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Tipping Etiquette in the Time of Coronavirus: How Much Is Enough?

May 7, 2020

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Delivery workers at restaurants, grocery stores, and other essential businesses provide a lifeline to homebound shoppers while the highly infectious and deadly coronavirus circulates, so you might be wondering: When do I need to leave a tip? And how much gratuity is enough?

From curbside pickup to alcohol delivery, there are many services that could warrant a tip, but the etiquette on tipping during a pandemic isn’t obvious.

“This is the time when we should be generous if we can, but there is no hard and fast rule for how much extra to give,” says Diane Gottsman, author of “Modern Etiquette for a Better Life” and founder of the Protocol School of Texas.

So, what does “generous” mean in dollars and cents? Follow these pointers to avoid an etiquette error the next time you go to leave a tip.

1. Always tip for delivery and takeout/curbside pickup

Whether you’re getting Mexican food delivered for Taco Tuesday or placing an order for delivery from your local cannabis dispensary, right now you should tip at least 15% to 20%, Gottsman says. The same goes for grocery or alcohol delivery.

If you’re picking up from a restaurant that started offering curbside pickup in the wake of the pandemic, leave a tip.

“The people that are outside are probably employees they’re trying to save from losing their job,” Gottsman says. “They’re probably working for gratuity but not a large hourly rate.”

But just how much should you tip for curbside or in-store pickup? That depends. While some etiquette experts suggest tipping the same 15% to 20% that you would tip for delivery, others say it’s OK to go lower.

“There is a difference between curbside pickup and actual delivery, and for delivery there’s more involved,” says Elaine Swann, a lifestyle and etiquette expert. “Anyone coming to your front door should get a little more money.”

Still, Swann suggests tipping at least 10% on pickup orders during a pandemic.

When it comes to grocery pickup, the etiquette is a bit more complicated.

“Grocers normally don’t allow their people to take tips; although in this scenario, they might have altered their policy,” Gottsman says. If you want to tip the curbside pickup person at your grocery store, ask first if a gratuity can be accepted.

Most of us aren’t in the habit of tipping drive-up window workers at fast-food restaurants, and that’s still OK, Gottsman says—those workers earn an hourly rate, and staffing the drive-up window is part of their regular job duties.

2. Tip just as generously regardless of who delivers

Whether you order your lunch directly from a restaurant or through a third-party delivery service like Grubhub or DoorDash, you should tip the delivery driver the same amount.

Gottsman suggests at least 15% to 20% here, too—although you might have noticed some delivery apps have a default tip set to 25%. If you’re able to swing it, it’s a nice way to thank the person facing the health risk to deliver essentials to you.

“Whether you’re ordering through a third-party service or the restaurant itself, the tip is intended for the person delivering it to you, so I think they should be treated equally,” Swann says.

Even if you have to pay extra for delivery through a third-party service, service fees shouldn’t cut into your tip. On that note …

3. A service or delivery fee is not a tip

When you see a delivery fee or service charge on your order total, that money doesn’t go to your driver—so don’t use it as an excuse to pinch pennies with the tip.

“A delivery fee covers other costs for the restaurant,” Gottsman says. “It’s really important not to confuse a delivery fee with a gratuity. They are two different things.”

4. Some workers can’t accept tips, but you can still offer a kind gesture

Right now, you might be feeling extra grateful for postal workers delivering mail and packages every day. But mail carriers aren’t allowed to accept cash tips or gifts worth more than $20 in value.

“What you could do for somebody you appreciate is leave a nice candy in the mailbox or a gift card for a cup of coffee,” Gottsman says.

What about your local boutique that’s started delivering home goods, or the pet supply store that’s delivering dog food? Many small retail businesses don’t expect tips, Swann says, but now is a great time to show gratitude by posting a glowing review online.

“Not only should we be patronizing our businesses, but we should be putting forth an effort to highlight our positive experiences,” she says. “If they can get that virtual high-five during this time, that would be very helpful.”

