HOME > Chowhound > General Topics >


Do you feed workers at your home?

Growing up, my Mom always fed workers who were doing stuff at our house--usually a big pot of chili or stew at lunch.

I don't make a full meal, but always make home-made baked goods. We recently had 3 baths remodeled, and some of the workers (especially tile) were the same crew for up to a week at a time, so I got to know them a bit and they seemed thrilled and surprised at having homemade goodies every day. I didn't even realize this was odd! (One guy asked for several recipes, which was nice.) I also offered coffee, soft drinks and cold bottled water--one guy said none of his recent customers even had water for them.

So, am I the oddball who cooks for workers? (I always told 'em if there were nuts in the brownies, and I'd never cook w/ alcohol for workers I don't know.)

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. I don't have workers in Florida, but when I lived in the Yucatan I fixed lunch for my bi-weekly housekeeper and gave my gardeners, all Mayan, plenty of ice water.

    1. I always have cold drinks, hot coffee for them. If it's a whole day or two, I cover lunch. We're about to do a major remodeling job expected to last months, and Friday lunch will be on me, either home made or brought in to order. Beverages all week.

      The woman who cleans my house is always offered lunch and I buy things I know she likes. She knows to feel free to take what she likes when I'm not around, as well.

      1 Reply
      1. re: mcf

        Piggybacking to add that I asked my husband (did contracting work during college summers, later ran his own contracting business with many laborers for 13 years) about this.

        Only one customer in all those years gave workers lunch daily, more customers provided lunches on Fridays, and hot coffee and cold drinks were very much appreciated.

        Since we have a big job coming, I'll likely buy an airpot if I have many coffee drinkers, cases of G2 Gatorade, and since it'll likely be during a NY winter, maybe hot soup on hand at all times.

      2. Always...and when my Mermers...house was being built she lived out of town and my mom would bring sandwiches or hot lunch to the crew..so they wouldnt have to leave...she had one of the first five houses in the sub division..people still coment that hers is one of the best built ones.... also when my mom went into the hospital to have me... always have cookies in your room.. and the nurses will come check on you a lot more!!

        1. Sure have! When the yard was going through a big change we had a grill going most of that summer to fed the crew.

          We also leave iced water bottles in our garage for the mail carrier. One year we bought the carrier a hard case for water and he filled the bottle up throughout the day.

          Painters love my grilled cheese sandwiches.

          My Uncle took over a bldg that required a great deal of rehab and wound up in the newspaper for feeding the crew.

          I actually assumed this kind of thing was pretty normal.

          16 Replies
          1. re: HillJ

            I thought it was normal, too, until the workers indicated otherwise.

            And, girloftheworld, the best house in the subdivision: absolutely! I figure if I keep the workers happy, they'll do even better work. One guy even added in some extra design details that I think I "bought" with my cookie offerings.

            The mail carrier: in the snowy winters of my childhood, Mom often pulled a batch of hot cookies from the oven just before the mail carrier arrived and packaged some up for him, along w/ a cup of coffee.

            1. re: pine time

              My mailman always accepts a box of Christmas cookies at the appropriate time of the year, and leaves an official USPS thank you card. So sweet! He makes little happy faces all over it and I've saved them all. But I know almost everywhere like that, gifts have to be limited to $20 or so, so what else could you leave anyway?

              1. re: coll

                We've given $20 GC, gas cards, hand warmers and baked goods at Christmas. Most are just happy for the thought. Since most carriers now share their route with a few casual workers as coverage, we probably see five diff carriers a year.

                1. re: HillJ

                  I'm such a dweeb, I still go with home baked stuff as an automatic thing. Gotta get out of the rut.

                  1. re: coll

                    coll, if your carrier loves your baked goods, that's all that matters. homemade shows care don't you think?

                    1. re: HillJ

                      He seems to be thrilled, don't want to disappoint him! I'm getting bored after all these years, but should stop projecting on others. So tempted to just take the easy way out though....

                      1. re: coll

                        For some of your carrier's stops I bet the easy way out is not baking cookies. So, he might really miss those homemade goodies if you stop.

                        1. re: HillJ

                          I know, his enthusiastic thank you cards are what keep me going. I always wonder what else he gets? I know one neighbor waits out in the dark for the garbagemen to give them a case of beer, so in that case I definitely take the easy way out.

