How the 1% Tip for the Holidays

December: When the 1% turn into ATM’s—automatic tipping machines


Illustration. Paul Kisselev

The current retail cycle is more than illogical, n’est-ce pas? In August, store windows display itchy wool sweaters, and corduroy trousers while it’s 99 degrees outside. (Note to unrealistic retailers: We know you want us to buy, but the summer now lasts till November, thanks to global warming.) Alongside forced and insane window displays, I began receiving other incongruous and untimely cash prods in October, namely—holiday tipping/gratuity lists.

We don’t usually eat dinner before 9 or 10 p.m. Or as I like to say, “I’m on Madrid time.” Nevertheless, the dapper Maitre D’ Raafet happily led me to my usual luxe banquette at BLT Steak, where one always enjoy the worlds most iconic tuna tartare and avocado cylinder avec waffle potato chip. I was dining with stylish Bar-ry Bling, the brilliant urban impressario who rocks major ice with a cool nonchalance. Bar-ry, who recently minted a hundy on a groundswell IPO, just acquired a 57th street Condo and, in an effort to understand the landscape, presented me with a printed list of doormen, supers, elevator men and the like.

“What’s up with this?” he asked, flashing the lengthy list. Up until recently, Bar-ry had only lived in a townhouse-style dwelling. “Ah, the yearly Xmas holiday gratuities list. Welcome to the ATM club, Automatic Tipping Millionaires.” I gave it a knowing look.

“Yeah and how much?” His diamond lucky horseshoe cufflink flashed, blinding me momentarily.

“Well, let’s see…” I paused. “I would say, conservatively, the doormen get $125 to $1,000 each, depending on how long you have been living there. The super should get $500 to $2,500 depending on how much he does for you.”

“There’s 20 people on this list,” he growled.

“That’s called living the high life, Bar-ry. Depending on your zip code and the location. You’re now on Billionaire’s row so you are expected to give more, monsieur. If you were living on First Avenue, the expectation is somewhat different.”

“Since when did I become Santa Claus?” he griped.

“Since you decided to spend $20 million on an apartment, my friend.”

“That’s not cool. You mean it’s not included in my maintenance or real estate tax?” he bristled.

“No. Your walk-in closet is bigger than most people’s studio apartments,” I chided him.

“Some would think that’s unfair.” He shrugged. “Just one less night at [famous Vegas Club].” He sipped his 1942 and sighed.

Criticism of the 1% and trickle down economics aside, this is the time of year when members of this much-discussed group should be lauded, not criticized. Because in the weeks leading up to Christmas and New Year, service industry workers salivate and count on the 1% to distribute their bounty like Robin Hood in Sherwood forest. I call it “Tip Down Economics.” During this period of good cheer and good will toward men, the members of the 1% step up to the plate, dig deep into their silk-lined pockets and literally become ATMs—automatic tipping millionaires. To quote one Park Avenue fixture: “Everyone has their handout, and you forget how many people service your daily life. They might as well insert their chip card in my mouth.”

From parking attendants to doormen, from manscapers to landscapers, your wife’s Pilates instructor or your cycling instructor, shelling out major coin is the cost of doing business in NYC. And for those who skimp, one can certainly be assured that your next year’s service will be no less than limp.

Dana and I greeted the statuesque gal we fondly refer to as stretch limo in the in the grand foyer of her sprawling upper fifth postwar. She bestowed euro-style double kisses.

“Bonsoir, my dears,” she said in her singsong voice.

“What would you care to drink?” her houseman asked, as he retrieved my coat.

“I’ll have a Sancerre, thank you. You look wonderful, Stretch.”

I surveyed her toned and couture-clad figure.

“Thank you darling” she said as she led us, like a well oiled racehorse into one of the most spacious living rooms on the Avenue, replete with not one but two outdoor terraces, the lights of the park twinkling like her antique deco diamond bracelets.

“Where are you going for the holidays?” I asked, once cocktail hour ended, and I had surveyed and grazed the buffet. My place card indicated I was seated next to my hostess.

“Katmandu [not real place but equally as far]. I loved your article on the Brich. What’s your next one?” she asked, her dangling Buccelatti sparkling like mini versions of the overhead chandelier.