5. Be cautious with cash

For online or phone orders, you’ll likely add the tip when you provide your credit card information. But what about cash tips at a time when we’re all trying to eliminate unnecessary physical contact?

“If you do have to tip in cash, to put [workers] at ease, put the cash in an envelope in advance,” Swann says. “One of the core values of etiquette is to make sure we’re doing everything we can to put others at ease.”

And of course, if cash changes hands, sanitize or wash your hands before and after the interaction and follow Centers for Disease Control guidelines for maintaining safe social distance.

6. Tip on the total, not the subtotal

It’s the perennial debate: Should you tip on the subtotal before tax, or the total after tax?

“Just tip on the whole thing,” Gottsman says. As essential workers gear up in masks and gloves and take extra precautions to deliver food and necessities so the rest of us can stay home, now isn’t the time to be stingy.

“Do those few pennies matter? I think they matter to that person [you’re tipping],” she says.

7. Consider tipping contractors, fitness instructors, and others who go above and beyond

You probably wouldn’t normally tip a plumber or electrician who comes into your home, but if you can afford it, it’s not a bad idea, Gottsman says.

“If they come out in the middle of the night or they come out all masked and covered up, you might offer to give them some extra gratuity,” she says. “More than likely they will take it. … They aren’t having the businesses they normally have.”

If your favorite trainer or fitness instructor offers free workout plans or streaming classes while gyms are closed, you may also want to send them a tip on Venmo or PayPal.

“If they’re not charging you but just doing it to keep you going, then why not go ahead and send them a little something?” Swann asks.

8. When in doubt, just do what you can

This is a tough financial time for many people. If tipping above and beyond your normal amount feels out of reach, don’t beat yourself up—just do what’s in your budget.

“The bottom line is, we give what we can afford at this time,” Gottsman says. “Some people are not impacted at all financially, and some people don’t have jobs. To say across the board that everyone should tip more would be unfair.”

The post Tipping Etiquette in the Time of Coronavirus: How Much Is Enough? appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights |®.

5 Unwritten Etiquette Rules Home Buyers Might Not Even Realize Are a Big Deal

March 13, 2019

5 Unwritten Etiquette Rules Home Buyers Might Not Even Realize Are A Big Deal


If you’re looking to buy a house, you’re probably eager and excited. That’s fine, but just keep in mind that in this heightened emotional state, it’s easy to get swept up in the moment and behave, well, not perfectly.

This can lead to trouble since, just like anything else, buying a home comes with its own set of rules. Some may be fairly obvious, since they’re outlined in all that real estate paperwork you’ll soon be signing. But some of these rules are the unwritten, etiquette-based kind. And if you break ’em, it could still stop a real estate deal in its tracks.

Worried you might not be aware of all the things you might do that could inadvertently rub home sellers or real estate agents the wrong way? Then heed these five etiquette rules that many home buyers might all too easily overlook.

Rule 1: See a house online you love? Don’t call the listing agent

When you’re looking for a house and find a place that looks like it could be The One, it can be tempting to jump the gun and call the listing agent immediately. But stop right there.

The reason? The proper channels of communication dictate that you should ask your own buyer’s agent to reach out to the listing agent, who will, in turn, let the home sellers know of your interest. We know it sounds like a long game of telephone, but it’s necessary for a number of reasons. Namely, it means both buyer and seller have an agent looking out for their distinct interests, facilitating the deal.

“You’re not going to get a better deal by going directly to the listing agent,” explains Matt Van Winkle, owner of Re/Max Northwest Realtors, in Seattle. “They represent the seller and are just trying to get the seller the best price.”

There is a caveat to this rule, says Kerron Stokes, a real estate agent with Re/Max Leaders, in Colorado: “If you are not represented and if you do not have an agent, then feel free to call the seller’s agent,” Stokes says. “But if you are a buyer, you should get an agent, as they can best represent your interests.”

Rule 2: Don’t ask your agent to show you homes until you sign a buyer-broker agreement

We get it, signing legal documents is scary. But here’s the thing: If you’re not ready to commit to your real estate agent, you’re not ready to get serious about buying a home.

