COVID-19 has reached a real tipping point — in the service industry.
As the Big Apple gets reacquainted with dining indoors, a debate is swirling around whether good pandemic manners includes splashing out on gratuity for your favorite waiter, barber, barista or driver — all of whom struggled in 2020.
"You used to hear those stories of celebrities tipping huge amounts," etiquette expert Lizzie Post of the Emily Post Institute told The Post. "In days pre-pandemic, that was reserved for high roller types. But now, many people have really been trying to tip more generously."
If you have the financial means, Post recommends bumping up your tip. But that doesn’t mean businesses should come to expect a new higher standard of gratuity, she added.
"You don’t want to prohibit some customers from participating at all, if they don’t feel they have the money to tip out in a huge way," Post said.
To get the skinny on the street, we spoke to local businesses who told us how the pandemic has changed their customers’ tipping habits.
"Our regulars have been very generous," said John Scala, who owns The New York Shaving Company with locations in Midtown Manhattan and Freehold, NJ.
He’s seen an average of 10% to 15% above the usual 20% gratuities from haircuts and shaves.
"They see us as on the frontline," Scala added. "And we’ve seen more in tips, whether its appreciation for being open, or they haven’t been able to come in as frequently so they give more."
Two weeks ago, comedian Robyn Schall stepped into Make My Cake on the Upper West Side and gave them a $1,000 tip, half of which was for the bakery and the other half went to the counter worker who had sold her a cupcake the day before. Owner Aliyyah Baylor was blown away.
"I had to go into the bathroom and cry," she said. "It really got me."
While Schall’s whopping tip is an anomaly, Baylor said her customers have been giving larger tips on individual orders, going from the pre-pandemic average of $1 to $5 or even $10. Over the last few months, Baylor said the tips have worked out to an employee bonus of around one extra weekly paycheck.
"I don’t call them tips," Baylor said. "I call them sweet gestures. When they show appreciation for the staff there, it resonates."
She added that the generosity feels like an endorsement from the community that they want her store to stay open.
"It’s like a hug," she said.
"I’m not aware of any new tipping formalities," said Namrata Gupta, the COO of The Face Haus, a facial spa with a location on the Upper East Side. "But since we’ve reopened in various parts of the country, we’ve seen guests leaving exceptionally generous gratuity to our estheticians."
Gupta said after running their payroll reports, they’ve seen the average tip float from 20% to 28%.
"Being in the restaurant industry really opens your eyes to tipping people for their work," said Garry Kanfer, who owns sushi joint Kissaki.
Kanfer regularly takes cabs and Ubers, and if they’re really helpful or trying to make his experience good, he will up his tip to 30%, he said.
He recommends being more generous with restaurant delivery drivers, especially during bad weather.
"During this critical time, if you can tip more, you should," he said.