Holiday Tipping

by admin on December 19, 2012

The recent post about the cleaning lady who got soap for a holiday gift reminded me of a tipping etiquette/holiday tip question I have.

I have a massage therapist I regularly see and have struck up something of a casual friendship with in the course of him rubbing me for an hour at a time. I always tip generously. I plan to get a massage before the holiday and was thinking of giving him a holiday gift, perhaps a gift card to somewhere that’s useful to anybody (like Target). This would be in ADDITION to his normal tip (I usually give him $20 for an hour session). Should I just give him a bigger tip instead? I’d like something I can hand him personally, so it’s clear it’s a holiday gift…the tip just gets added to my bill when I pay it as I leave, so it’s a bit impersonal.

Thoughts?  1211-12

Holiday tipping is really a method of expressing appreciation for the work or services a person provides.   How one chooses to express that appreciation can be individualistic.  Money is not necessarily the only option.  Appropriate gifts can also be given depending on the relationship you have with the person.  I think the confusion some people have about holiday tipping is to whom these tips should go to.  Anyone who provides you with a *regular* service should be tipped.   The plumber who comes to repair your busted pipe the week before Christmas would not expect to receive a tip but if you wish to bestow some holiday kindness in the form of a small gift, be all means do so but you are not required.

Your own budget should be a consideration as well.  Suggested amounts for tips for certain service industries can be as high as the cost of one session (such as a masseuse) or the equivalent of one week of pay for a nanny (and up to one month for a live-in nanny!).   It is imprudent to go into debt so perhaps a small gift with a short note of appreciation would be better suited in certain situations.   And you should always give the tip personally just as you intend to do.

I tipped my young farrier $15.00 but gave the young man who does odd jobs each week his own nifty multi ratcheting screwdriver that was like the one of ours he had admired.   My allergy nurse that gives me a shot each week is receiving a set of handmade ornaments and a small bag of homemade praline pecans.  I’ll probably leave a small bag of praline pecans and a bottled drink in the mailbox for the postman.   You have to be careful what you give postal employees as there are regulations as to the value of the gift they can receive.   Anything less than $20.00 or a small snack is acceptable.

Here is my recipe for an easy yet nice, small food gift:

Jeanne’s Praline Pecans

4 cups pecan halves (which should be 1 pound)
¼ cup corn syrup
¼ cup packed brown sugar
2 Tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
¼ teaspoon baking soda

Grease 13X9 pan. If doubling, lightly grease a large, cookie sheet with low sides.  Put pecans in a metal or ceramic mixing bowl.   Combine corn syrup, sugar and butter in 2 cup glass measuring cup (larger if doubling recipe) in microwave. Stir, nuke for 1 minute or until boiling. Stir in vanilla and baking soda until well blended. The mixture will foam when you add the vanilla and baking soda.   Drizzle over pecans. Stir with wooden spoon. Put pecans on baking sheet/pan and spread out.

Bake one hour at 250 degrees Fahrenheit, stirring every 20 minutes.

Lay a large sheet of parchment paper on the kitchen counter, remove pecans from oven and spread out evenly on the paper. Be sure to separate clumps of pecans.   When they are cool, package them for gifts or store in an airtight container to enjoy yourself.   For small bags, I use pretzel rod treat bags by Wilton and buy them from the craft store.   Fill with pecans and tie with a holiday ribbon.  Perfect size for small gifts!

{ 42 comments… read them below or add one }

Mer December 19, 2012 at 2:53 am

That sounds delicious! This might be very stupid question, but is the baking warmth in Fahrenheit? Just to be sure not to burn these if I’m going to try them.

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admin December 19, 2012 at 6:34 am

Yes, the oven temp is 250 degrees Fahrenheit. I’ll amend the main post to correct that.

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Margo December 19, 2012 at 6:48 am

I think a gift card or extra cash tip (perhaps inside a christmas card) which you can give to your masseur directly is absolutely fine. (although not required, particuarly as you already tip generously)

I think the point being made with the soap posting is that while you’re always free to give what gifts you like to people, if you are giving, in effect, a ‘christmas tip’ it is generally best to give it as such – i.e. money or giftcards, rather than gift which may not be wanted or needed.

