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woman behind cash register in restaurant

Angie Duarte, a manager at the Bagel Restaurant and Deli, rings up a customer’s order Monday.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere

How to tip Chicago service workers the right way this holiday season

Sarah Madden has been a nanny in the Chicago area for six years and has received a variety of holiday tips, including what she says is the “typical” one week’s pay in cash. Other holiday gifts she’s received from the families she works with have been considerably more generous — like designer handbags and Tiffany necklaces.

Madden’s 13-year-old son has prune belly syndrome, a chronic and life-threatening illness. Eventually, he’ll need a kidney transplant, she said. One of the gifts she cherishes the most is a Tiffany necklace with a kidney bean pendant her current employer bought her.

“It really showed me that they love me like family and that they put a lot of thought into it,” she said. “I’m very emotional when it comes to things like that, so I cried for sure.”

For those able to give this holiday season, tipping can go a long way. Service workers and etiquette experts told the Sun-Times that money is always helpful for bills and essentials. At the same time, a thoughtful expression of understanding — acknowledging that someone works hard and their labor is seen and appreciated — is useful in its own way.

“It’s because you appreciate the skill set that those people bring,” Chicago-based etiquette coach Akilah Siti Easter said. “If you’re frequently revisiting someone, that means you like what they’re offering to you, and you understand that the holiday season is the time of giving.”

Here are some pointers for tipping from experts and service workers around Chicago.

A general rule of thumb

To start, a good general rule to go by is tipping the price of a service or a service and a half during the holiday season, Easter said.

Dog walkers and sitters

What to give: Cash or a thoughtful gift equivalent to $50-$200, depending on frequency. And remember: Dog walkers have pets, too.

Kara Gibson, 34, who runs Paws for Walks Chicago with partner Lesley Carrillo, said she’s received cash tips, as well as tips via Venmo or Zelle. Depending on the client, the service she provides and how long she’s been working with them, she said she’s received anywhere from $50 to $150 in tips.

She said she’s also received gifts, like treats for her dog, Lilly.

But one of her favorite gifts was a picture frame a client bought her from the country while they were vacationing. The frame came with a photo of her dog, Leah, who died that July.

“I think that the fact that they think of us when we’re on vacation, that’s a really cool thing,” she said.

Hair stylists and barbers

What to give: Cash or a personal, thoughtful gift equivalent to a session or visit.

Jax Contreras, senior stylist at Milio’s Hair Studio in Lake View, said he’s received holiday tips from clients in the form of cash that made a difference. There has been “a noticeable change in the frequency of clients coming in” post-pandemic, he said, and cash tips also helped him catch up with overdue utility bills and rising rent over the last few years.

“I find myself more and more hopeful for others’ generosity,” he said.

But gifts can be just as impactful. One such gift was a pair of Jordan sneakers he received from a client.

Contreras, who has been a hair stylist for 22 years, said the gift was particularly thoughtful, not only because it showed the client had remembered their conversations, but also because the right shoes keep stylists standing.

“For hair stylists specifically, we’re on our feet all day,” Contreras said. “If you don’t have the right kind of shoes, your feet hurt. … It kind of hit all the different markings of being a great gift for a hairdresser.”

woman behind cash register in restaurant

Angie Duarte, a manager at the Bagel Restaurant and Deli, said customers typically tip more for service on Christmas Day, though the amount differs per customer. The extra cash helps, especially during the holidays, Duarte said.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere

Deli clerks

What to give:Cash and/or small gifts for staff to share.

Angie Duarte, manager at The Bagel Restaurant and Deli in Lake View, said regulars often bring homemade cookies, brownies or cakes for the staff, including the kitchen, to share together. Often, the people who bring in the treats have been customers for over a decade.

Customers typically tip more for service on Christmas Day, she said, though the amount differs per customer. Those tips are totaled at the end of the night and split among the people who work front of house.

For Duarte, 33, the extra cash helps, especially during the holiday season.

“You get to buy people extra gifts,” she said. “Or pay the bills.”

Nail technicians

What to give: Cash or a personal, thoughtful gift equivalent to a session or visit.

Eboni Anderson, a nail technician at Nail Issuez in Pilsen, said she gets more tips and gifts around the holiday season. She’s received gift cards, scarves, trinkets like keychains, and once got a pair of designer loafers from a client. Some of her clients, who know she collects shot glasses, will bring her shot glasses from other states they’ve visited.

