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Didi’s Manners & Etiquette: Holiday Tipping + Entertaining

Thursday, December 11, 2014


Holiday questions about who to tip and how much? Holiday tensions when bringing home an overnight guest? Is it too late to throw a thrifty Christmas cocktail bash? Many thanks to all festive questions to Didi Lorillard this week.

You're bringing who home for the holidays?

Our daughter is bringing home her “girlfriend” for Christmas and we’re squeamish about the sleeping arrangements. We’re thinking about making up the pullout couch in my husband’s den for the girlfriend. Just after our son turned thirteen, he was killed by a drunk driver while riding his bicycle home from soccer practice, and we’ve since turned his room into a den for my husband. The girlfriend’s parents are divorced and she doesn’t go back to southern California for holidays. Our daughter has a double bed in her room, but we would be more comfortable knowing the young woman is sleeping in the den. What should we do? Also, since we’re helping our daughter pay off her student loans, we don’t give big presents. What can we put under the tree as Christmas gifts for them?  

~ Squeamish Parents, Roxbury, MA

What we want you to do is to be gentle and try to lighten up. Holidays make us all feel fragile about those whom we’ve lost and those we hold tightly to help us bring back the past. Coming home is as difficult for your daughter — and perhaps her friend — as it is for you and your husband. Make up the bed in the den. Leave fresh towels for her on the bed. Should your daughter ambush you conversationally, tell her you made up the bed in the den so her friend could have her own space. It is your house, but where your adult daughter and her adult friend sleep is their business. Respect their privacy.

Your daughter will tell you what she wants you to know. Don’t ask or say anything judgmental. Such as, “We don’t think you should sleep together in our home.” Be nice, nice, nice. Even if they don’t live in a cold climate, you do, and they’ll need a hat and gloves while they’re staying with you. Find them each a warm hat, similar in style, but not exactly the same, along with solid-colored gloves. Wrap them separately — colorfully and cheerfully.  


Tips for holiday tipping

What is the rule of thumb on Christmas tipping?  Who do you tip and how much do we tip for the holidays?  

~ GN, Manhattan

In mid-December, you should always tip three types of people who provide assistance and support to you throughout the year: your personal service providers, all household help, and any caregivers of your dependents. Reward loyalty and diligence by tipping those who help you year-round with the equivalent of the cost of one session or one paycheck — unless they’ve been working for over a year, then consider adding the price of a session or paycheck for every past year.

For Personal Service

Manicurist, hairdresser, personal trainer, barber, masseuse, beautician.

For Household Help

Housekeeper, cleaning person, gardner, janitor, handyman, doorman, lawn care person, newspaper deliverer, driver, personal assistant.

For Caregivers of Dependents

Baby nurse, nanny, caregiver, babysitter, dog walker, dog sitter, tutor, piano teacher, au pair.

When there are many tips to be prepared, keep track on a spreadsheet to make it easier next year. To tip, place crisp new bills in a holiday cash greeting card and add a short personal notation expressing your heartfelt appreciation — but only when it is sincere. When living in a condo or apartment building, ask for the list of employees, because often it will include tipping guidelines — which are only a suggested gratuity.

Bonus Vs. Tip                                                                                                                  

A tip is an expected gratuity and a bonus is a one-time reward — although it can be given more than once a year. A bonus is given at your discretion when someone has gone beyond the call of duty to accommodate you or members of your family. For instance, if you were away on business and the caregiver was solely responsible for your sick child, relative or pet. It goes without saying that when there is a trusted baby or dog sitter that you’ve come to rely on, you would want to make them feel appreciated by giving them an additional bonus. Or token gift — perhaps from the children. Something they picked out or made. A thoughtful bonus for a caregiver might be a pair of boots or a warm coat, if you can afford it — but include the receipt, in case it doesn't fit.

Token Gift                                                                                                                        

There are those you should NOT tip with a monetary gift, that you can give a “token gift” to instead. A Starbucks gift card — for no more than $20 –, sealed baked goods or chocolates, or a bottle of wine. A token gift should never be a re-gift. These recipients would be:

  • A business owner, because they own the business:  for instance, a beauty salon owner, parking garage owner, dry cleaner owner, gym owner, restaurant owner.                                                                                                                                                                      
  • Professionals such as a teacher, lawyer, tax accountant, doctor, dentist, plumber, electrician, computer geek, caterer.                                                                        
  • It is illegal to give a monetary tip to a mail carrier or anyone who works for the Federal Government.                                                                                                  
  • In some areas of the country, not even a token gift is allowed to be given to a garbage collector or teacher. Find out what is customary in your neighborhood and school.