If you want to add a small gift as well, that’s fine, or if (as in Admin’s case) you know of a specific item that someone who works for you would want, and buy that instead of a cash gift then that’s fine too, as is giving a gift to someone you want to thank but who you wouldn’t normally tip (like the allergy nurse)

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Laura December 19, 2012 at 8:06 am

For my hair stylist I tip the normal amount in the usual way (when I pay for services), but then I give her cash in a Christmas card that I hand to her.

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Another Laura December 19, 2012 at 8:07 am

@ Margo-I thought the point with the soap post was that you should not include a message with your gift that implies the person your tipping doesn’t have basic knowledge about how to use normal personal hygene products.

Is holiday tipping more of a city thing? I grew up in the country, and the only person who provided us with a regular service was the mailman, and I don’t think my parents (or anyone else in our community) tipped him, nor did he expect it.

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Jewel December 19, 2012 at 8:43 am

One of our favorite holiday traditions is tipping the last waiter/waitress who serves us before Christmas. This year, it will be Sunday at the restaurant we’ll go to after church. Whoever the server is will receive a $100 tip. Because we don’t want recognition or to make the server feel like s/he has to fawn all over us for the tip, we’ll “tip and dash”, leaving one member of the family to wait just out of the server’s sight to make sure s/he safely gets the tip. We love the subterfuge as well as teaching our kids about the rewards of giving.

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Sazerac December 19, 2012 at 9:15 am

Definitely going to try the Praline Pecans – thanks so much for a great recipe this morning! On topic: I definitely tip my service people – the janitorial staff that clean our office, my stylist – I usually double the tip I normally give.

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Mick December 19, 2012 at 9:19 am

Being nitpicky here, but as a physical therapist who is also a massage therapist we are really trying to educate the public that we like to not be referred to as a masseuse. Masseuse has a connotation that can get confused with those who illegally provide sexual favors at a massage parlor. A massage therapist (depending on the state) is a registered or licensed individual who must uphold ethical/legal standards.

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Anonymous December 19, 2012 at 9:26 am

Hey Jeanne, would your recipe work if I used Earth Balance instead of butter?

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admin December 19, 2012 at 9:56 am

Are you referring to the Earth Balance vegan buttery sticks? I think as long as it has a good balance of fat/oil instead of water like many margarines have, you should be fine. I’d try a half recipe and see how it goes.

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StephM December 19, 2012 at 9:59 am

One problem with giving out food is that you have to be careful that the outside of the container is free from common allergens (like nuts, and I say common because you can’t keep it free from everything) and to clearly label what is in it. I’m not saying you have to provide a full list of ingredients, but if I had food allergies I would definitely appreciate a tag saying “Enjoy these [insert food here]!” (That recipe sounds delicious, by the way.)

Personally, I’d rather give/receive a gift card to/from someone as a tip. I would feel horribly awkward if I didn’t like the food and the giver asked about it. I might be able to tactfully express my thanks, or my body language might give away that something was wrong. I wouldn’t want to put someone else in the same predicament. You run into the same problem with any gift, but I feel like I would be more uncomfortable with a baked good. Maybe because of the time put into it?

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Library Diva December 19, 2012 at 10:35 am

OP is fine with the Target gift card, IMO. The previous poster wasn’t upset about getting items vs. cash, it was more of the implication that she resented: that she didn’t ever wash, didn’t know how to wash, couldn’t afford personal hygiene items on her own, and needed lessons in a basic adult daily living skill. It’s a major faux pas to wrap some kind of corrective lesson in a gift. Unless the recipients make it known they’re trying to make a change and would welcome these items, don’t give a bunch of diet books and workout stuff to an overweight person; don’t give a basket of religious books to an atheist or agnostic; don’t give a suite of Rogaine products to a guy who’s losing his hair; and don’t give an expensive acne treatment system to someone with awful skin. It’s just rude and insulting. Gift-giving is not the time to point out flaws in someone else. On the other hand, you’d have to be trying very hard to be insulted by a Target gift card, so I think OP is in the clear as long as her massage therapist is not a crazy person.

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Bint December 19, 2012 at 10:44 am

“Anyone who provides you with a *regular* service should be tipped.”