“I’m doing a holiday article on tipping,” I said

“That reminds me, I have to take care of my holiday tip list before I leave,” she texted herself.

“Who is on Stretch’s list?” I leaned in. Enquiring minds wanted to know.

“Who’s not?” her husband, Grant Corniche raised a well-articulated eyebrow across the table as he sipped his Sancerre.

“Do tell, humor me,” I asked, taking mental notes.

“Well, the building people, of course, then there’s my masseuse,” she said as she began to reminisce through her list: “my manicurist, my art adviser, my publicist, my acupuncturist, my hairdresser, my botanist (for her hot-house orchids). My waxer, who gets more because she sees me in various states of undress!”

“Waxer?” I raised an eyebrow at the though of Stretch stretched out in various acrobatic positions.
“You know for the perfect landing strip,” she added.

“That’s quite some list. “

“Don’t forget your assistant, the chef, my secretary, tennis instructor etc.,” the husband added.

“I need an assistant just to work on the tips,” she sighed.

“Who you will also have to tip…It sounds exhausting”

“Well, tipping makes the world go round, Darling.”

“And what is the tipping protocol in Greenwich?” I asked Ann Fluent seated to my left.

“Well, I think it’s really nice to tip right after Thanksgiving,” she said. “I think for so many reasons: Everyone appreciates it, and they can use the money toward their own Christmas gifts.” She smiled, twirling her Van Cleef Alhambra necklace. “It also takes the pressure off so I can concentrate on other things…” she added.

“Such as your vacation?” I surmised.

“How did you know?” she smiled.

“Or, how the Dow Jones is doing,” her husband joined the conversation from across the table.

“So one is more generous when the market is doing well?” I probed.

“I would say so. It also applies to Xmas gifting.”

“The jewels are always a little bigger when the Dow is up,” she nodded.

“Do you give cash or checks?” I asked.

“I always give American express gift cards,” Stretch sniffed.  “It’s safe, and they’re accepted everywhere.

“Why do you think I moved the suburbs? Because I couldn’t afford the tips among other things,” Editor revealed over a delicious lunch at that hidden gem, Mozzarella & Vino on 54th Street, across from the Museum of Modern art.

“You can’t be serious! You moved from NYC because of tipping?” I couldn’t believe my ears…and my writer’s good luck that his anecdote matched up with this piece.

“Yes, I moved to [creative N.J. suburb] because of what transpired last year.”

“What happened?” I asked, tucking into my divine citrus, avocado and fennel salad.

My job (senior newspaper editor) was downsized but they also told me my last bonus was being delayed before the layoffs. So it was either Christmas gifts for the kids and the trip to Florida to see my wife’s parents or…the tips. I honestly did not have an extra 10 grand lying around and said I would do tipping after the holiday.”

“So what happened that prompted the move?”

“When I got back from Florida, with a tan, mind you, and walked into the garage (West Side), they buried my car so deep in the back I had to wait an extra half hour each day. The super would not come up when we had a leak, the tutor quit and so on. Finally, I got my bonus and severance and paid everyone out, but it was too late—tipocalypse”

“So you decided to get out of dodge?” I sympathized.

“After I landed my new editing job at the website (with equity) I told my wife that I wanted to concentrate on building my new career without any pressure, so we found a lovely, turn-of-the-century home on an idyllic block and moved and the kids go to public school. I cut out at the very least 100K a year by living in Suburbia…no one pressures me for tips, school donations. I don’t have to give the super a tip as I am the super, and my car is parked in my garage,” he said proudly.

“So how has life been now that you are saving all that money?”

“Deadly. So boring. My wife is ready to divorce me.” He looked down at the floor.

Dinner in Harlem is the new Paris, who needs Concorde? It’s all wide boulevards and fabulous outdoor cafés. Out-of-town friends and a group had gathered at our apartment for drinks and hors d’oeuvres before dinner at Maison Harlem. It was a fun, boisterous affair. I was seated next to Hedda-Fund, the stylish, auburn wife of one of N.Y.’s most storied financial families.

“What’s your take on tipping during the holiday season?” I asked.

