Fern Mallis and Simon Doonan's Tips on Tipping

Fern and Simon
Photo: Photo Illustration: Everett Bogue; Photos: Getty Images

Attention shoppers! It's that time of year. Yes, the Tipping Time, wherein you must give of your bounty unto all those little people who make your world go round (even if it makes you a little morally queasy). But what to give, and to whom? Well! We ran into Barneys creative director Simon Doonan and Fashion Week overlord Fern Mallis several weeks back at the launch for our New York Look fashion magazine (which, we might add, yet again, is pretty fucking fantastic), and asked them how they treat the help when the holidays come around. What we discovered was a highly detailed system of reward, based on equal parts anger, fear, and compassion, which we've made into a handy list, below.

1. If you subscribe to fashion magazines, be generous to your postal carriers.
As every girl or gay knows, September fashion magazines are heavy enough to be used as doorstops or murder weapons. You've seen your coffee table buckle under the weight. Now imagine the spinal discs of your poor postal carrier, forced to lug a 5,000-page Vogue to every apartment in your building. And then there's Bazaar. And W. Oh, God, that W. Feel guilty yet? Doonan does. "Every postal worker who has ever delivered to my building has gone on sick leave with hernia from lifting magazines. It's a really disastrous situation," he says. His tipping solution: at least $25. "But I do raises, so [my postal carrier] is making a fortune now."

2. But … don't be afraid to punish bad behavior. And don't let yourself be forced into noblesse oblige.
"It's their job! They're civil servants!" Mallis disagrees. "That's a very bad precedent, tipping the mailman. I used to do it when I knew the mailman and had conversations with him, but the way my guys shove things in and crunch them down, my mail gets demolished. And they don't care." Though we can't help wondering if Mallis's mailmen might care more if she slipped them a twenty.

3. Strategize, strategize, strategize.
While Mallis won't tip anonymous civil servants, she says it's a good idea to be generous to the people in your building. There's your doorman, and of course, your super. "My super and his wife watch over my apartment, and I can count on them," she says. "My alarms always go off at the wrong time when I'm traveling. Usually it's during a storm and the skylight at the top makes a noise and the alarm goes off and the police show up and my super has to check it out and I have to call him from India and say, 'Oh, my God. Is everything okay?' That's worth it to me." Also worth it? Making sure no angry garage worker keys her car. For Doonan it's "the guy who delivers the paper in the morning. I have to read the Times, the Post, WWD. Him. He's very important. But really, I'm just a big believer in tipping. I'm like Sharon Stone in Casino. You just have to tip everyone."

4. Goody bags are your friends.
Re-gifting is an acceptable supplement monetary reward. "When I come back from an event, I just start hurling stuff out of the goody bag at anyone who's in the lobby of my building," says Doonan. "'Here, give this to your wife. Take this face cream. Put it on crackers and eat it. Do what you want.'" Make it a year-round practice and you'll feel less guilty about the amount you give come year-end. Do it once a year and you'll have issues; don't think for a second that a single free bottle of Chanel No. 5 is going to make up for that time you had your doorman sign for those three llamas you bought on a whim.

5. Give yearly raises … but only if you know how to use Microsoft Excel.
"I up-tip every Christmas," says Doonan, who bases his raises on industry norms. "The average pay increase in Manhattan is between 2 and 5 percent, so I do that. The worst thing on earth is those really cheap people who have a cleaning lady and they pay her the same thing for ten years. It's obscene. Obscene!" But keep in mind that up-tipping is a slippery slope. Once you start, says Doonan, "you have to keep meticulous records on your computer. Because if you went down, it would be horrible! They'd think they'd done something dreadful. Efficient tipping requires good recordkeeping. It's like a whole other job."

6. As standard policy, live in fear.
Doonan does. "I'm terrified of forgetting somebody or undertipping," he says. "Because I think if I did, they would exact the most horrible revenge on me. You know, put like a dead fish under my bed or send aluminum ladders daily to my apartment on approval or something. Tipping is a minefield. Holidays should not be that stressful." —Jada Yuan

Related: The Tipping Handbook!