If you want to tip them. Apart from waiters/waitresses, it’s not mandatory and I don’t think it should be put forward as such. You pay these people already – lovely if you want to tip, but there is no ‘should’ here and it isn’t good etiquette to create that expectation.

Also, plenty of people give me a regular service who I couldn’t even tip if I wanted to.

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MichelleP December 19, 2012 at 1:09 pm

Love the recipe, admin! I am a baker by habit and love giving homemade gifts. I don’t have the financial resources to give money at Christmas, and my homemade gifts are always well received.

I have to say I am taken aback at some of the comments left for this post. A simple question was asked and the admin responded with a wonderful and appropriate suggestion. Simple! Now there are comments criticizing everything from the term used for masseuse to worrying about allergies to arguing about tipping. People, please just enjoy the holidays and give a gift if you want to.

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AS December 19, 2012 at 1:21 pm

Ah! A post with a delicious recipe! Pre-holiday weekend project for me! Thank you, admin!

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A December 19, 2012 at 2:33 pm

Please don’t bring something containing nuts into an allergist’s office

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admin December 19, 2012 at 3:34 pm

My allergy nurse was thrilled to receive my pecans (hugged me twice). And there is absolutely no signage in the office insisting that patients never bring a nut into the area.

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hakayama December 19, 2012 at 2:33 pm

@Mike: strictly from a language point of view, both a “masseur” /n.m./ and a “masseuse” /n.f./ are individuals that do massages.
It seems that the “dens of iniquity” (;-), otherwise known as massage parlors, usually have male clientele, so possibly that is the reason why “masseuse” became a questionable occupational title. I wonder if we should insist on equal opportunities…
The moment “therapy” and derivatives are thrown in, we know things are not “strictly for entertainment purposes”.

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Kit December 19, 2012 at 2:52 pm

@ MichelleP, it seems that some people do not only want to give a gift, but they actually want the receiver to be able to enjoy that gift.

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MichelleP December 19, 2012 at 4:12 pm

@kit, if you find anyone who wouldn’t enjoy a homemade goodie for any occasion, please recommend they get help. Seriously, barring allergies, what could possibly be wrong with making a treat and giving it to someone? Even then, the proper action is to thank them and give them to others who will enjoy them.

My post was to state that some will always make difficulties when there are none.

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Anonymous December 19, 2012 at 6:47 pm

Jeanne–I’ve never seen Earth Balance buttery sticks for sale, so I just get the kind that comes in the plastic containers. To me, that’s “butter,” because I’m vegan, and I always thought that the “buttery sticks” were just the same as regular Earth Balance, but in stick form, because it’s easier to measure for baking. So, I guess I won’t be attempting to make your special pecans, but I could probably do without all that fat and sugar anyway. Nevertheless, I’m sure they taste really good. :)

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Lita December 19, 2012 at 7:17 pm

Those praline pecans sound divine, Admin! I’ll have to see if I can find some pecans at the grocery…

As for OP, I think it would be a wonderful idea to tip your massage therapist. I’ve got a friend in that business and she agrees that if you’re close enough, it’d be perfectly fine.

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Cat Whisperer December 19, 2012 at 8:35 pm

Not to be a grinch, but before you give someone a gift of candy or sweets of any kind, you should make sure that the recipient isn’t diabetic. You might also want to bear in mind that service people who have many clients (hair stylists, physical therapists, car mechanics, receptionists at doctor’s offices, etc.) are likely to receive many, many gifts of candy, cookies and other sweets.

Several of the ladies in my weight management class work at a local medical center, and this time of year is really hard on people who are trying to keep their consumption of sweets down. They tell me that in addition to the patients who bring in gifts of goodies, the pharmaceutical and medical supply vendors send gift baskets to the office.

While gifts of sweets and food items that the recipient can’t eat can be shared with family or friends, it’s nice to give the recipient something that they can enjoy themselves. This isn’t to say that you should never give gifts of sweets or candy, just think about your gift in terms of the big picture. The hair cutter my husband and I go see regularly, who we’ve been going to for about 30 years, tells us that this time of the year, by the time Christmas rolls around he can feel his blood sugar rising to dangerous levels when he sees a client coming in with a package in the shape of a candy box. He’s kidding, of course, but it is a point: he gets literally dozens of gifts of candy during the holidays.