“Be prepared to sign a buyer’s agreement so that your buyer’s agent knows you are serious and ready to go,” Stokes says. “From a consumer protection standpoint, it’s a very good thing for all involved.”

A buyer-broker agreement is a legal contract that defines the relationship between the buyer (that’s you) and your real estate agent. The agreement is good for both parties, since it outlines exactly what services the broker is going to provide. A buyer-broker agreement is also a way to let your real estate agent know that you’re committed to working with this pro to find your home.

And, if the relationship doesn’t end up working out, you can always end the agreement and find another agent to work with. It’s poor etiquette to work with more than one real estate agent at a time, and the buyer-broker agreement shows your agent that you’re not doing that.

“Remember that buyer’s agents are only paid if they close a deal—they aren’t paid for their time,” Van Winkle says. As such, “it’s wrong to call another agent just because yours is unavailable or on vacation.”

Rule 3: Don’t make an offer without mortgage pre-approval

mortgage pre-approval is a letter from a lender saying it will provide you with financing to buy a home up to a certain loan amount. It makes everyone’s lives easier since it provides proof of how much home you can afford to buyers and agents—and that you can put your money where your mouth is with an offer. Without it, your offer is an empty promise.

“If you want to compete against other buyers for a home, you won’t be able to do that without that pre-approval letter,” says Bill Golden, a longtime real estate agent with Re/Max Metro Atlanta Cityside.

Rule 4: Don’t be late to home showings—or bail entirely

If you have an appointment with your agent to view a home, treat it like a priority. If you’re going to be late or can’t make it, call your agent and let him know.

“If you don’t respect my time, then we don’t have a good working relationship,” Golden says. “Usually, I will have set up appointments to see several homes, and if you’re late or don’t show, I have to try to rearrange all of the showings, which may not be possible on short notice.”

Rule 5: Don’t pretend you’re ready to buy if you know you’re really not

This one might sound like a no-brainer, but it’s such a big part of real estate etiquette it’s worth driving home: Don’t pretend that you’re ready to buy if you aren’t. Don’t enlist the services of a buyer’s agent if you know you’re still in the fact-finding and “just looking” phase of your home search.

So go to open houses. Window-shop. Just be upfront with everyone about where you are in the process. Don’t pretend you’re ready to buy just because you want to be taken seriously. Real estate agents work on commission, so don’t wantonly take their attention away from actual, paying clients and potentially costing them sales, which is a serious thing. Got it?

The post 5 Unwritten Etiquette Rules Home Buyers Might Not Even Realize Are a Big Deal appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights |®.

The New Rules of Neighborly Etiquette: Do You Know Them All?

December 31, 2018

neighbors at door


Neighborhoods just aren’t the same as they used to be.

Gone are the days when everyone on your street knows you and waves when you pass one another by. One recent study by the City Observatory found that only about one-third of homeowners know their neighbors by name! That’s a huge change from generations past, and it’s altered the unspoken rules of neighborly etiquette.

Whether you’re the new kid on the block or you’ve been at the same address for 20 years, there are certain etiquette rules you’re expected to follow to keep the peace in your hood, and those rules are evolving just as quickly as the world we live in. We spoke to experts to find out exactly what those rules are today, so we can strive to be the perfect neighbors we wish we had.

Old rule: Just pop by and knock!

New rule: Try texting first

Many of the changes in the way that we interact with our neighbors are due to advancements in technology.

“The technology that was created to connect us has left many ever more [physically] disconnected,” says Sophie Kaemmerle, a neighborhood expert from NeighborWho. “There is a tendency for many of us to turn inward and live in a digital neighborhood, instead of interacting with the people around us.”

The upshot? People just don’t show up unexpectedly at your door anymore—if you do, there’s a good chance you’ll catch your neighbors off guard.

Instead, “Sending people a message to say that you would like to swing by, rather than just showing up unannounced, is appropriate,” says Kaemmerle. “A text saying you have something to drop off and ‘Is now a good time?’ allows the other person to make sure they have pants on before you ring the doorbell!”