                          1. re: coll

                            I leave little special wrapped chocolates and candies in the mailbox randomly through the month of December. My mail woman came to the door last year and told me how much she loves the little surprises all month.

                            1. re: coll

                              As a retired letter carrier, I can tell you for certain that cash or a gift card is preferred to anything else. Where I worked, it was typical to get holiday tips/gifts from about 20% of one's customers. That varies depending on averate customer income and the type of delivery on the route. Regardless of whether or not I liked what I received, I always left an effusive thank-you card in the mailbox as did most of my coworkers. Whether or not your letter carrier has auxiliary assistance delivering the route varies tremendously from case to case. An ethical carrier will split tips proportionaly with the workers who help deliver the route. While the rules prohibit carriers from accepting anything worth more than $20, that is universally ignored by customers, carriers, and postal management.

                              1. re: greygarious

                                How do you leave a gift for the mail carrier? We had a PO box growing up and I've never been quite sure how to do it. I worry that the mail carrier will just chuck the envelopes in a bin and not notice something was meant for him/her.

                                1. re: Hobbert

                                  Address it to "OUR MAIL CARRIER", put your return address on the corner, and leave it in the box with the flag up. Make sure it's the top /only item in the outgoing box. Add a post-it note sticky flag on the side if you worry they might miss it.

                                  We give a bookstore gift card each year, and get a very nice personalized thank-you note.

                                2. re: greygarious

                                  Our carrier delivers to 400 homes each day with five alternative casuals covering his vacation/sick time. He says that if every house gave $5-10 he'd be happy with the thoughtfulness. But most who give, give considerably more than $20.00 and plenty of customers don't give at all. However, he has said that carriers who talk about tips can get in trouble. So I don't know about the universally ignored comment but I know I won't skip tipping the mailman.

                                  1. re: HillJ

                                    When we had a regular mail carrier, we first gave him a Starbucks card, then went to a Visa gift card. He actually wrote us a thank you note, saying he took his wife out to dinner (Olive Garden, oh well) so that our little gift benefited them both. Wish we still had him.

                                  2. re: greygarious

                                    So is money the best holiday gift you've ever gotten from a customer. (I see above via your Recommend, no manicure for you.)?

                2. I always offer but they seldom accept. Not even coffee or a bottle of water. Don't know if it's a liability thing or what, but some have indicated that it is a rule. The ones that may not be "legal" (not of my hiring, usually dropped off for the day) are the only ones that say OK, and seem delighted with my offerings. Guess they can't get disability or workers comp if things go wrong.

                  I do always offer though, can't help myself, even when I know it's against regulations. And I do have a lot of people coming and going lately.

                  1. Yes. We've bought lunch before if the people are going to be there for a while. We've also gone out to the store and gotten their favorite sodas, etc.

                    My husband used to work in construction in an affluent area and saw both sides of the fence-the people who treated him like dirt and then those who gave him meals and water. He really appreciated those who were kind to him, and went the extra mile for people who were polite.

                    I just think it's the right thing to do. Workers in my home are a guest like anyone else and deserve the same hospitality.

                    1. Absolutely..
                      I have water/Gatorade/soda in a cooler with ice.
                      For lunch, since I speak Spanish, I'll get their requests what they want from the taco shop.
                      I have some cookies for dessert.
                      Also, I'll give them stuff from my closets for early spring cleaning.

                      1. "Do you feed workers at your home?"

                        Oh, my YES! My husband and I built a house 12 years ago. It was an extensive project, 18 months from first dig to occupation, and I fed the workers every single day of the build. Much of the time, we had neither electricity nor running water. Since we live in AZ, summer was a stinker and work began at daybreak. For both summers, we were on location before 5 AM for their breakfast. Mid-morning break (8 AM) meant peeled watermelon slices or grapes for the whole crew. Lunch was often skipped in the summer so they could finish work before the terrible heat set in.

                        One of the framers told us that we had saved him hundreds of dollars during his six weeks here. The 'roach coach' driver threatened to turn me in to the health dept but left in a huff when I explained that I was giving the food, not selling it. No violation there.

                        I cooked burritos or omlets or ??? - to order - out of the back of my SUV on a gas cassette each day.
                        The landscape crew gave me a triangle to ring so that I didn't have to chase them all over the hillside!

                        I thought this was absolutely normal until each crew marveled at their meals. My southern grandmother would have rolled out of her grave if I had done anything differently -- it was de rigueur to feed workers when they were at your house. No questions.

