Why Do You Tip at the Holidays?

by Kevin on December 14, 2010

Okay, I have to confess something. I don’t get holiday tipping.

I know, I know. I must be some sort of terrible person or something. I might be the tipping grinch.

But before you burn my blog to the ground give me a chance to explain. At the end I would love to hear your comments on why you tip for certain tasks and at the holidays. Maybe your thoughts can convince me to change my ways…

Is “Regular Tipping” Okay?

Before we get started I definitely tip in situations where the person’s primary form of income is from the tip. Folks like waiters and pizza delivery workers get a fair tip every single time without fail. I’m not a financial grinch… at least in that respect!

The issue I run into with tipping is with service providers that already charge a hefty premium for the service.

Folks like your…

  • hairdresser
  • taxi driver
  • massage therapist
  • coffee barista

…all charge a premium (or their companies do) for their services.


My wife’s haircuts cost $45 and last about an hour from the moment she walks in until the station is ready to be used again for a new customer. You expect a tip on top of $45 per hour?

Let’s say a hairdresser could do 7 haircuts per day for 5 days per week. That would be $1,575 in revenue per week. Over 50 weeks (allowing for two weeks of vacation per year) that’s $78,750.

Now I understand your hairdresser has to rent her space in the shop, or even rent the whole shop. I get that. But nearly $79,000 per year in revenue is not half bad. I’d be okay with a tip if the net profit ends up being a lot lower. Otherwise a tip on top of that seems excessive to me.

Taxi Driver

You drove me from point A to point B. I paid what was on the meter. Maybe you talked with me for a bit and were friendly… but is any of that tip worthy?

Massage Therapist

I drop $100 for an hour long massage. $100 per hour is $200,000 per year if you work 2,000 hours (50 weeks). Like the hairdresser I know a lot of that hourly cost goes to pay for rent or marketing or whatever.

But look at that number. $200,000 per year for one massage therapist if they worked a full year for a spa. That’s a lot of revenue.


I’m sorry. You work at Starbucks. You are paid a fair wage for a mostly unskilled job: pouring extraordinarily expensive coffee into a cup. And you get health benefits after 20 hours per week! If you want a tip cut the price of a cup of coffee in half.

Tips are Critical to Some

Check out this CNN Money article: Tips add up for many workers.

Note how waiters and waitresses get 70% of their income from tips. That’s how the system is set up, and I’m okay providing a fair tip.

I also see tips as an expression of gratitude for great service. If your waitress provides amazing service then of course she deserves a better tip.

But what exactly is great service from your taxi driver? Not getting in a wreck? Not having the cab smell like smoke? I see no “value add” here unless he safely gets you to your destination in 20% of the time it was supposed to take.

And the barista? You deserve a tip for making my drink correctly or for making cute images in the whipped cream on top? I would think making a drink correctly would be a requirement to keep your job not to get a tip.

Give Out of Gratitude Not Tradition

This handy CNN Money article gives some guidelines on how much should you tip during the holidays.

My issue with holiday tipping is that it’s forced giving. I personally believe that giving should be from the heart out of gratitude and not because a set of traditions says to do X, Y, and Z.

If I really, really thought my mail carrier was a swell guy I would consider tipping him or getting him something I thought he would want. The simple act of writing a check or handing cash to someone is impersonal. It reeks of “I have to do this and I don’t really know you, so here, take this.”

That’s so shallow, and frankly, so American.

Imagine the shock on your mail guy’s face when you run out to the mailbox when he pulls up and offer to pay for the two of you to grab a cup of coffee after he gets off work. “Why?”, he might ask you. “Because I really appreciate your hard work and want to get to know your story.” Utter shock. I guarantee it.

So what do you think? Has tipping gotten out of hand, or am I the worst person on the planet? Leave a comment below. I read every one.


SirBertly December 14, 2010 at 9:46 am

I agree with your concerns except for the Taxi Driver, add a buck or two for them if they are pleasant enough. I always feel that the Cab system is set up such that the driver can never rise about it. Unless the Cab driver owns their own cab, they are barely making their nut; add gas, other stresses of driving and I feel that it behooves me to tip. Think about it, you never really hardly ever see a happy cab driver. Most of them just want to get you from A to B and move on the next customer, it is the hustle at it’s best. Here is a site I found detailing the salaries of the average driver at Yellow Cab in DC http://www.careerbliss.com/salary/yellow-cab-salaries-793288/. Next time you are in a cab, ask the driver how their pay structure is set up and what they would change. Get the story from them and then decide if you want to tip them.

Baristas, I have tipped one in my life, she had an exemplary personality. The rest, I feel, are just slinging coffee. I am sorry, I want coffee and a smile. Also, having worked in the service industry, there were some norms we went by, and one of them was not to expect a tip for take-out. I think of my coffee as take-out, there was no service, per-se, and if there was, heck, let’s tip our good folks at McDs

Hair-dressers, Masseuses, Mani-Pedicurists, I am already paying for your service, if they have a problem with their fees, they may feel free to raise them. And that’s another thing about Cab-drivers, they are offering you someone else’s service (the cab co), someone else is making the money, not them.

SirBertly December 14, 2010 at 10:00 am

BTW, I just read the CNN article. I don’t think that graph is accurate. An accurate graph should consider the actual take home before and after the tip. I think nail techs and gamers dealers are over-tipped, it’s just that kind of industry, people who feel good tip more(nails done, or just won some money,) but that doesn’t mean that the nail-tech/Game dealer isn’t already doing just fine without the tip.

Golfing Girl December 15, 2010 at 9:01 am

This has always been a question for me as well. I don’t consider holiday tipping as much as I consider it giving a regular service provider a little extra as a Christmas present. I no longer go to a hairdresser (one of the many ways I save tons of money) but when I did, I’d give her a really nice tip near Christmas. I don’t tip my postman (never met him/her) and I’ve always thought it would be nice to tip the garbage men, but haven’t ever done that either (I’ve heard a case of beer is a nice gift).

I’m a very generous tipper when it comes to dining out, as I was a server all though college and between jobs, but I don’t tip the lady who scoops out my ice cream nor would I if I went to a barista (another way I save money). I think giving Christmas presents (even if it’s just a batch of homemade cookies) is more appropriate than holiday tipping, which just seems awkward. I gave my daughter’s teacher and bus drivers gift cards, as they are responsible for one of my most prized possessions, but I don’t plan any other tipping or gifts for anyone else this year (excepting relatives and close friends of course).

Kevin December 15, 2010 at 9:50 pm

Props to you for giving the teacher and bus driver gifts. Bus drivers make something like $18,000 per year and they transport everyone’s kids. Seems just wrong to me.

Emily December 27, 2010 at 4:30 pm

Massage Therapists don’t generally work that many hours. There are, of course, many different circumstances, but there is always some down time in between clients for cleaning the room and making sure the next client isn’t waiting too long (and stretching, taking a quick break), so 5-6 clients a day is a full day. Many therapists only work part-time because it can be really hard work. It’s physical and takes mental focus. Often half the money goes to room rent.

Charlie F December 28, 2010 at 8:39 am

I think that in any service industry, it’s important to tip those who do a good job, to show that you appreciate them, and also to help ensure great service the next time. For example, I tip my piercer and tattoo artists 20%. My piercer especially, since I can call him any time day or night with questions (I did this once, he’s super helpful). What he charges for jewelry and piercings is more than many other piercers, but you don’t get quality for a $20-anywhere-above-the-belt piercing, and the jewelry can cause problems when it’s that cheap.

Comments on this entry are closed.