"It's kind of a difficult subject to give a straight percentage just because it's depending on so many different factors ... and the relationship you have with that person," said Toronto-based etiquette expert Louise Fox, host of MannersTV.com. "How long have you known them? What do they do for you?"
Etiquette experts Karen Cleveland and Margaret Page each say a good barometer is to double the amount of the usual gratuity, or alternatively, offer the cost of the service they typically provide.
"Let's say you have a neighbourhood kid who comes and shovels your snow and you normally hand him a $20 — maybe give him an extra $20. Or, if you typically tip your stylist 10 bucks, double it. Whatever you feel is appropriate," said Toronto-based Cleveland, writer of the column Finishing School.
"And if that's not in your budget, write them a handwritten note. No one is going to scoff at a beautiful, thoughtful note to appreciate their help if a bill doesn't fall out."
The most important thing is for people to give as much as they feel comfortable, said Vancouver-based Page, a business etiquette expert, professional speaker and coach.
"If you've given so much that then you're in debt or you have a longer time paying off your Christmas charges — don't do it. Nobody wants anyone else to go into a challenging financial situation," said Page, author of "The Power of Polite."
"Think about who adds value to your life, and who do you want to recognize? That really is what it's all about."
Experts share some additional guidelines on tipping specific service providers.
"You might give them a nice card saying: 'Thank you for your service throughout the year' and a fruit basket or a box of cookies you made," said Fox.
In addition to providing a group gift that staffers are encouraged to share, a card can be used to single out specific employees providing personal services, said Cleveland.
"You could write a card to the receptionist, stylist and colourist. I'd call out their three names and put it the attention of the entire place and (add) 'Thanks for looking after me.'"
Individual envelopes can be left with the receptionist containing tips for specific staffers, like the shampooist and stylist, Page noted.
"We don't know how they split the tips. They may get a fair portion of it — you never know. But if you feel compelled: ' Wow, they did a really good job and I'd really like to acknowledge them,' then give them that little separate amount."
They're the service providers who often remain unseen and unknown: the early risers who deliver the newspaper or the mail.
Cleveland suggested writing a card showing gratitude for the service rather than a specific provider.
"It might not make it into the hands of the person that actually delivers your paper because that may be 20 people in the course of a year. But the person who picks up that card will feel really good."
Fox suggested a "small token of appreciation" such as a card containing a gift card for coffee.
"You're not going to buy a personal gift that has some sort of meaning for them if you don't know them well."
Neighbourhood teens who look after kids while their parents are away are also deserving of recognition.
"Something that's maybe the equivalent of what you'd pay them for a job is always a good guideline," said Fox. "That could be in the form of cash or a movie pass."
"Those are the people I believe are good to give cash to; or alternatively, you can't go wrong with iTunes card or a gift certificate," said Page.
For individuals wanting to make a gift card more personalized, consider packaging it in an interesting way, suggested Cleveland.
"If your babysitter really likes coffee or tea, get a beautiful container, fill it with loose tea leaves and pop a gift in that. It just feels a bit more special than opening up an envelope with a plastic card in it."
SHORT ON CASH?
If a holiday tip isn't in your budget, Fox suggested writing a letter to the service provider's employer or management to commend their performance.
"A number of years ago, I wrote a letter to the company of a gentleman who provided maintenance in the corporation where I worked. He had always gone the extra mile, provided timely service, was always pleasant and helpful.
"The letter resulted in his being placed on the wall of fame at his company. He was very appreciative and it meant a lot to him, and I think resulted (in) him getting a promotion down the road."
Cleveland said even the simplest forms of recognition are welcome.
"I'm not disillusioned to think that we all have endless budgets that we can give them all cash. But please, please, find some way to say thanks in some capacity because a thank you will never go unnoticed."
— Follow @lauren_larose on Twitter.
Louise Fox: www.etiquetteladies.com
Karen Cleveland: www.mannersaresexy.com
Margaret Page: www.margaretpage.com
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