                        After the house was finished, we held a party for everyone who worked on the project and invited their families so the craftsmen could show off their skills. To this day, workers will appear at lunchtime (coincidentally?) when there are jobs to do.

                        Although I didn't have an ulterior motive, I believe that we were the recipients of a great build. Many of the workers offered suggestions "have you thought of this?" during the project and we benefitted from their experience in ways we could not have imagined.
                        NB: there was never an extra charge.

                        Yes, it was a tremendous amount of work; there was expense involved and I would not have it any other way. My husband and I are both retired which made this daunting task possible.

                        5 Replies
                        1. re: Sherri

                          That's a terrific story. Clearly your Southern grandmother raised you correctly. Congratulations.

                          1. re: c oliver

                            Ditto, so well told I could visualize it. Fun read.

                          2. re: Sherri

                            This made me so happy to read. What a great story.

                            1. re: Sherri

                              Excellent story! Thank you for sharing this.

                              1. re: Sherri

                                Sherri, my Mom and family were Southern too--I just thought it was the right thing to do.

                                Another aside: after one grueling flooring re-do (true artistry by the tile guys), we also gave each a generous tip, along with a card explaining some of the details each did which we appreciated. This was after all the days of baked goods--one guy asked if he could be our permanent remodeler! I didn't think we did anything exceptional--they earned not only the extra cash, but the measly cookies. We appreciate craftsmanship.

                              2. Yes, we do. We are quite remote so when workers come to our house they tend to stay all day. Sometimes they bring their own food, but mostly I make a really nice lunch. Today it's Thai Green Curry with Chicken. Always chai and a homemade bakery thing (today it's fruitcake) like cookies or cinnamon roles. We treat them well and they remember the good food they have here.

                                1. Yes, if they are private pay workers....no, if they are from a company. Companies around here have scheduled lunch breaks for employees, set monitored route times, and need to follow all kinds of rules. I don't mess with that other than to offer a cup of coffee.

                                  Private workers I feed. I have several fridges outside and always have cold drinks in there and have them help themselves. Some of them have become "friends" of sorts and will stay for a beer or wine and a snack on the patio when done working.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: sedimental

                                    I agree; except for the town workers and mail carrier. They get nothing from the town but long hours. My mailman can't even find a public toilet half the time.

                                  2. Absolutely. I had a single-parent dad who wanted to come to work early (like 6 a.m.) and leave early so he could drop off and pick up his son on his sitter's schedule. He worked through lunch, so I made him casseroles and desserts to take home for dinner. Worked great for him. And I don't know if that impacted his work ethic because he was a terrific worker anyway.

                                    Otherwise, I always offer lunch to the crew. Sometimes they want to get away, have a smoke, make a few calls, but other times they're quite happy to have a free meal! Menu depends on whether it's summer or winter.

                                    Even appliance delivery folks get a bag of cookies and a bottle of milk. Can't hurt to say thank you, even though they probably would rather have a few $$, but I'm not comfortable with cash.

                                    In this litigious society, even a seemingly innocent cookie or sandwich can be a potential problem. Know your workers and be careful.

                                    7 Replies
                                    1. re: nemo

                                      So even with the potential fallback, you still offer.

                                      1. re: HillJ


                                        We're getting much more cautious in recent years.

                                      2. re: nemo

                                        Nemo, sadly, but I agree with some caution. When some outdoor workers were doing hard core yardwork in the blazing summer, I so wanted to offer 'em a beer, at least at the end of the day. Made a giant pitcher of lemonade instead.

                                        1. re: pine time

                                          The guys who moved us last time (10 years ago) were real go getters. All I had to offer beyond a $100 tip was a six pack of beer. I will never forget them shifting down the block, blowing their horn, and holding the bottles aloft. They went above and beyond, and I can't even detail it all here!

                                          1. re: pine time

                                            Back in the early 60s my father used to leave a few bottles of cold beer atop the garbage cans for the garbage men. I'll bet that was appreciated, but never heard stories about my father being thanked by them.

                                            1. re: Tripeler

                                              We tape a card in a Ziplock bag to the top of our can very late at night with cash for each of three sanit truck guys. What we get is very noticeably careful handling and replacement of our trash containers for at least a while and toots of the horn when they find it.

                                              1. re: mcf

                                                Smart, I'm going to try that.

