Who should you tip and how much should you tip during the holidays? Those are questions consumers grapple with every year, and there's no clear-cut answer. But there are guidelines, depending on the kind of worker you're tipping.  

In Consumer Reports' previous national surveys, we found that about 6 in 10 Americans tip at least one of 14 common types of service providers. Those providers are apartment superintendents, barbers, child-care providers, school-bus drivers, teachers, fitness trainers, gardeners or lawn-care workers, hairdressers, housecleaners, mail carriers, manicurists, newspaper carriers, pet-care providers, and sanitation workers.

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Who Gets the Biggest Tip?

Housecleaners were the most often tipped and the best compensated. In our most recent survey, their median tip was $50. Those in most other professions typically received a holiday tip or gift with a median value of $20. Least likely to be tipped were garbage collectors.

Slightly more than half of respondents didn’t tip at least one of the providers whose services they used, and 39 percent didn’t tip any of those on our list. Some nontippers said they reward only exceptional service, and about one-fourth said they don’t tip at any time, period.

How much should you tip? Below we provide some guidelines derived from survey results from Care.com, a staffing company, and our own research.

Tipping Guidelines to Consider

Service providerHow much to tip
Babysitter, mother's helperAverage day/evening pay for regular sitters, plus a small gift from your kids
BarberCost of 1 session
Bartender$20 to $40 for someone you see regularly
Day care staff$25 to $50 per staff member, plus a small gift from your kids
Dog walker, dog groomerCost of 1 session or 1 week's pay
Doorman$25 to $100
Hairdresser or coloristCost of 1 session
Housekeeper or cleanerCost of 1 session (median tip from our survey was $50)
Kids' coachSmall gift from your kids
LandscaperCost of 1 session or $20 to $50 for infrequent service
Live-in help1-2 weeks' pay
ManicuristCost of 1 session
Newspaper carrier$10 to $20
Nursing home/assisted living staff$10 to $20 per staff member (where allowed), or food gift for the group
Parking garage attendant$10 to $20 for someone you see regularly
Postal worker

Non-cash gift worth $20 or less (U.S. Postal Service guideline)

Senior care aide$25 to $100, depending on frequency of care
Teacher, teacher's assistantSmall gift from your kids
Waiter/waitress$20 to $40 to someone you see regularly
Care.com, Consumer Reports

Tipping Advice

  • Be sure to check the gift-giving policy at a child’s school before giving teachers a present.
  • Be aware that the U.S. Postal Service restricts the gifts that mail carriers can accept. Presents worth up to $20 are fine, but carriers can’t accept cash.
  • Don't give food unless you're certain the recipient can eat it. With many people changing to more restrictive diets, your symbol of generosity might end up regifted or thrown out. Similarly, not every recipient would appreciate wine or spirits as a gift.
  • If you're giving cash, go to your bank to get nice, crisp bills, which present better and show a bit more effort on your part.
  • If you really can't afford to buy a gift or give cash—and don't feel you have the talent or time to bake or make a gift—a heartfelt note of thanks is better than no recognition at all. As Daniel Post Senning, great-great-grandson of etiquette maven Emily Post, says, money isn't everything. "We like to say that holiday tipping is really holiday thanking," he points out. "Words mean a lot, so you can say something even if you're not a crafty person or baking person. A genuine and thoughtful thank-you goes a long way."