We're all familiar with the tip jar at our local coffee shop, and we're accustomed to tipping a waiter or waitress for good service. But when it comes to movers, house painters or the person who mows your lawn, most people are less sure whether they should tip and, if so, how much.
Generally, I tip people who go beyond their duties or who provide excellent service, but how much I tip depends on circumstance: location, weather and how big the job is. Does the sofa need to be carried up four flights of stairs? Am I having a marble-topped table delivered or a small footstool?
Here are some tipping guidelines for common household services:
Although they usually don't state it on their websites, many big-box stores like Lowe's, Home Depot and Best Buy prohibit employees from accepting tips, even if they are delivering a 50-inch television, so best not to offer. Often, though, appliances and electronics are shipped directly from the manufacturer, not from the store, and third-party delivery companies may have different policies. I would still play it safe and not offer. A better way to show your gratitude is to give positive feedback on the company survey that is sent to you after the delivery, making sure to include the name of the delivery person.
Cable companies often do not allow their employees to accept tips. And be wary of the installer who asks for a tip in exchange for "free" extra channels – this is most likely against company policy.
Contractors typically bill by the hour or job, and there is usually an agreed-upon fee, so tipping is not required or expected. I do find that the occasional breakfast and/or lunch for the crew is always appreciated and goes a long way toward encouraging timely results.
Electricians and plumbers
Electricians and plumbers are highly trained professionals who get paid hourly for their work, so they do not expect tips. As with painters, it's better to share your positive experience on their business website, with your local business bureau or on an online review platform.
Furniture and rug deliveries
Stores like Crate & Barrel and Pottery Barn have flat delivery fees and typically work with dedicated partners for local deliveries or, for long-distance deliveries, professional shipping companies. So the person delivering your furniture will probably be a third-party hire and therefore receive only a portion of the delivery fee, and tipping is customary. I usually tip $10 to $20 per person for furniture deliveries. If there is installation or assembly involved, or if I have the delivery crew try the piece in a few spots, I tip on the higher end. Weather is also a factor; I once had a king-size headboard delivered to a client's apartment with no air conditioning on a blistering August day – I gave each guy an extra $20.
For large rug deliveries, I tip generously ($20 to $40 each), particularly when the workers are laying the rug for me and if the job entails moving and/or lifting furniture.
A tip is not expected for a one-time service call. But if you rely on the same person repeatedly, show your appreciation at holiday time (generally from $20 to $100, depending on the frequency and efficacy of the work). If the repair people are doing work outside the normal scope of their job, you should offer to pay them. For example, my building's superintendent rewired a light fixture for me -- a task outside his job description – and he refused to charge me, so I tipped him $20.
Tipping is not required or expected, but if you are especially pleased with your new paint job, you can give each painter $10 to $20, depending on the scope of the work. Even better than a tip, however, would be to give the painter a positive review on Yelp, HomeAdvisor or similar websites. And consider providing breakfast (coffee and doughnuts) or a pizza lunch for the crew.
Lawn care and snowplow drivers
Many people I know send a holiday tip to the person who mows their lawn in the summer or plows their driveway in the winter. I prefer to tip at the end of the season so that my tip is more closely tied to the work. And tip generously ($20 to $50). That way the worker may be more likely to come to your house first the next year.
For a big job, tip 10 to 15 percent of the total cost of the job. Rather than handing out money to each mover, give the sum to the foreman to divide among the crew, specifying how much you want to tip each person. For smaller jobs, tip each person $10 to $50, depending on how heavy the piece is or how many flights of stairs are involved.
• Elizabeth Mayhew, a "Today" show style expert and former magazine editor, is the author of "Flip! for Decorating."