Old rule: Kids can still drop by to ask if your tykes can play

New rule: Kids have busy schedules, so texting applies here, too

So maybe we adults should consider texting before dropping by, but surely it’s OK for phone-less kids to drop by unannounced and ask for the children of the house to come out and play, right? Not so fast, says Kaemmerle.

“It’s best to use technology to plan play dates for your kids, by emailing or texting other parents rather than letting your kids simply show up and knock,” she explains. “Kids these days have a lot of extracurricular activities, and unless you know the other family really well, you probably don’t have an inkling about their schedule. It’s courteous to be mindful of those busy schedules by planning play dates in advance.”

Old rule: Neighborhood watch keeps us all safe

New rule: Limit your video surveillance to your own property

As crime rates go up and the cost of video equipment goes down, it’s not uncommon to see video cameras pop up on houses on your street. In fact, around 20% of all Americans aged 18 to 49 use video surveillance in their homes.

If you decide to take the plunge and install your own, where exactly should those cameras be pointing? Is it a big deal if your front porch camera also happens to be recording your neighbor’s front yard?

Experts agree that is a very, very big deal.

“For reasons of privacy, I would encourage property owners to limit the scope of all videotaping to the boundary of their own property,” explains etiquette and manners expert Sharon Schweitzer, who is also an attorney.

She adds that you should double-check by watching your video to make sure you’re not accidentally recording beyond your own property lines.

It’s not always possible to keep the camera on your own property, especially if you have a small lot, or are recording something close to the edge of your property.

“If you are recording anything beyond your property line, it is best to communicate with your neighbors and check with an attorney,” advises etiquette consultant Jodi RR Smith. “Different states have different right-to-privacy and recording laws.”

Old rule: Face-to-face interactions are best

New rule: Being Facebook friends is fine, too

While every etiquette expert we spoke with confirmed that you are under no obligation to befriend your neighbors on Facebook or other social media sites, Kaemmerle says there are good ways to connect with your neighbors online—especially if you’re not apt to do it face to face. In fact, doing so may be the key to forging the connections that have been lost over the years—and to keeping up with what’s happening in your area.

“While technology might have started the trend toward fewer interactions with your neighbors, it can also be the key to changing that trend,” she says. “There are digital platforms now that are designed specifically to create neighborliness.”

Kaemmerle suggests searching Facebook for groups specific to your city, town, or neighborhood. She also advises trying the app Nextdoor, which uses your address to automatically connect you to private message boards used only by those living in your area. By using these sites, you can pitch in when there’s a lost cat, stay in the loop if there’s suspicious activity in the area, and even keep up to date on things like yard waste collection.

Old rule: Swap keys with a neighbor you trust in case of emergencies

New rule: Swap alarm codes and other electronic passwords, too

You can’t be home 100% of the time, so it’s always good to have one neighbor you trust have access to your house in case of emergencies. In the past, that boiled down to a key swap. Today, it could include everything from security alarm codes to garage door passwords—whatever they’d need to keep your place safe.

“If you trust your neighbor and vice versa, share alarm codes, garage codes, and home electronics instructions, in case you ever need to assist while they’re away,” explains Schweitzer. “For example, if your neighbor’s garage door is open or they are away during a freeze and the heat needs to be turned on, you’ll be prepared to be a helpful neighbor.”

Old rule: Construction on your property is your business alone

New rule: Alert neighbors to any construction plans that might make noise

Construction projects aren’t just hard on you—they’re also hard on your whole neighborhood. The noise, the dirt, and the added traffic are enough to drive anyone nuts, so be considerate of your neighbors when you have a project going on.

“If you’re doing construction, send an email or written note to all neighbors with your contact info, in case there are any issues with the contractors if you’re not around,” advises etiquette expert Lisa Grotts.

After the project is over, invite everyone over for libations as a thank-you for putting up with the ruckus—and forging stronger neighborhood bonds. (The old-fashioned custom of sharing a drink face to face works just as well now as ever!)