Anderson said the cash tips help her pay her utilities and rent, including for her business space.

“It’s an unexpected blessing,” she said. “It also helps pay the rent for the suite.”

Tattoo artists

What to give: Cash equal to 20% to 25% of the price of a service, or a thoughtful gift.

Jessica Beck, 34, works at Logan Square Tattoo and has been tattooing in the Chicago area for more than five years. Winter is often the slowest for business for tattoo artists, she said, so any extra financial help is appreciated. Beck said the money helps pay rent and utilities.

“This is probably the couple of months that we do suffer, so during this time it’s super helpful,” she said.

Beck said she’s also received cakes, cookies and gift cards, as well as tips that range in the hundreds of dollars, depending on the scale of the tattoo.

woman preparing coffee in cafe

Delaney Lanham, a barista at Elevate Coffee, said tip money is appreciated and helps the most.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere


What to give: Cash at the point of sale.

Delaney Lanham, 22, who has been a barista at Elevate Coffee in Northalsted since April, said she’s noticed that customers will give a bit more in tips during the holiday season. When she works at Elevate’s location in Uptown, she said people will come in after buying a Christmas tree at a nearby plant store and tip more.

Lanham was straightforward: Money is appreciated and helps the most.

“Yeah, it’s money,” she said. “We’re working here, we’re broke.”

Mail carriers

What to give: Stick to small gifts.

U.S. Postal Service carriers are allowed to accept a gift worth $20 or less, but cash and cash equivalents, including gift cards, cannot be accepted, according to the USPS website. Carriers cannot accept more than $50 worth of gifts from any customer in one calendar year.

FedEx employees cannot accept more than $75 worth of gifts from any customer in a year and cannot receive cash or cash equivalents, according to company policy.

UPS employees are allowed to accept small cash tips or gifts, but are advised to use their discretion. Company policy says, “All gifts and entertainment, other than infrequent items of nominal value, must be disclosed and approved by the appropriate manager.”

Victor Mihalia, who has been working for FedEx in Chicago for two years, said he’s received small gifts, like cookies and candy, around the holidays. Some customers have written him thank-you notes, he said.

“It’s nice to know people see you doing your job,” he said. “It’s nice to know you’re appreciated.”

Full-time nannies

What to give: A tip ranging from the equivalent of a week’s pay up to a month’s or a thoughtful gift.

Cristian Garcia, 38, who has been a full-time nanny since 2016 in Chicago, said that she’s received holiday bonuses of two weeks of pay, along with gifts, like clothes or jewelry, and handwritten cards.

“I feel appreciated and respected,” Garcia said. “And to me, it makes a big difference. Because I also hear from my other many, many colleagues, they don’t receive as much, and I feel sad for them. They’re not appreciated as they should be.”

man looking through rack of clothes in plastic

Paul Lademthim, a manager of Barry-Regent Cleaners in Lake View, said the same customers consistently bring small gifts, like boxes of chocolates, candies and cookies for the staff to share.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere

Dry cleaners

What to give: Cash and/or small gifts for staff to share.

Paul Lademthim, 58, who has worked at Barry-Regent Cleaners in Lake View for 40 years, said the same customers consistently bring small gifts, like boxes of chocolates, candies and cookies for the staff to share.

Lademthim said the staff enjoys the treats together, and he sees how workers appreciate them. It’s often the people who don’t have the most to give who are the ones giving gifts, he said.

“There’s a lot of people here who take pride in our work,” he said.

Personal trainers

What to give: Cash, a thoughtful gift, or a simple affirmation.

Miriam Plotkin, who has worked as a personal trainer in Lake View for 12 years, said gifts she has received around the holidays have ranged from cash to Trader Joe’s gift cards to cookies. Cash tips she’s received range from $50 to $100.

“You feel like they really are thanking you for helping them in some way,” she said.

She said more personalized gifts she’s received are earrings a client knew she would wear and a David Bowie mug.

Plotkin said her favorite gift to receive is a handwritten note because it shows the person put thought into the gift.

“When somebody goes out of their way to tell you how great you are or how much you’ve helped them, that means so much more to me than getting an actual material object,” she said.

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