'Give even more generously': Mister Manners' best advice for tipping during Covid

"This is a very tough time of year for people and especially for people in the service industries."

Thomas Farley is Mister Manners.
Courtesy Thomas Farley

Amid the rush of gift giving that dominates December, the end of the year is also a time when many of us give special end-of-year gratuities or other gifts to the people who provide us with personal services, from hairdressing and babysitting to fitness training and apartment maintenance.

While most of us haven't seen our hairstylists and trainers as frequently this year, if we've seen them at all, Thomas Farley (aka Mister Manners) says that giving service workers their traditional end-of-year cash bonuses is more essential in 2020 than it has been in a while.

"A lot of people are really hurting financially this year in ways that we probably have not seen since 2008, or maybe even the Great Depression," Farley explains, citing the uneven economic fallout from the pandemic. "This is a very tough time of year for people and especially for people in the service industries."

Because the coronavirus pandemic has upended almost every part of daily life this year, including our collective Christmas and New Year's plans, Farley says now is a great time for people — particularly those who didn't lose income in 2020 — to assess their financial situations and decide how generous they can be this season.

"It's important for them to not just give as they normally would, but to give even more generously," Farley says.

In that spirit, here's Farley's best advice for how to say thank you to the people whose services helped "carry on [our] lives with as much normalcy as possible."

Go the extra mile to give end-of-year gratuities

During the pandemic, many of us have become lax with some of the routines that before almost felt like second nature. I, for example, haven't gotten my hair cut since before Thanksgiving, and while I've enjoyed growing out my mop this year, the experiment has been more by necessity than by choice: Hair salons in California, where I live, have been closed since the beginning of December, and there's no fixed timeline for them to reopen.

I likely won't be able to get my hair cut until the middle of January at the earliest, so would it be OK for me to delay my Christmas gratuity until January?

"Sooner is better than later. But later is better than never. And if ever there were going to be a year where somebody would be completely understanding," Farley says, "this certainly is the year."

Sooner is better than later. But later is better than never.
Thomas Farley
Mister Manners

However, Farley encourages us all not to wait until the middle of January. If the person you want to tip is still working, deliver the gratuity to them before year's end. If they aren't, call their mobile number or find them on social media.

Be forward and ask the best way to get the recipient an end-of-year tip and make it happen, Farley says.

"Discern a way to try and get that gratuity to her or him," he says. "We've all got cellphone numbers or the Venmo accounts or even Instagram handles of the people that we go to on a regular basis for these services. There should be no excuse for why we can't get in touch."

Cash isn't tacky; it's practical

Some people still have qualms about giving cash as a gift or think, as my parents do, that it feels too transactional. This is the year to disabuse yourself of that notion, Farley says. For example, if you usually give holiday baskets or a top-shelf bottle of wine or liquor to building or maintenance staff, give them money instead.

"Get over whatever embarrassment you may feel about giving cash," Farley says. "If you feel like cash is icky or cash is tacky, I can assure you most recipients are not going to feel that way."

Farley cites a very relevant example, especially for people who live in apartment or condo buildings that employ maintenance staff. When the pandemic first hit in the spring, many people fled crowded cities in search of more space. Many of those people, Farley notes, may not have returned to the city, leaving buildings unoccupied and cutting into the tips that building staff might normally receive throughout the year.

"Even though they've had their jobs all year and they've been working all year, their revenue is definitely going to take a hit," Farley says.

If you feel like cash is icky or cash is tacky, I can assure you most recipients are not going to feel that way.
Thomas Farley
Mister Manners

A big cash tip at the end of the year could help fill some of that lost income from earlier in the year, Farley explains.

There are some people, however, who Farley says should never receive cash as gifts, including teachers, doctors, and home health aides.

"You would not, after a particularly good lesson from your sixth grade teacher say, 'You know, that was really great. Here's a $20 tip for the class that you just taught,'" Farley explains. "That would be unusual."

Farley broadens that metaphor to decide when cash is an appropriate gift. "Is this an individual to whom you ever hand cash as a gratuity?" he asks. If so, cash is fine. If not, give something else.

Can't give a lot? It really is the thought that counts

Whatever form your gratitude takes — cash, gift card, or just a simple thank-you note — Farley really stresses the importance of giving service providers special acknowledgment this year. The cost of one service is a traditional amount for an end-of-year gratuity, but if you can't afford that, give whatever you can, Farley says. If you really can't afford to give anything, then write a card.

But show your gratitude in some way. Try not to do nothing.

Mister Manners provides tips for proper gift-giving etiquette

Video by Courtney Stith

"This is a time when service professionals really rely on that income," Farley says. So, "telling them how much they mean to you, even if it's literally just a card ... it's so much better than doing nothing."

Whatever awkwardness you might feel about not tipping as much as usual pales in comparison to the lingering awkwardness if you don't tip at all, he points out. Gratuities are, after all, a way to show satisfaction with a service.

"Let the people know that you do care, you wish you could give more than whatever it is that you're giving, even if it's just a card," Farley says. "I cannot think of any rational service professional who would get that message and be angry at the sender."

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