The post The New Rules of Neighborly Etiquette: Do You Know Them All? appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights |®.

Are Housewarming Parties Tacky? And Other Sticky Questions of New Homeowner Etiquette

November 9, 2018

So, the last box has finally been unpacked, or at least tucked away in the garage. The shelf paper has been laid, and the hardwood floors are gleaming.

Now it’s time to throw open the doors, pour a drink, and summon your favorite people to come admire your fabulous new digs. Bonus: Maybe they’ll bring a few things to help the place feel like home!

Not so fast.

You’ve no doubt navigated the complicated home-buying process with aplomb. But now you must navigate some tricky etiquette rules around being a new homeowner. How do you pull off a housewarming party without the whole shindig looking like an awkward gift grab?

We consulted a few etiquette experts to find out what’s considered tacky—and what’s perfectly appropriate—when it comes to celebrating this enormous life achievement.

Who throws a housewarming party?

I was startled when a friend mentioned that another friend had invited her to a housewarming for their new home. I had always thought that a housewarming party was thrown for one by others, like a bridal or baby shower. It just seemed sort of … self-congratulatory.

The etiquette experts I chatted up fired back with a (mostly) resounding, “Relax! It’s fine.” In fact, throwing yourself a housewarming party—that is, inviting friends, neighbors, and family over to check out your place—isn’t just acceptable; it’s expected, the experts tell me.

“It’s incumbent upon new residents to set the tone for how they’d like to be welcomed into the community,” says Jennifer Porter, a Seattle-based designer and party planner at Satsuma Designs. “Chances are, it will be reciprocated in fun and unexpected ways.”

Is it rude to ask for housewarming gifts?

The short answer: Yes, asking for gifts for your new home is considered impolite. (Even though you just shelled out a boatload of money on the house and would love to have a little help filling it with the essentials!)

You can throw yourself a housewarming party in good faith, but this isn’t the time to hope for—or hint at—gifts you need to finish getting the place in order, says Elaine Swann, a Los Angeles–based etiquette expert, who urges new homeowners to focus on good times with good friends—not getting the goods.

“If you’re throwing a housewarming, that should mean you’re unpacked, decorated, and ready to entertain,” Swann says. “If that’s not the case, then it’s sort of like asking someone on a date and not bringing enough money to pay for it.”

That means you definitely shouldn’t throw a link to your painstakingly curated gift registry on the invitation. And even if guests insist on some ideas of what to bring, Swann urges hosts to maintain that no-gifts-please stance to sidestep any mixed messages about the intent of the party.

“Your presence is my present. I already have everything I need for the house,” Swan suggests as a response.

Invariably, most guests will show up with something in hand—a bottle of wine or a potted fern—which you should accept graciously. Just avoid suggesting specific ways your friends and family can spend their money on your new home.

How to gracefully host a housewarming party

Still feel a little weird about navigating the whole gift-receiving/hosting thing? Rachel Wagner, an etiquette consultant in Bixby, OK, suggests enlisting a close friend to help with logistics and greeting guests at the door.

If not handled carefully, she acknowledges, a self-hosted housewarming can come off as “drinking a toast to oneself”—and not in a charming way.

“Have the friend ‘host’ accept gifts at the door or indicate to the arriving guests where to place them,” Wagner recommends.

It all boils down to steering the vibe from “strutting” to “sharing.” Keep reminding yourself that this is all about hospitality—less about you, more about making others feel welcomed.

She suggests mixing up a special signature cocktail named with a nod to some feature of your home (Red Door Rum Runner, anyone?), offering tours of the house, and maybe even sending guests on their way with a cute parting gift or favor like a specialty cookie decorated with your address.

“You want to create an atmosphere for people to have a good time,” Swann says. “You’ve reached a milestone, and it’s only natural to share that with the people who matter most to you.”

The post Are Housewarming Parties Tacky? And Other Sticky Questions of New Homeowner Etiquette appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights |®.