I'm broke and need to tip building staff! Any ideas?
December 20, 2011 2:14 PM   Subscribe

I have very little money to give to the staff of my condo building. What should I give them this Christmas? Caveats below.

Money is very tight this Christmas since both my dog and I are having surgery. This is in addition to many other unexpected expenses the last few months. I am spending next to nothing on my friends and family. I love buying gifts for people, but forced myself to cut back drastically this year.

I moved into my new condo 2 months ago and don't know what to do in regard to tipping the building staff this Christmas. There are several doorman and two janitors. What is the least amount of money I can give them without looking ridiculous? Normally, I would give $20 each, but I can't stomach the expense since I've spent far less on gifts for people I actually love this year.

What can I give them that will be enough so they are still friendly towards me? Did you ever not give gifts to your building's staff? How did they treat you afterwards?

Lastly, if I give cash, I can only give a pittance - maybe $5 each. I would rather give them something else so I don't come off so miserly. I want to avoid candy as I've been hit on in the past by men who construe a holiday gift as a come on. The last time, I gave candy to a valet and he backed me into the corner of the deserted parking lot, which scared me to the point of never parking there again, but I felt sorry for him, so I didn't complain. (One of the janitors in my new building already complimented me on my smile, but not in such a way that I could complain and I want to make sure he doesn't continue to hit on me.)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (13 answers total)
At $5 each, it almost has to be a group gift. I would recommend a nice case of beer. I'm assuming six people total, and $30 will get a nicer brand. Beer is friendly and a bit more personal than cash. I wouldn't think a group gift would be seen as a come-on, but must admit I've never really thought about it in that light.
posted by rtimmel at 2:25 PM on December 20, 2011

Can you bake or cook? I would make a large batch (maybe an assortment) of cookies and scones and the like and give them to the staff to enjoy as a group (not to individual workers). Or perhaps get some mulling spices and give a bottle of (inexpensive) mulled wine to each person.

I am a (dare I say attractive) young woman who often gives food type gifts to people, even men, and have never been hit on by them because of the gifts. But I'm also extremely casual/full of holiday cheer about it and don't make flirty eyes or anything at them. So personally, I wouldn't worry about that aspect of it. YMMV.

In my experience, condo buildings generally have a "holiday fund" sort of thing where you can put money in a large pool that then gets pieced out equally to all the staff. Ask the building manager if something like that exists.
posted by phunniemee at 2:28 PM on December 20, 2011 [3 favorites]

Baked goods are exactly the sort of thing where the effort outweighs the cost, assuming you have the time. We still remember the lovely spiced pumpkin bread someone made for us two years ago.
posted by dhartung at 2:32 PM on December 20, 2011

Don't feel sorry for people who scare you, and don't give them gifts, either. You have permission to pass on getting gifts for the staff, unless one of them has gone above and beyond in some helpful service to you.
posted by sageleaf at 3:04 PM on December 20, 2011 [3 favorites]

Fudge in nice little boxes with ribbon, and an accompanying tasteful card that expresses your appreciation and uses their actual name. This is the best fudge in the world , honest, and very easy to make.
posted by bearwife at 3:08 PM on December 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

You could knit them some hats or scarves if you know how to do such things. That could be done for $5 each. Not sure if this is appropriate given your climate.
posted by iamscott at 3:49 PM on December 20, 2011

I can speak to not tipping. Two years ago, I had just moved in with my partner who lives in a condo building (it was building he had grown-up in). In early December, I had a minor surgery which cascaded into major complications, and I ended up in the hospital for 11 days in serious condition. I was released Dec 23, but was in and out of the hospital until mid-January. It was a shitty Christmas.

During all of this, my partner forgot to tip. It was late spring before we even realized it (and by then we weren't sure how to address it, and I was also coping with medical bills). Of the ten staff in the building, two of the doormen are completely cold to me to this day, even though we did tip last year. The rest of the staff is really lovely, and it didn't seem to phase them in the least. So ya know... it's just gonna vary from person to person how they react.
posted by kimdog at 3:50 PM on December 20, 2011

I think that if they are of the "type," there's really no gift you can give individually that won't be construed as a come-on; I'm sorry that you had that experience prior.