Short on Cash?                                                                                                              

Aren't we all. When you cannot really afford to tip, give a token amount in a holiday cash greeting card and tell the recipient that you are sorry it is not more, because you appreciate their help and hope to make it up to them next year. Or use a colored envelope that your child has decorated with holiday stickers or drawings and say, “Thank you,” as you look them in the eye and smile. Showing your good intention will make up for any awkwardness of not being able to give a bigger tip.  


Recipe for a thrifty holiday party

Would you be able to help us plan a Christmas party? We’re on a tight budget, just out of grad school and saddled with college debts, but we’re determined to figure this out. 

~Aggie and James, Brooklyn, NY

It is not too late to plan a holiday party. Start by suggesting a few dates to your closest friends to find a night when you know they’re apt to be available. Tell them to put the day into their calendar. Before something else pops up send out a paperless post invitation. Keep track of the responses to catch any bounce backs and update those email addresses. We love paperlesspost.com because you know when you’re getting to capacity or when you need to send out more e-vites. Or simply text or email your invitation with the time, date, address, and RSVP contact.

In filling out your paperlesspost.com evite, choose a timeframe no longer than two and a half hours: 6:30pm-9:00pm or an early starting time of six o’clock. Don’t lead on guests to expect dinner. The closer to eight the starting time, the more likely they will expect real food.

Be sure to use the option “how many children” because a lot of people think Christmas parties mean children, especially if you know their children. You’ll want to prepare for them. On the other hand, if you don’t ask how many, they may assume children are not invited.

Every holiday party needs a festive theme that is either about food or beverage, but both should compliment the other. A Bloody Rum Punch is just the right festive drink to set a party tone. Holiday parties are mostly about color and a brilliant dark punch — try a cross between a sangria and a rum punch. It couldn’t be more festively decorated than with thinly sliced blood oranges and limes. Your punch bowl could be any large container in your kitchen — your largest mixing bowl, a soup pot or anything in between. You can even use a soup ladle to serve the punch.

When low lighting consists of colorful votives and tiny white Christmas tree lights scattered hither and yon — you’ll have just enough. Cover surfaces with the smallest branches from a Christmas tree bough and strew cranberries or holly amongst the pine needles. Cover paper plates, or whatever plates you have, with crisp white dollies (that can be found in supermarkets) and deck them out with piles of store-bought Christmas cookies. Use cereal bowls for peanuts and/or popcorn.

What guests really like to eat with a Bloody Rum Punch are cubes of basic cheddar cheese with water crackers. Keep those plates stacked with cheese cubes. If you can spring for salami, all the better.

You can find a really good dark 80 proof rum for under twenty dollars: Angostura 5, Appleton Special, Barbancout 3 Star, Don Q Cristal, Gosling’s Black Seal, Plantation Grande Reserve Barbados Rum. For more on rum, check out Michael Dietsch’s website seriouseats.com.

Holiday cocktails party are not so much about the food as they are about socializing and networking. Stack the chairs in another room out of sight, because you simply don’t want people getting stuck sitting. Keep guests on their feet circulating and they may even start dancing. Your playlist doesn’t have to be all Christmas music as the night wears on.

Here is a rather strong and warm recipe for Great British Bloody Rum Punch (or you can Google your own), but you have to put it together the day before, because it has to refrigerate for at least 24 hours — to meld the ingredients. This receipe makes approximately 20 six-ounce servings — and you might want to serve it over ice cubes.

Great British Bloody Rum Punch

1 750ml bottle of dark rum
1/2  bottle of red wine
6 ounces of fresh squeezed lime juice
3 thinly sliced limes
6 ounces of triple sec liqueur
6 ounces of simple syrup

For additional garnish:

3 Thinly sliced Blood Red oranges (or any juice orange)

Combine the ingredients the day before in whatever you’re using for a punch bowl. The next day all you will need to do is to serve the punch over a couple of ice cubes. Have a few bottles of cranberry juice on hand to dilute the punch, stretching it out to go further — or for guests to lighten up their drink. Cheers.  


Do you have a dilemma about love, family and life in general for Didi? Go ahead and "Ask Didi."  If your Question is used, we can withhold your name and/or location. 


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