When I was a teenager, I was mystified by the holiday tipping guides in magazines: do all grownups have a hairdresser/dogwalker/doorman, and fret annually about how much/whether to tip them? Growing up- and 14 years in customer service- has taught me that it doesn't have to be so fraught...
1a. Tip whoever you want.
1b. Think about who made your life better this year, and tip them.
The barista who starts making your usual when she sees you cross the street and hands it to you as soon as you walk up to the counter. The library clerk who spent 45 minutes teaching you how to use email. The daycare worker who really seems to get your kid. The hairdresser who comforted you through a breakup. The friendly, efficient bus driver who drives so smoothly on your morning commute.
2a. Tip however much you want/can afford...
2b. ...But perhaps consider the recipient's income level.
The library clerk probably makes minimum wage, and there's a good chance the barista does, too, while the hairdresser at a swanky salon might make big bucks. Tip whatever you want, but don't bow to the perverse pressure to give higher tips to people who make more money/work at fancier places.
3. A tiny treat can do the trick.
Cash is great, and always helpful, but a little thoughtful something can make such a difference in someone's day. During insane holiday seasons at a bakery and a candy shop, customers dropped off bottles of wine for us to enjoy once our loooooong shifts were over. So fun! Cards are incredibly meaningful, and dollar store chocolate can provide exactly the burst of goodwill needed to get through the rest of the day.
4. Did they sacrifice their holiday so yours could be better? Tip.
If you're thrilled and grateful that your favorite coffee shop or restaurant or museum is open on a holiday, consider expressing that gratitude to the employees. Chances are, working on that holiday is mandatory, they're probably missing out on celebrating with their family and friends, and they're probably not being paid any special overtime. A verbal 'thank you' is lovely, as is cash.
5. Good cheer is the greatest gift of all.
Working a 12-hour shift with no breaks? Fine. Missing all of the holiday festivities? That's okay. No holiday pay? No problem. Getting yelled at because the store you work for is out of Cabbage Patch Dolls/yule logs/wreaths on Christmas Eve? So, so terrible. I have had profanities yelled at me because the shop I worked for closed at 3pm on Christmas eve (information that had been readily available for weeks) and those few minutes broke my heart. I'm missing seeing my grandparents for this? I know that all of you are kind, civilized, and delightful, but remember that some of the people in line with you are not. An extra smile or friendly greeting goes along way towards erasing the damage done by jerks. Cash helps, too.
6. Don't worry about doing it wrong.
Every holiday tip, treat, and thanks, no matter how large or small, meant so, so much to me. Knowing that a customer or patron had gone out of their way to sign a card, or bring us a box of candy, or give an extra dollar warmed my heart to no end. Thank you, and happy holidays!
Also on Apartment Therapy: Surviving Holiday Shopping: Lessons From a Shopgirl