Cutting holiday tips seen as chance to really say thank you

NEW YORK Sun Nov 22, 2009 10:29pm EST

NEW YORK Nov 23 (Reuters Life!) - With the recession set to cut tips given to doormen, housekeepers, and other service providers this holiday, etiquette experts say it is time to reclaim the reason for tipping and actually say thank you.

The general rule on tipping is to give the equivalent of what you would usually pay someone each week or for a single session but with money tight, some people are looking to trim that amount without jeopardising future service or seeming mean.

A survey by Consumer Reports found 26 percent of 1,900 Americans who usually tip or give a gift planned to spend less this holiday than last year. Only 6 percent plan to give more. Etiquette experts say cutting back is acceptable in hard economic times but it has to be consistent and it is important to still show gratitude by saying thank you.

"In this economy not all of us have the cash we once had, but if you are in a postion where you have the funds it is almost a moral imperative to be generous," said Mary Mitchell, author of "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Business Etiquette."

"But in this downturned economy, we all need to be really authentic and consistent. We can't keep saying how poor we are then rush out and buy a new Porsche. Don't use it as an excuse to save money then buy some Prada boots."

Mitchell said holiday bonuses are for people you rely on regularly and do not tip during the year. A hairdresser, for example, is usually tipped at each visit so instead focus on housekeepers, personal trainers, doormen, babysitters and tutors.

Many teachers are not allowed to accept cash so a small gift is appropriate while postal workers can only accept non-cash gifts or gift cards worth $20 or less.

Peter Post from the Emily Post Etiquette Institute said no one should go into debt to tip: if you only have a small amount to give then set a budget and divide it accordingly.

Both Post and Mitchell agreed this is a good time to reclaim the whole concept of tipping as a way to communicate effectively by sending a handwritten note of thanks with a homemade gift.

"In these tough economic times it's important to remember that holiday tipping is truly about saying thank you," Post said in a statement.

"Don't buy into the thought that if you don't tip you won't get good service for the coming year. If you think you've had bad service for this reason, you might want to consider changing companies."

Consumer Reports suggested tip-givers who feel a need to cut back, tip a little earlier in the season.

"Your recipients may appreciate it -- they probably have people to tip, too," the consumer protection organisation said in a statement."

Mitchell said other suggestions were pooling to buy a group gift or coming up with something unique like a coupon to make someone a dinner at their home or to teach them a skill they don't have, be it how to use Facebook or how to make a pie.

"For me the only true gifts we have to give are our time and our attention. That might mean taking someone to lunch or giving some a sweater or a pound of candy," she said.

(Writing by Belinda Goldsmith, Editing by Miral Fahmy)

((belinda.goldsmith@thomsonreuters.com; Reuters Messaging: belinda.goldsmith.reuters.com@reuters.net; +61 2 9373 1800)