Gift cards and gift certificates are a thoughtful idea. For younger recipients, iTunes cards are usually a big hit. Something else I like to give as a small gift: a local high school is fortunate enough to have a very strong arts program, and they have a holiday sale of ceramic and glass craft items and ornaments. I like to buy some items at this sale as gifts for people, because it’s a gift two ways: I’m supporting the school and the arts program, and I’m getting a unique item for the recipient. I can add a gift card for a place like Starbuck’s or Panera bread or some such, and it makes a nice gift.

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DowagerDutchess December 19, 2012 at 9:58 pm

@Bint- you may not have anyone in your life who needs a Christmas tip, but it is inappropriate not to tip your doormen, housekeeper and secretary at Christmas. As for the argument that you can’t afford it, if you can’t afford the tip you can’t afford the service. I know it’s not common in most of the country, but in NYC where so many of us have doormen, it really is a factor. If you don’t want to tip them, you get an apartment without.

I’m with you on avoiding tip-creep, but there are some situations where it is required.

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Auryn Grigori December 19, 2012 at 11:14 pm

I agree with Library Diva on this one. The OP in the Soap Post was not upset about the price of the soaps, but the message implied by the soap: “You are smelly and dirty when you get here, so you must not realize how cheap soap is or how to use it. I will help you with this problem, you poor, stupid, dirty person, out of the goodness of my heart.”

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Margo December 20, 2012 at 5:34 am

@Another Laura I think the point in the OP about the soap was that the note was extremely rude an inappropriate – There were I think people in the comments making the point that a tip and a gift are slightly different, and that, particularly for those in very low income jobs, a financial tip is likely to be more appriecated. I wasn’t saying that it would be wrong to give a gift, just that a gift is different to a tip. You can’t pay your rent with candy or (even nice) toiletries, however much you may appreciate the thought!)

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Jane December 20, 2012 at 6:41 am

Am I the only one that noticed the words ‘metal or ceramic bowl’ and ‘nuke for 1 minute’ in the same recipe?? You don’t put a metal bowl into the microwave!!!

Okay, that being said, I’m going to try this recipe. I have 3 lbs of pecans at home just begging to be pralined!

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Jane December 20, 2012 at 6:43 am

I just copied the recipe, and read it again (for the 4th time). You nuke the sugar and pour it OVER the pecans! Sorry about that. I’m going to go get some more coffee now.
*blush*

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DGS December 20, 2012 at 9:44 am

Oh my goodness, really, folks?! Just say, thank you to Miss Jeanne for a terrific recipe, and use it if you like or don’t use it if you don’t.

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Jane December 20, 2012 at 10:20 am

Believe me, if I could delete my stupid comments, I would. I feel like an idiot.

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Bint December 20, 2012 at 11:36 am

@DowagerDutchess: “As for the argument that you can’t afford it, if you can’t afford the tip you can’t afford the service.”

But I never made that argument. I objected to the ‘anyone who provides you with a personal service’ should get a tip. Anyone? Really, anyone? I don’t think so. The examples you give and explain, I can accept, but to say you SHOULD tip ‘anyone who provides you with a personal service’ is not fair etiquette advice, whether you can afford it or not.

Please note that I don’t live in the States, but people I know with domestic staff (including me) give them Christmas presents here; to give them a monetary tip could imply you think they’re servants rather than equals you happen to employ. When I was domestic staff myself, I always got presents.

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The Elf December 20, 2012 at 1:02 pm

Re: Food as gifts.

As long as it’s labeled, so the gift recipient doesn’t have to handle the food to know what it is, you’ve got your bases covered with regards to allergies. The onus is on the allergic person to manage their allergy, and no one can be expected to know everyone’s allergies. No nuts for fear of allergies? Make cookies. Oh yeah, some people are allergic to wheat. You just can’t possibly please everyone.

Cat Whisperer, I’m pre-diabetic. Even though I’m not at risk for a major blood sugar problem if I go on a sugar or carb binge, the fact is that my pancreas doesn’t function as well as it should and that I should eat as if I were diabetic to avoid that diagnosis as long as possible. I’m looking at about 6 sweet food gifts, and I welcome all of them and thanked everyone. I can’t expect people to know I have a high fasting glucose! Besides, when I have friends over tomorrow, I’ll make a big plate of all my gifted cookies/chocolates/candies and pick one of my favorites for myself. Since I never buy these for myself, it will be a real treat. A full-on diabetic could do the same, working the treat into a the daily eating plan and and balancing accordingly.

