I’m sitting in my cigar shop puffing on a Maduro when Philo, a doorman who works in an exclusive Upper West Side building, walks in.
“Hey Philo,” I say. “How are the Christmas tips going?”
“Jesus Christ,” he says. “The tenants are already starting to bitch about it.”
“I’ve got this woman,” Philo says. “All year she’s like ‘Philo can you do this for me? Philo can you do that for me?’ But the day after Thanksgiving she’s already saying, ‘Oh the economy is bad this year, you know? Things are tight for us right now.”
“She’s already hinting she’s not giving a Christmas tip.”
“Damn straight,” Philo says. “This happens every year. Somebody wants you to wait on you hand and foot all the time but when Christmas hits they start avoiding you, dodging you in the hallways. They’ll go off to St. Tropez or something for the holidays. Then when they get back in January they forget all about tipping you. Pukes.”
Philo has a right to be angry because holiday tips are very important to doormen. Most of the guys I interviewed for my book made between $42,000 – $45,000 a year with benefits. That’s not a lot of money in the New York Metropolitan area. So the holiday tip is huge.
“So how much did you make in tips last year Philo?” I ask.
“About $9000,” Philo says.
That’s an almost an extra 20 percent of income! And it wasn’t for the cheap holdouts in his building Philo might have made $11,000 or 25 percent on top of his annual salary. But there are many, many lowballers inhabiting doorman buildings. “We had sixty-six people give out of two hundred units,” Mickey, a Brooklyn born East Side super said. “Only sixty six. That’s disgusting.”
That blows my mind. If you live in a big city you know doormen in residential buildings get holiday tips. When you move into these buildings to enjoy those amenities the workers provide you have to factor that holiday cash into your budget. But now that Christmas will soon be upon us residents are starting their annual bitch and moan fest. Well if you can’t tip the doorman during the holidays maybe you ought to rethink living in a doorman building.
I know, I know. People on the Upper East side will send me hate mail and tell me I’m being a bit absolutist. But tip evasion during the holidays isn’t limited to doormen. Lots of women will let their “hair grow long” and skip their mani/pedis this month so when they return to the salon in February they won’t have to leave a big gratuity. Now the usual holiday tip for a beauty professional is the price of the service. Whenever I visit my barber Spiro I leave him 5 bucks on a 25 dollar cut. At Christmas I give him fifty. Now I can sympathize with women whose coifs can cost much more than mine, but to avoid the stylist to get out of leaving a holiday tip? Really? The cynical part of me knows some people will decide now’s the time to switch hairstylists. If you’re getting $300 highlights every month and can’t leave a holiday tip maybe its time to go to Supercuts.
Now Spiro would disagree with me on this point. “If you don’t got it you don’t got it. I’d rather you come in all year and give me work and a regular tip.” I see his point and maybe he’s right. But there’s a breed of people out there who treat themselves very well but get skinflinty when it comes to taking care of others. We all know people like this. They indulge in takeout five days a week and never tip the delivery boy. They buy themselves expensive gizmos all year but avoid the Salvation Army Santa. They’ll let you buy them dinner but never offer to pick up the tab. In my book I have a word for these people – schnorers. These are the people who always think they deserve the good things in life but never want to tip workers for the privilege. They take but never give. In my personal lexicon the synonyms for schnorer are Scrooge, Grinch and asshole.
“I’ve got a guy in my building,” Philo once told me. “He lives in a two million dollar apartment and just spent a million renovating it. Then he had the nerve to tell us he couldn’t afford to give us our holiday money. That’s bullshit.” You see? Good to themselves, not so good to others. Sigh.
Now many people have been hit hard by the recession. Like Spiro said, “If you don’t got it, you don’t got it.” But that’s not an excuse to forgo making an effort to thank the people who’ve faithfully served you all year. You didn’t get your bonus and can’t give the doorman that hundred? Maybe you can give fifty bucks or a nice gift. Can’t afford to leave a big tip at the uber salon because your husband just got laid off? Buy the workers lunch. Can’t tip the nanny? Give her a week’s paid vacation when you can afford it. The same goes with every tipped profession during the holidays. Make an effort. It’ll be appreciated.
Of course nothing says Merry Christmas like cold hard cash, but if you’re a good tipper all year and treat workers with respect they’re less likely to freak when you come up short at Christmas. But if you’re a jerk 365 a year and then stiff workers on the holiday tip you’re setting yourself up for trouble. A doorman told me that if he has such a person running an illegal sublet in his building he’ll rat them out to the co-op board in a second. Another super told me he lost the paperwork for a miserly tenant trying to get permits to have work done on his expensive duplex. Ouch. You might suddenly discover the hairstylist can never pencil you in, the car lot attendant always buries your car in the bowels of the garage and your personal trainer will only see you at 6:00 AM. If you’re not nice you may end up on the naughty list.
Now I don’t have a doorman, nanny, landscaper, personal trainer (Though God knows I need one.) housekeeper or masseuse on call. Most of us don’t have to worry about tipping these kinds of workers because we can’t afford them. But if you have a paperboy, postal carrier, favorite waiter, barista, shoeshine guy or dog groomer you see all the time then yes, you should tip them. If you don’t give them something you’re going to feel awkward all year. And if you can’t give what Emily Post or I recommend – give them something. Because everyone likes to get something at Christmas don’t they? And don’t use the recession as an excuse. We are all in this together.
And if you bought yourself something as superfluous as an iPad this year you better give the Salvation Army something or you’ll burn in hell. Don’t be a schnorer. Don’t be a Scrooge.