New Yorkers are at a tipping point

Marketplace Staff Dec 12, 2006

KAI RYSSDAL: It’s not about the getting this time of year. It’s about the giving. It’s supposed to feel good when you make other people happy. But depending on where you live, the giving comes with a different mindset. There are the regular people to buy gifts for. People to send cards to. And for some New Yorkers, there’s another group. People to tip. Trey Kay reports it doesn’t really matter whether they’re naughty or nice.

TRAY KAY: Gus Rogerson lives in Manhattan. He says that at holiday time, he doesn’t have to remember to tip anyone in his building.

GUS ROGERSON: The building management distributes a form and basically says it’s holiday time and here’s your – you know a€¦ you give as much as you would like. But they give you a kind of a – parameters of, you know, how much they expect you to give or what would be a good idea to give.

KAY: What are we talking? I mean, how much?

ROGERSON: It’s like, you know, 75 to 250, something like that.

So, imagine: if you have three or four doormen, about as many porters and a superintendent, that can really add up.

CATE SMIT: Tipping can come to about, maybe close to $300 at the end of the day.

That’s Cate Smit. She says her tips are on the light side. She’s an actress with an income that fluctuates from year to year. Some years, she resents having to tip.

SMIT: It is to the point of ridiculousness. [laughs] I think it’s gotten to the point where tipping is no longer for the action that it should be, which is tipping is when there is service that goes above and beyond. But now it feels like you are obligated to tip no matter what.

But how did this custom get started? George Babiak is a life-long New Yorker. He says that tipping is as much a part of New York culture as riding the subway or complaining about the New York Knicks.

GEORGE BABIAK: My father was an immigrant and came here from the Ukraine. And I don’t think tipping was a great surprise to him, and nor did he think of it as a burden because he—I think he came from culture where it was standard practice to pay people off when you came. I know when I was in Russia, tipping was—or bribing, actually, was part of the system. And tipping’s pretty close to that in some ways. It’s an unofficial payment and it’s not really in the rules.

So what if you don’t make an unofficial payment during the holidays? One doorman in Greenwhich Village had this answer. His name is Luis, but he didn’t give a last name.

LUIS: An old saying, “We don’t get mad, we get even.”

KAY:: Well, OK, so how do you get even?

LUIS: I mean, sometimes when there’s work to be done, they usually, there are supposed to put it on, in the front of, where the work orders are. Sometimes, we discreetly put it in the back. Takes them a long time to do it. Takes them a couple of days, maybe three, four days.

But Luis went on to say that this rarely happens and that most of the time people are very generous at the holiday time.

LUIS: Christmas time I average about 22,000.

Luis says that his holiday tips push his $40,000 salary up to around $60,000. That might sound like a lot, but he says in the city you can go through that money pretty quickly. Other doormen say that $20,000 in holiday tips is an exaggeration. Still, some say that it’s about average. But there are always rumors about doormen hitting it big. One example two years ago, a doorman at a large midtown building pulled down $40,000 in tips and used it as a down payment on a house. I think that I’m in the wrong business.

In New York, I’m Trey Kay for Market Place.

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