century in England, where some debatable folklore harkens back to the days when tavern drinkers would slip money to the waiter “to insure promptitude” or T.I.P for short, when the practice of tipping is thought to have been born. (In the United States, tipping has a more controversial and racist history.) 

Experts from the Emily Post Institute to your Aunt Elaine all have ideas on whether to hand out cash, gift cards, a note or nothing at all to the people who provide you services throughout the year. 

Diane Gottsman, a national etiquette expert, author of "Modern Etiquette for a Better Life," and founder of The Protocol School of Texas, boils down  the Big Tipping Debate down to this:  “It’s all based on your budget and your relationship with provider,” she said.  “Not everyone is going to tip their garbage collector. You may never set eyes on them. You wouldn’t tip. But in my case, I live in a small neighborhood, where they make sure to pull my garbage cans back up my driveway and they’ve grabbed my dog when he’s loose.” 

She also advises tipping your hairstylist the cost of one haircut at the holidays. She's known her stylist for 13 years and hands her a generously stuffed envelope and a thoughtful note.

 “But this is a loose guide," she said. "You’re not going to protocol hell if you don’t.”

U.S. culture has dictated that customers tip hair stylists, manicurists, waiters and others in the service industries, where employees rely on the extra cash to get by. In today’s day and age, Gottsman said it’s also appropriate to give a little extra something to your Amazon Prime deliveryman and your UberEats driver. 

And then there are professionals whom Gottsman said you should definitely not tip. It’s not OK to give a mail carrier cash, she said, and some municipalities forbid garbage collectors from getting monetary tips. 

“You also don’t tip your doctor or, dentist,” she said. “But you take them cookies. Just don’t give them cash. It’s like tipping a reporter, it would feel like a like a bribe.”

While “cash is king,” Gottsman said it’s also really nice for clients and customers to gift their service providers with other tsotchkes and homemade gifts. A handwritten card is also key. 

It is also perfectly fine, Gottsman said, if you don’t want to tip, especially if you don’t have a relationship with the person, or if that provider earns a lot more than you do. 

Also, she said, don’t tip if you’re going to be resentful and cranky about it.

“Once it becomes a chore, it’s for the wrong reasons,” she said. “If you’re complaining, don’t do it.” 

Read Gottman's 2018 holiday tipping guide:


Boss- Don’t give your boss money, an expensive or overly personal gift. Consider bringing in baked goods, or a small token of seasonal appreciation. Best choice is to start a gift “pool” and collect money from colleagues that want to donate towards a group gift.

Office Assistant - If a bonus isn’t on the radar, give a gift card or gift you are confident your assistant will enjoy. The cost of the gift will be based on relationship and tenure.

Coworker - Give something that the person collects or enjoys. (i.e. fun office products, coffee mug, flavored instant coffee, hot cocoa, inspirational desk calendar, etc.)

Client - Check the corporate gift giving policy before delivering a holiday gift. When appropriate, give something enjoyable, without a logo. (i.e. gift basket of gourmet foods, wine and cheese, fruit, etc.)

Secret Santa - Stick to the agreed upon dollar amount. Don’t drop the ball. Everyone in the office
should participate unless there are religious or cultural reasons.

SCHOOL: Check school or company policy. Don’t forget to include a gift card and note.

Teacher – Avoid cash. Instead, contribute to a class gift, or gift certificate. Don’t forget the teacher’s

School secretary and nurse – A small gift or gift certificate.
Principal – Home baked goods and a holiday greeting card.


Doorman or woman – $20 to $100 (more if they provide heavily for you during the year.) Make an attempt to give each doorman or woman the same amount.

Handyman or woman - $20 to$100

Daily/weekly housekeeper – Equivalent to one day’s (or week’s) service.

Newspaper delivery - $10 to$30

Trash collector - Check local regulations for public service employees. If there are no restrictions, $10 to $25 per person. Give it to them personally or drop off the gift at their corporate office.


Babysitter - A cash equivalent to one night’s pay or a gift card.

Nanny - One week’s (to one month’s) pay and a gift from your child.

Hair stylist, manicurist, personal trainer, massage therapist - A tip or gift card equivalent to one visit.

Pet groomer - A cash gift equivalent to one service.

Dog walker - A cash gift equivalent to one day (or one week’s) service.

Private chef - One week’s service.

Barista - $20

Bartender - $20

After school dance instructor, tutor, Little League coach - $25 or gift certificate to favorite coffee shop.

Mail & Package Delivery

UPS - UPS allows drivers to accept a small gift or nominal gratuity.

FedEx - FedEx Employees can accept a gift valued up to $75, no cash or gift cards.

USPS - Mail carriers may not accept cash gifts or cash equivalents. They may accept a gift valued up to $20.

Skip – You do not “tip” but you might want to drop off a tray of cookies or baked goods if you are in for a visit. Cable/IT professional, chiropractor, dentist, doctor, tailor, lawyer, dry cleaner