The recipe sounds divine!

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FerrisW December 20, 2012 at 4:34 pm

Gosh, and here I was thinking that the correct etiquette when given food you can’t eat is to smile sweetly, thank the giver, and discretely give it to someone who can use it. I have a chocolate allergy, and always get chocolates at Christmas, which either go to my family and friends, or donated. I’ve never complained about someone giving me things that will make me sick (except once, when a friend who knew I was allergic made me a cake which was both mocha flavoured- also allergic to caffeine- and got mad when I apologised for not being able to eat it). I’d like to think anyone who received such food items as a tip would take it in the spirit it was meant- as thanks- rather than get upset.

I live in a country where tipping is very unusual, and reserved for when you receive extremely high standard service, so we don’t tip service workers (not sure about housekeepers, as I don’t have one of those!), so I realise that a lot of this is very American-centric, but I think people should tip what they can- if that’s money or a gift card, then fantastic, but if it’s baked goods made with love, then that should be seen as just as valuable.

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KD December 21, 2012 at 3:38 am

Everyone’s talking about whom to tip, so I’m going to throw in a quick, “Please Don’t Tip!” thing.

(For the sake of this post, a tip includes monetary gifts as well as food, a card, etc, given by a guest, while both people are on the company’s property, regardless of whether or not the employee is on the clock.)

If a worker performs a wonderful service, and it’s highly appreciated, feel free to offer a tip. Please do not get offended if said person refuses the tip, or walk away if the person is trying to give the tip back. In my area, most retail establishments consider accepting a tip to be up to a fire-able offense, and my employer considers it “accepting” if the tip goes into the employee’s hand, pocket, or personal work space, even if it is done forcibly, and the employee immediately hands over the tip to a manager (which is required; the tip then goes into Lost and Found, and if it is not claimed, is absorbed by the store/company. To keep the tip, even if fired over the incident, risks arrest for theft).

If a retail clerk is absolutely awesome, but tries to avoid a tip like the plague, they’re not trying to be rude boors; they just don’t want to lose their job. I have been called swear words and wished terrible things because I need my job to support my family more than I need an extra five dollars or candy bar. Trust me, I hate the obnoxious, sugar-sweet spiel I have to give just as much as those people did.

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Enna December 21, 2012 at 1:18 pm

So long as it’s the right gift for the person within a reasonable then there is nothing wrong with it.

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scottish_lass December 22, 2012 at 4:46 am

I think a voucher would be fine, OP. I’m a teacher and at Christmas time I get presents from the kids. Often it’s sweets or chocolate, and if I get more than I can possibly eat I leave it in the staffroom or give them to family members (not regifting – jut passing on). Most parents realise it is questionable for me to accept money, but the couple of times I have received vouchers I have used them to buy supplies or books for the classroom and in the thank you note I say something like “I look forward to reading the new book I bought for the class with the children” or something. I have also received bath stuff and soap, but never with a rude note like in the cleaning lady’s story. In my position though, I genuinely appreciate anything I get from my pupils, and I exude gratitude no matter what they give me.
Your massage therapist would probably appreciate a Target voucher, and if there is any company policy about accepting gifts of over a certain amount, he can always use it to buy something for work.
@Jane: don’t worry about the mistake you made, it could happen to anyone! Thanks for the recipe, admin!

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Kit December 22, 2012 at 7:59 am

@MichelleP, that was exactly what I was talking about – there are people who suggest that anyone who doesn’t like their gifts better seek therapy or at the very least thank politely even if they have no use for it; and there are people who wish that the recipients would actually enjoy the gifts they are giving. No need to call those second kind of people names IMO, even if they do overthink a bit. What’s wrong with just accepting there are different kind of people?

