The social factors that influence your tip for the doorman

Tipping the doorman is influenced by a number of social factors:

What this means is that even after you’ve rifled through the data and researched the gratuities administered by your neighbors and friends, you don’t know what you don’t know. Your superintendent could tell you what Mrs. Parsons in 5F gave him, but presumably he won’t. And Mrs. Parsons, if you ask her, is likely to abstain from the truth.

This habit of dishonesty is confirmed in “Doormen,” a generalized but thoroughly convincing book about the relationships between Manhattan doormen and tenants, by Peter Bearman, a Columbia University sociologist. In a chapter devoted to Christmas tipping, Mr. Bearman determines that people frequently understate the amount they are giving for the purpose of driving down the contributions of others, and thus distinguishing themselves as among a building’s more generous residents…

If Mr. Bearman were to arrive at Christmas dinner and listen to you fret about whether you tipped your doorman or your super sufficiently this year, he would not quell your anxieties but, instead, tell you that they were utterly justified. Tipping, in this view, is a complicated affair in which it is virtually impossible to establish uniformity. Tipping too little is embarrassing, but so is tipping too much, which can come with distasteful implications of hierarchy and servitude…

Tipping is affected by an infinite number of variables, not the least of them personal affinity. Most doormen will tell you that everyone tips something at Christmas, but that’s not quite true.

This small act is complicated by the relationship one has with the doorman, the setting of the building and the general socioeconomic status of the residents (as the article suggests, comparing the East and West sides), and wanting to appear somewhat but not too generous. It strikes me as well as the issues of tipping could be very unique to American culture where we talk about being egalitarian and therefore don’t like to talk about or even bring up differential positions of power (doormen vs. wealthier residents) but still want to appear nice (supplementing their salary with tips).

Another thought: couldn’t tipping be eliminated if the unionized salary for doormen in New York City was raised so that tips were not necessary to supplement incomes?

I wonder if anyone has solved this problem in a way that the doorman still receives a similar take and residents still tip something. Imagine if there was a website devoted to tipping that included real-time figures for different buildings in New York City. If residents had real data on what other people were tipping, not just suggestions from advice columnists, would this help them make tipping decisions? I suppose this would all depend on residents reporting their true tip, not the socially acceptable value.

One thought on “The social factors that influence your tip for the doorman

  1. Pingback: Urban differences: Portland, Oregon has only one doorman | Legally Sociable

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