“Well, it is a full time job. I am always running to the bank to get crisp new denominations: fives, 10s, 20s and 50s…. I feel like Tony Montana in Scarface when I sit at the table divvying up mounds of cash,” she admitted.

“So you like to give cash, I take it?”

“Of course. That’s what everyone wants, cash on the barrel. No one wants a bad sweater or having to do a return, or a handmade mug your child took out of the kiln. It’s straight to the trash. I mean, let’s be real; we don’t even save our own children’s art projects.”

“Who is on your lucky ATM receiving line?” I asked.

“Who isn’t?” she artfully ate her oyster with dainty panache. “Teachers, blow-dryers, your people at [cycling gym], the mailmen, my computer people, my dog walker, my doctor, my waxer…It’s endless.” My mind wandered back to Stretch. Clearly, good waxers are worth sticking with.

“Wait, you tip teachers and doctors?”

“It’s all under the table.”

“That’s a new one. Has anyone ever said they couldn’t take it as it’s not a school policy?” I probed.

“In my lifetime, I never had anyone not take a tip.” She paused dramatically. “N-E-V-E-R.”

“Are they grateful?”

“I’m treated like the Queen of India.” She twirled a ruby ring.

“Well, you are very generous. You’re a leader in the tipping economy,” I agreed, her generosity legendary on the circuit.

“One-thousand-and-one percent” She nodded.

“Do you think it affects your service during the year?”

“Most definitely. And the reverse is true too. My friends who don’t tip in the bigger buildings…well, good luck getting any service.”

“How do you know?”’

“People call me to ask how much to give and tell me their under-tipping horror stories—i.e., if the husband is known to be a cheapskate.”

“That’s because you’re the tipping maven!!!”

“That’s what they tell me. I am sure the service folks keep lists of who gives and who doesn’t. You go straight to the bottom of the barrel if you don’t.”

“You’re your own economy,” I marveled.

“Of course. I even bring an attaché case of cash when we go on Xmas vacation to tip for lounge chairs and ensure there is always a drinkypoo to hand. I always tip well. I even keep lists from last year so I can adjust to the cost of living and ensure everyone gets a bit more the next year”

“Like a tipping raise?”

“Yes. There’s the old saying, ‘Do you want to be treated like shit or champagne.”

“Well clearly Dom Perignon,” I offered.

“Then you have pay up!” She looked into her Chanel compact. “That’s what I tell everyone”.

It was a glorious evening in a Tribeca penthouse with an early November cocktail mingle on the terrace, thanks to the unseasonably warm weather.

After dinner, a group of guests emigrated to the outdoor space where a fire pit had been set up to roast s’mores. I was seated next to one of my favorite people; the stylish and lovely Goldie Blonde and I enquired about her holiday tipping regimen.

“Poinsettia’s are very thoughtful with a handwritten note,” she offered, her legs crossed at the buttery knee-high suede boots.

“I’ve never known how to actually pronounce Poinsiettia.”

“It’s POIN-SIET-TIA” She articulated the word.

“Really. And you send those?” I asked.

“There like mini Christmas trees. It’s such a thoughtful gift, the perfect thing to send to the dry cleaner”

“You tip your drycleaner? Wow that’s going deep.” I marveled.

“Everyone loves a Poinsettia.” She nodded.

“How about a fruitcake?” Dana asked.

“No, I think poinsettia’s are better. They’re lovely for teachers and people who you want to send holiday cheer to but not cash.”

“Don’t you think they want cash though?” I prodded.

“Well, my philosophy is to be generous all the time. If you tip throughout the year, then sending something thoughtful is what the holiday season is all about. I tip all year long and then back it up with Poinsettias”

“That’s a good point,” I nodded.

“Well, whether you send cash or a Poinsettia,” Dana pronounced it correctly while enjoying a roasted marshmallow. “Either way someone’s going to be in the red.”

“Well, you know what Oscar Wilde once said,” Goldy replied, “People are very fond of giving away what they most need themselves. It’s called the depth of generosity.”

“Just don’t give away that last graham cracker,” Dana said, munching on her s’more. “Some thing’s in life are non-negotiable.” How the 1% Tip for the Holidays