In light of that, I recommend you take one of two courses of action: 1) Either a very small gift like candy or a baked good, which you can actually give to the group - left in a common area to them, for example. Or
2) No gift at all. Even a nice card with a note saying you appreciate their service (but unfortunately cannot gift them at present [maybe an IOU towards the future if so inclined]) is probably better than just silence. I've never lived anywhere with staff I should/did tip so, no sure how heinous it is, but if you are truly worried about it I think those are two options.
posted by sm1tten at 4:00 PM on December 20, 2011

Do *not* give fudge as a gift to men - you will waste your dollars.

Give a $5 gift card to Starbucks or any local coffee shop. Men like to drink beverages and eat.

If you want to mask the dollar amount, give packs of chips, peanuts, popcorn, etc. No fancy chocolates, cookies, or such.

Happy holidays.
posted by Kruger5 at 4:41 PM on December 20, 2011

Do *not* give fudge as a gift to men - you will waste your dollars.

Eh? I'm a man and would be super delighted to receive fudge as a gift anytime -- it's something delicious that I would never think to buy for myself or be able to justify as a personal expense.
posted by threeants at 5:23 PM on December 20, 2011 [8 favorites]

All of these are great suggestions - you need to do what you can manage right now and get through the new year with your head up. I might do things differently, though, next year -

I know everyone's idea about tipping varies widely, but in the real estate market I'm in where buildings have multiple doormen etc, I consider the end of year tip a hard cost of living in the building with people on staff 24 hours a day in case I need them and to elevate my experience from just occupying a building to feeling actively welcome and protected and taken care of.

To me, tipping condo staff (fairly, not wildly) is as non-negotiable as my tipping (fairly, not wildly) when I go out to eat. If I can't afford to tip, I can't really expect to be able to go out. Similarly, the condo end of year tip for personnel is a cost that should be built into estimates and expectations of overall housing costs. I know you mentioned you can't stomach the expense since you're giving your family lesser gifts, but I don't really think they're comparable. It's sort of a fee disguised as a gift - unofficial and completely aggravating in the way it's in such a grey area and puts the onus on you to figure out how much it is, but a fee nonetheless.

The way we got around feeling awful and sucky and broke about it was we put a small amount aside each month starting in January, as if it were a monthly charge, so that by the end of the year we don't have to scramble and it doesn't feel like a hardship that we resent. Maybe that might alleviate some of the stress for you next year. If you have four doormen and two janitors, that's $10 you're socking in an envelope each month for year-end peace of mind.

You must have a lot on your plate. I'm really sorry to hear about the surgeries and the financial hardships. Fudge is always lovely.
posted by sestaaak at 5:29 PM on December 20, 2011 [3 favorites]

Maybe it depends on what city you live in, but i actually don't think that tipping as 'required' as you think it is, or as sestaaak thinks it is. I think (rather than than know) that the staff in my building consider a gift & card a nice thing for residents to do, and i'd be surprised if they're counting the dollar value. (After all, with large numbers of units in a building, how can they keep track of who's giving what?)

I say go the dollar store and buy some pretty cookie tins, bake some cookies or squares, and gift them with a card. (Other good homemade xmas gifts: mason jars filled with alcoholic eggnog; smaller jars of hot fudge sauce; chocolate drizzled popcorn balls.) I think that will be a nice touch, and i can't think of anything else for less than $5 that will be as appreciated.
posted by Kololo at 10:21 PM on December 20, 2011

Since you only moved in two months ago I think you'll be okay with the tin-of-treats approach. Include a note that recognizes each person as an individual and reenforces your recent arrival, perhaps with an anecdote about how they made you feel welcome when you "moved in just after Halloween" or whatever. Then start setting money aside for next year as suggested above. At worst they'll assume that your thoughtful but clueless; next year they'll be pleased that you learned.
posted by carmicha at 3:54 AM on December 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

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