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Country Club tipping guidelines for the Holiday Season

Independent etiquette tips by Donald K. Burleson

December 2009

It's that time of year again where everybody goes a pandering, saying "God Bless You", and telling you how much they enjoyed serving you this year.  I've seen holiday tipping etiquette guidelines that recommends tipping everybody from the sommelier to the shoeshine boy, but unconditional tipping in a country club is never a good idea. 

First, walking around handing out wads of $20 bills marks you are a free spending idiot, and you are sure to offend those who gave you good service.  Never, even give out your Christmas tips in front of other country club members, it's very rude, and it may mark you as a braggart or show-off.  Country club are lifelong communities and a bad reputation could take you decades to repair.

Country club personnel love to gossip, and within minutes of us handing out our year end envelopes, we are inundated by helpers telling us how much they enjoyed serving us this year.  That's why we recommending tipping as the last thing you do before you leave for the evening.

Tipping tips for new Country Club members

If you are new to a country club, remember that you are setting a precedent for your tips, and resist the temptation to over-tip.  You may be with these people for decades and if you tip your caddy $100 this year, you are locked-in to that amount ever year hence!

Choosing who gets year end tips at the country club

Over the years, I have developed a formula to help me determine who to tip.  Here are people who I do not give Christmas tips:

  • Professional staff - Do not tip cash to your country club manager.  It's not only in bad taste, it could be construed as a conflict of interest (because they manage your bills), and they may also be offended at being treated like a servant.  It's not fair because the country club manager is usually the person who works hardest for you each year, but Janet and I just tip with a token gift basket of goodies.  (Tipping tip:  If you want to tip your club manager with a gift basket, make sure to do it in their office.  If the waiters see the git, the country club manager will feel compelled to share it with them).

  • Background labor - I don't consider it expected nor required to tip the dishwashers, greens keeper or those creepy hippies who mow the fairways.

In sum, you should reserve your year end tips to those who serve you on a regular basis.  Also, I don't tip anybody who does not bother to know my name.

Who gets Christmas tips at the country club

It should be self evident that you will want to give holiday tips to those who serve you regularly, especially those who go the extra mile.  Those who should be tipped include:
  • Golf Pro tipping - If your golf pro helps you get good tee times and gives you lessons, then a holiday tip is appropriate.  I tip the cost is two golf lessons ($100-$200), or better still, a nice bottle of liquor.  I've yet to meet a golf pro who does not appreciate a bottle of Crown Royal or a Glenlivet. 

  • Dining manager tipping - The dining manager should be tipped, especially if they keep a reserved table for you and always ensure that you get great seats without waiting.  Tips range from $20-$100, depending on the frequency of dining and level of service.

  • Golf Caddy tipping - If your have a regular caddy who advises you regularly and has taken strokes off of your game, Christmas tips in the realm of $100-$300 are not inappropriate.

  • Golf assistant tipping - I like to tip $40-$60 to the kid who keeps by shoes shined and my golf cart clear.  These are usually college kids, they need the extra holiday cash.  Plus, a worthy scholar may someday become a fellow club member. 

  • Wait staff tipping - Tipping the waiter and waitresses is tricky and it depends on the rules at your country club.  At our clubs, a tip is built-in to the price of every meal, and if your county club has a cashless environment, it's never appropriate to leave an extra cash tip on the table.  Because I tip generously throughout the year, we only give a holiday year-end tip for wait staff who we have known for more than one year, and those who have gone the extra mile for us.  (See below for extra factors in tipping the country club wait staff.

  • Sommelier tips - I only recommend tipping a sommelier if you are regular wine drinker and the sommelier invests club funds to keep you stocked in pricey Pino's.  In those cases, a $100 year-end tip is appropriate.

  • Bartender tips - A really good bartender should get a generous holiday tip, especially since it not appropriate to tip them by the drink during the year.  My country club bartenders anticipates my needs, and know my favorite cocktail by heart (for me, a Glenlivet Manhattan on the rocks with a splash of sweet vermouth), and they have it at my table within minutes of us sitting down.  For this level of attention, a $50-$100 tip is appropriate.

Additional factors in country club tipping

I also factor several issues on how much to tip, and I consider these extra factors:
  • Frequency of service - Somebody you interact with daily (golf pro, bartender) should get more of a year end tip than somebody that you hardly ever use (e.g. sommelier, hairdresser).

  • Your personal finances - People mocked J. D. Rockefeller for giving out shiny dines as tips while he spent millions of dollar on his mansions.  If you are a millionaire or billionaire you should tip in proportion to your disposal income, but up to reasonable limits, and nobody, regardless of income, should drop more than $2,000 for total Country Club Christmas tips.

  • Longevity - Wait staff comes and goes, and I recommend only giving an extra holiday tip to those that you remember from last year.  For long term helpers, I try to increase my previous years tip by 15% each year.

  • Attention to detail - A good wait staff gives you the type of service that you want and remembers your preferences.  For example, our wait staff knows that Janet and I want "quiet" attentive service.  We don't want to be interrupted, and we expect carry-out container at the end of each meal (leftovers for the Rottweiler's).  On the other hand, when Mom dies with us, the wait staff knows that she likes to be chatted up and fawned over.

  • Sommelier tips - I only recommend tipping a country club sommelier if you are regular wine drinker and the sommelier invests club funds to keep you stocked in rare Reds and pricey Pino's.  In those cases, a $100 year-end tip is appropriate.
Again, tipping is a highly personal activity, and let your conscience be your guide.

Summary of country club tipping rules

Christmas and Holiday tipping is largely guided by your perceived level of service and your own personal sense of fairness.   Let your conscience be your guide and always give out year end Christmas tips to those who you feel genuinely deserve them!

Related articles:

          Tips for joining a country club




Note: The opinions expressed on these pages are the sole opinion of Donald K. Burleson and do not reflect the opinions of Burleson Enterprises Inc. or any of its subsidiaries.

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