Tipping Etiquette for a Builder
DEAR TIM: What is the appropriate amount or percent to tip our contractor after he completes our kitchen? The kitchen remodeling job we are about to start is a total reconstruction and we will end up with all new cabinets, granite countertops, flooring, appliances, lighting, etc. We have used this individual before and he is extremely detail oriented and puts 110% effort into his jobs. My husband and I love his work, so we feel we should give him a nice tip. What is the proper etiquette? Did any of your customers ever tip you and what meant the most to you? Elizabeth L., Philadelphia, PA
DEAR ELIZABETH: Your attitude about tipping a contractor is splendid. Not only is it deeply appreciated by the contractor, but it also engages a deep-seated psychological switch inside the contractor to reciprocate with you the next time you decide to hire him or need an emergency service call performed.
Your question about the tipping standard caused me to do some research as I couldn't remember a clear percentage or practice that is acceptable. I think the reason both you and I wonder about the proper etiquette speaks to how infrequently people tip a contractor for excellent service and craftsmanship. Unfortunately, after spending a considerable amount of time, I came up with very little about standardized tipping practices for contractors or builders.
Perhaps tipping a contractor is a nearly extinct practice that should be made to flourish. After all, many of us tip other workers on a routine basis and there are accepted percentages for any number of situations. In fact, one of my former subcontractors regularly would tip the hotel housekeepers who made the bed and cleaned the bathroom when she would stay at a hotel for more than one day.
A few of my past customers fortunately had the same attitude you and your husband possess. I have received extra money, an evening out on the town to the restaurant of my choice, a large party hosted by the homeowners for me, my crew and all subcontractors and even a simple gift basket. All of these tips were deeply appreciated and several of these customers and I became very close friends over time.
My suggestion is to stay away from direct gifts of cash, gift cards or gift certificates. Many people can always use extra money from time to time, but the gifts that often mean the most to people are the things they never think to give themselves. I also urge you not to give a new tool or set of tools to your contractor thinking you are doing him a favor. Many craftsmen are very particular about tools and they often want to select the exact tool that works for them.
I also ask that you consider extending the tip to some of the other people involved in the job. My guess is that your contractor has a tight group of subcontractors that are really part of his team. The craftsmanship you and your husband enjoy is a group effort and all involved might deeply appreciate recognition.
I distinctly remember a large party a particular customer of mine threw after we completed a stunning room addition that looked out over his property. He had an old-fashioned picnic party and fried up countless pounds of fresh Amish chicken that his business grew, processed and sold.
All of the subcontractors were invited and we had a splendid time talking and telling stories until the wee hours of the night. A minimal amount of alcohol was served, so the party never had a chance of getting out of hand.
To this day, many of my subcontractors and I still talk about how much fun we had that night and what great people these customers were. That delightful evening is forever branded in the memories of quite a few people, myself included.
If you feel uncomfortable hosting a party for a number of people and want the tip to extend just to the contractor, consider some type of exquisite vacation package or cruise for the contractor and his significant other. If you start to do some gentle, investigative questioning in casual conversation, you might discover places where the contractor has never visited but longs to go. Some all-inclusive vacation packages with airfare, lodging, food, etc. are very affordable and may be within your tipping budget.
If you really want to help a contractor's business, you may even think about paying all of his expenses to an upcoming national convention where he can attend all sorts of learning seminars and see all of the latest products in one location. Although this may seem like a tacky tip, the contractor may reap more from this trip than any other thing you could give him. Once again, start asking some innocent questions and see what he tells you about his dreams.