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Kit December 22, 2012 at 9:53 am

My gluten-intolerant son got a cookie during their class’ Secret Santa, too (even though their teacher had said in the very start that whoever gets him, better go for non-edible things), and yes, no big deal, he didn’t say anything, just stuffed it in his bag and brought home; and after all, can’t expect 10-year-olds to remember such details, right? But in summer, for a family party, both my sister and my brother’s girlfriend (whom I saw the very first time) had baked gluten-free muffins or cakes, so that my son could eat these as well (although, of course, I always make sure myself that there is something of the kind for him). I was surprised and really moved by their efforts! And this is why it hurts me when in these comments, people who do try to think about possible allergies or diabetes or just the effect of excess of sweets during Christmastime are looked down at like they would be some kind of freaks. :(

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Heidi December 22, 2012 at 3:15 pm

TIPS stands for To Insure Proper Service. Did they? Then they get a tip. No? No tip.

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Nancy December 24, 2012 at 6:30 pm

Just a PSA about health care workers. DO NOT TIP US WITH MONEY OR INDIVIDUALLY. It is a HUGE ethics violation, and it’s super awkward, and it can put our jobs in jeopardy. Making a big plate of cookies for the entire staff? Fine. Giving us cash, and putting us in the awkward position of declining it? NOT FINE. If you feel you must do something, 1) go out of your way to compliment the worker to their boss, like writing a note or catching them somewhere. Employees sometimes get rewarded either immediately or it reflects well on their performance review. 2) donate it to the residents/patients at the facility. Someone always needs something that isn’t quite in the budget. 3) It’s probably okay to donate money to a charity in a person’s name, as that isn’t really a “gift” in the traditional sense.

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NostalgicGal December 28, 2012 at 1:49 am

I was in the hospital the week before Christmas with an emergency appendectomy (in the days when they cut you open) and… to thank the staff I made a christmas card holder/displayer with plastic canvas and decorated it (a little bigger diameter than a pringles can, with several washers in the bottom tacked down to keep it from being tippy…. and long strands of very sturdy string fastened not quite vertically from near top to near bottom of the cylinder. The card could be slipped in behind a string, it could be seen, still read, and all the lovely cards they had on a hidden bulletin board could be out where they could be seen on the nurse’s station counter. Plus a big plate of cookies and other goodies so the whole staff could enjoy. (I am terrible at names and without my prescription ashtray glasses then, at 3 am the blur that had white there and there that answered the nurse call I couldn’t tell who they were… but I was always grateful when they showed) So something the floor could use and enjoy covered my thank you and tip.

Allergies and diabetes… way back when, at the start of the school year (3rd grade) a classmate didn’t wake up one morning and spent a week in the hospital learning to live with diabetes. Back when the blood testing wasn’t a simple prick and meter, and everything was rigidly measured and weighed foodwise. This was October and the major sugarfest was about to happen. Getting sugar free candy was a lot harder then as well. And we always had a big in class party a few days before Halloween, everyone brought goodies to share and I thought it would be really unfair if she got things she couldn’t eat, while we could. I asked her what she could have. Then spent a week’s allowance on some roasted unsalted sunflower seeds, a quarter pound. At the party, when we passed out treats; I gave her the small bag of nuts. Point, even kids can understand things and deal with it, on both sides.

And nowdays it’s easier to deal with dietary needs and restrictions… I am now type 2, and have to watch what and when I scarf. if I can’t eat it, I still thank the person nicely and my DH gets a treat. I don’t take more than what I was given or ‘my serving’ only… and my friends know, at times I’ve joined them and had to take my food to go, to go ahead and enjoy theirs, and no big deal.

I’ve tipped the trash guys; the postman; the milk guy; spouse’s therapy person; and similar related. Always with food, drink, a combination of… therapy person I made some velcro strap on weight sets for smaller patients as she was in desperate need of some. Also keep it reasonable, I’d say $10 worth and 20 at outside.

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Natalie January 3, 2013 at 12:54 pm

Heidi, that’s actually an urban legend (very commonly believed). From the Online Etymology Dictionary:

tip (v.2): “give a small present of money to,” c.1600, “to give, hand, pass,” originally thieves’ cant, perhaps from tip (v.3) “to tap.” The meaning “give a gratuity to” is first attested 1706. The noun in this sense is from 1755; the meaning “piece of confidential information” is from 1845; the verb in this sense is from 1883; tipster first recorded 1862.”

There are very few words that originate from acronyms, and almost all of them are from the 20th century or later.

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