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How To Tip In A Post-COVID World 

Molly Povich  |  July 20, 2020

The coronavirus has affected the way tips are given — and how much many people tip. Here’s a rundown on the new world of gratuities.

We’re tipping more, and — because of fear about handling cash — often through digital means. 

We don’t know a lot about how long COVID-19 survives on currency. But we do know it doesn’t spread by penetrating the skin on your hands, so handling the cash itself won’t directly infect you. It can, however, spread when transferred by your hand to places like your mouth, nose, or eyes.

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The hesitance to touch cash is understandable — it was potentially just in someone else’s hands, and a certain proximity to another person is required for the “hand off.” But even though we may be more afraid these days, cash tipping won’t disappear altogether. “People are still going to take gratuity in the form of cash,” asserts etiquette expert and founder of The Protocol School of Texas, Diane Gottsman. “Part of being mindful about this is washing or sanitizing your hands before and after you handle cash.” 

Electronic payments will be more common, says etiquette expert Elaine Swann, founder of the Swann School of Protocol. “We’ll see a rise in tipping utilizing apps like Zelle, which I recommend.” Certain service providers might even give you their Venmo handle in order to tip them. 

You’re less likely to give your Venmo handle to someone you’re only meeting once. Tipping transactions over apps are more likely to be with people you have ongoing, direct relationships with, says Swann — like your personal trainer, hairdresser, or dog walker.

But remember, even if you’re using contactless payments, without sanitizing your hands after touching a credit card, payment terminal, or even your phone, there’s still the potential for infection.Regardless of how you’re paying and tipping, be diligent about sanitizing yourself — for the sake of yourself and others. 

“It really is a personal decision, how you tip,” points out Gottsman. “But however you give a tip should be something you’re comfortable with, and however you’re given a tip should be something you’re comfortable with.” 

Some people will be more hesitant than others about using cash, and you’ll want to respect this. “When in doubt, simply ask, ‘Is there a particular way you would prefer to be tipped?’” 


“The pandemic has changed our tipping society-wide,” says Gottsman. “People are being more generous nowadays. We are very grateful for those who are putting themselves in situations we would prefer not to be in, for example if someone is delivering your groceries.” 

The hardship of the pandemic has made us appreciative. “What will change moving forward is we will look at service workers and delivery folks from a different perspective,” explains Swann. “People who are able to do so are tipping more than they normally did.” 

If you can tip more, please do, urges Swann. “A lot of service industry providers have been out of work. So giving more than you normally would can be very helpful to them.” 

Even if it’s curb service picking up food from a restaurant, and all a worker is doing is bringing the food to your car — tipping could still be appropriate, says Gottsman. Keep in mind that these workers are probably the servers who were earning a lot of income from tips before the pandemic, when restaurants were in full swing.

Sometimes when ordering food online or through apps, the medium automatically selects an amount for a tip. It might be equivalent to the 15-20% you’d be tipping if you were actually sitting in the restaurant, and that’s ok. If you can afford to help someone, you should. 

But remember that there are some workers who can’t accept tips, like mail carriers. “You can still do something nice for them,” reminds Gottsman. Maybe you leave a nice note or bottle of water at the door. “Even the courtesy of a smile, or giving something like baked goods from the store. Something nice goes a long way these days in lifting spirits,” says Gottsman.


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