Holly Harp, a Los Angeles dress designer, is thrilled that it's the season for holiday tipping--that great Christmas tradition ranking somewhere between partridges in pear trees and protests over manger scenes erected on public property.
"Do I tip? I chase them down the street," Harp said. "I want them to do a good job with my garbage and mail. I enjoy it. It's an opportunity to be generous. Like in New York, when you get a grouchy cab driver, you give them a big tip and it makes their whole day. It's such a little thing to do. I think you should always overdo tipping."
Jane Dawson, a Woodland Hills housewife, is similarly taken with the joys--and rewards--of holiday generosity. She and her husband, film maker Gordon Dawson, own a large piece of property staffed by four gardeners, who weekly gather "a giant amount of stuff" for the trash. So the garbage collectors--along with the gardeners, additional household helpers, the mail carrier, the cleaner's delivery person and several others--receive substantial tips each year.
For Being Wonderful, a Tip
"These people take good care of us. Our garbage cans aren't tipped upside down. We never have papers or trash flying around," Jane Dawson explained. "They deserve it. When people are rude or lousy, we don't do anything. But when they're wonderful, we tip well."
Rich or poor, young or old, socialite or recluse, just about everybody has a position on the etiquette and politics of holiday tipping. Even Johnny Carson recently commented on the strange phenomena surrounding seasonal gratuities. In a monologue last week, Carson said he could tell it was Christmas--his newspaper was suddenly landing on his porch instead of on top of the water sprinkler.
Do service people, in anticipation of greater tips, sometimes improve their service or make themselves more visible during the holiday season?
David Mellon, a Pasadena mail carrier for the last 20 years, described what often happens on mail routes in December: "Some people (carriers) work it harder than others. Some really milk it, they get semi-dressed up, wear jingle bells and deliver every package. They ring the bell and say 'Here's your package.' They make themselves present. There's a higher profile at Christmastime than the rest of the year by and large."
Mellon said he never resorted to to such tactics ("I get my tips all year in other ways--not monetarily"). But nonetheless, in recent years he has collected "an average of $400 in Christmas tips--the largest was $80 and the smallest were $2--on a middle-class route in Pasadena."
Bagel--With Cream Cheese
This is Mellon's first year on a new route, a commercial one, and he's not sure what to expect. "The only thing I've gotten so far this year is a bagel--with cream cheese, however. Things are looking up."
On the other side of town, Beverly Hills to be exact, things are also looking promising for the recipients of gifts and gratuities arranged through the firm of Lehr and Black, which specializes in unusual presents and party paraphernalia.
"I have a lot of customers who are buying a basket called 'The Joy of Pigging Out,' " said Ellen Black, describing holiday baskets priced from $75 to $125 and filled with such delicacies as Oreo cookies, potato chips, Hershey bars, Twinkies and a book titled "The Joy of Pigging Out." Another popular gift from the store is the Beverly Hills Trash Can, which is literally a silver-colored trash can filled with caviar, pate, Brie, Dom Perignon and crystal champagne glasses--all for $200.
"There's more people on people's lists this year," she added. "I'm finding that the ladies have 15 or 20 people on their lists--sometimes one gift for each person who works on each part of their bodies. I have a person who sends a gift to the person who waxes her legs and to the person who waxes her eyebrows--they're different people. A lot of ladies are sending one basket for, say, $250 to a salon, instead of buying people separate gifts. Or they'll send a lucite tray with chocolates for $200."
Who's the firm's most giving customer?
"The Davises (Marvin and Barbara of Denver and Beverly Hills) are our biggest customers," she noted. "We do anywhere from 700 to 1,000 gifts for them at Christmas."
Good Business Practice
Many business people claim they tip lavishly at Christmas--and throughout the year--both for the joy of it and because it's good business.
"I overtip everywhere. I enjoy the thrill. Most people in my position are always looking for ways to alleviate the tax burden. Why not tip big? It's all deductible," reasoned Orson Mozes, owner of di Fiori, a Beverly Hills boutique specializing in shoes, leather garments and accessories.