On my way to the post office last week, my stomach grumbled for a belated lunch. I pulled over at the restaurant on the corner for a takeout nibble to avoid fainting from weakness while in line to buy stamps.

My family has made an effort to order takeout at least once a week to support local restaurants, and we’ve pushed ourselves to try new places. Finances are tight, but we recognize that money saved for travel, amusements and gas are shelved, so we’ve reallocated some of those funds for “Takeout Tuesdays” and “Sushi Saturdays.” During these uncertain times, we view it as our civic duty to support local business.

Most restaurants aren’t serving indoors, and outdoors is tricky when it’s below freezing, so takeout is their main business.

I was relieved when Tres Colores co-owner Hugo Sena said he was still serving at 3:30 p.m. when I popped my head in the door. Now famished, I ordered chicken mole for me and veggie enchiladas for my husband, fully intending to wait in the car while the order was prepared. But Sena surprised me by saying he recognized me, not from the newspaper, but from working at the same hotel property over 20 years ago (It’s the haircut!).

We reminisced for several minutes before chatting about business.

While he has not raised menu prices, the cost of takeout containers has gone up, which is currently the only option for serving food in most establishments.

I had always tipped 10 percent for takeout, thinking that by not having a server wait on me while I lingered over a meal, less service was involved. I could not be more wrong. Restaurant owners like Erin Wade of Vinaigrette and Sena schooled me on how much work it takes to pack a to-go order, especially with enhanced COVID-19 protocols. It’s infinitely simpler and cheaper to plate a salad or fajita than to individually pack dressings, sauce, side dishes, etc.

Customers, for the most part, seem hip to this and tips are up, according to Sena.

Justin Greene, owner of Dashing Delivery, a restaurant delivery service, has seen an increase of 5 percent to 10 percent on driver tips since Thanksgiving. Greene said, “Takeout should be tipped like a waiter these days. The curbside and delivery staff that are keeping you safe in your vehicle or home are front line and essential. They are keeping our local economy operating.”

And by spending locally, you, too, keep your shops, restaurants and service providers afloat.

In the spirit of giving, I’m including my annual year-end holiday tipping guide for the elves who keep you merry and bright all year long, personally and professionally.

This holiday task is often met with trepidation. Whom you tip and how much varies by region and is based on frequency of service. By following these tips, you’ll show your service providers and essential workers that they are truly a gift.

  • Get ye to the bank for a large number of denominations. Keep $5, $10 and $20 bills for a number of occasions. Buy a box of small envelopes for presenting tips. This year, save your $1 bill for a vending machine or a coffee run.
  • Present a monetary tip with crisp bills inside a greeting card including a handwritten note. When in doubt, ask a receptionist, manager or fellow businessperson what is customary.
  • When ordering takeout online, pay attention to the tip field on the screen, as some default to just 10 percent or a few dollars. There’s usually an option to tick a higher percentage or custom amount.
  • Buy gift cards or certificates from a local business. The big-box and online retailers will survive the pandemic, but supporting small businesses has a larger impact on your community. It’s unique, and you might just save someone from going under.

Tight budget?

Who doesn’t have one this year? Prioritize tipping based on the frequency of service or impact in your life. In lieu of a tip, write a sincere note expressing your appreciation for their services or write a rave review, send it to the boss and post it on social media. A handmade gift is always appropriate, accompanied by a note of thanks.

Use the following as a guide for the many providers essential to you:

  • Babysitter: one session’s pay and a gift from your child. Nanny: one week’s pay and a gift from your child.
  • Beauty staff or barber: one visit’s cost.
  • Child’s teacher, coach, tutor: A handmade gift/drawing from your child, a gift certificate or a joint gift with other families are all appropriate. (Check school policy.)
  • Curbside delivery (retail or takeout): $5 to $20 as a frequent customer.
  • Day care provider: $25 to $70 each (the smaller the staff, the larger the tip) and a small gift from your child.
  • Dog walker or sitter: one week’s pay.
  • Fitness trainer: a tip of $50 or up to the cost of one session.
  • Food delivery person: $20 to $30 for someone who delivers regularly.
  • Handyman: $25 to $50
  • Housekeeper/office cleaner: one week’s pay or one session if infrequent.
  • Landscaper: $25 to $50.
  • Live-in help: one or two weeks’ pay.
  • Newspaper carrier: $10 to $30 for daily delivery, $10 for weekend delivery.
  • Nursing home staff: a homemade gift or group gift to be shared.
  • Package delivery person: FedEx drivers accept noncash gifts under $75; UPS drivers are discouraged from accepting cash, so go with a noncash option.
  • Pet day care staff: handmade gift or baked goods.
  • Postal worker: noncash gift of $20 or less.
  • Takeout food: 20 percent or more during the pandemic and beyond. Tip how you would for a sit-down meal.
  • Trash collector: $10 to $30.
  • Waiter/waitress: $20 to $40 for someone you see regularly.

One bullet point not on my list is the random tip.

Tres Colores’ Sena shared with me an unexpected encounter that he won’t soon forget. A gentleman walking by popped in the door, pulled out a $10 bill, put it in the tip jar and walked right back out, placing no order. It was a gesture that really struck me for its acknowledgement of the struggles of small businesses right now — an act that said, “I see you.”

Tipping isn’t mandatory, it exhibits awareness. The year 2020, in particular, calls on us to reflect on the people who make our wheels go ’round. ’Tis the season, if you can manage it, to be generous in spirit and in your tips.

Bizia Greene is an etiquette expert and owns the Etiquette School of Santa Fe. Share your comments and conundrums at hello@etiquettesantafe.com or 505-988-2070.

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