                                        2. I've never had long-term workers in my home so meals as others described haven't been an option.

                                          For repair folks I always have a wide array of beverage and snacks (sweets and savory). When I've moved locally I've had several pizza's delivered along with the other options. Along with cash tips I've given fast food gift certificates. The movers said fast food is usually their only option when on the job.

                                          It does seem as though many are surprised so I don't think hospitable offerings are very frequent.

                                          As said elsewhere, if you are in my home then you are a guest. People are people and I treat others as I'd like to be treated.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: meatn3

                                            My Dad was a manual laborer, so maybe that's my impetus in feeding workers. He'd come home with both very nice and very awful stories of the people he'd worked for. Since hubs and I are NOT DIYers, I so appreciate people who have skills we lack, and we've been blessed with adequate resources to help others, when we can.

                                          2. We did an 11 month renovation project and it was mostly the same guys here every day. I always gave them coffee in the morning and had bottles of water available but beyond that, they never wanted to accept more. They brought their lunches with them. I think that once they accepted my offer of buying pizza for them. But that's about it. Actually, some of them had young kids and periodically I would offer them toys that my kids aged out of. That stuff they would usually take.

                                            1. My parent's have always offered what they've had in the past. I'm not sure how much is ever accepted except the water, though.

                                              When I bought my condo a year and half ago, I had long term renovations done on it before I moved in, but since I hadn't moved in yet, I was only there every now and again to stick my head in to see about progress or to pay him more money for materials. I remember drinks being on those Lowes receipts that I reimbursed him for, so i technically paid for those. I mean I guess that's something, although not a lot. Thinking back, I suppose I could've dropped him off lunch or offered occasionally.

                                              3 Replies
                                              1. re: SaraAshley

                                                I never met my maid and laundress when I lived in Mexico City because I actually had a job. Every day I came home and my bed was made and my laundry neatly folded on it, dishes were done, everything sparkling clean. I left what I hope was a generous envelope for her when my projects were done and I moved to the Yucatan.

                                                1. re: Veggo

                                                  That's why you're so much cooler than me!

                                                  1. re: SaraAshley

                                                    Not cooler, just older. I think you have a good running start!

                                              2. Depends how much I'm paying them...

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: jaykayen

                                                  These workers have been from companies, not privately hired. I know they're getting a wage, but I'm sure much more of my bills went to the owner of the company.

                                                2. Nope, happily provide drinks but it's never occured to me to feed workers.

                                                  5 Replies
                                                    1. re: Harters

                                                      Yeah, I'm pretty suprised by the number of folks who do. Like you I provide beverages, but it never occurred to meto fee them. And if I were the worker, I' certainly want the break to go elsewhere, eat, text, etc.

                                                      The only exception is my plumber. He always gets liverwurst on rye with onion and mustard and a bottle or two of good Belgian ale. Then again, he's my cousin and always stays for a bit of a vist when the work is done.

                                                      1. re: gaffk

                                                        HeyG...I am a plumber too! Perhaps you want to switch companies...

                                                        1. re: PHREDDY

                                                          I couldn't do that to my cousin. But you're welcome to stop by for a sandwich and an ale.

                                                      2. re: Harters

                                                        Same here, Harters. We give our Gardener and pool guy a bottle of cold water each visit in the summertime even though they usually have their own too. The cleaning lady brings her own snack, but will get a glass and get water from the fridge. When we had work done on our house, the workers all brought their own lunch and drinks every day.

                                                        I've never heard of anyone in this area feeding their work people.

                                                      3. When I had workers ripping off & completely replacing my roof and also when I had to have my boiler & water heater replaced, I did because they were here from early morning till late at night. If they're only here an hour or two, I offer them water, coffee or soda.

                                                        1. Now that I'm re-reading your OP pine time, I'm realizing that a big pot of chili or stew also meant a good deal of cleanup. I haven't made anything for crew that wasn't eaten with hands.
                                                          That really is going the extra mile.

                                                          1. Doing a small residential remodel, I would tell the crew (especially the tile crew! They laid tile in a 1800 sf home in record time!) when I was bringing lunch. On major commercial jobs, we would announce when lunch was going to be served. I never personally cooked any of these meals but I know it went a long way in appreciation.

                                                            My sis lives in TX and would provide lunch for the framers that were building a home next to hers in a suburb of Dallas. I found that odd but she said they were ever so grateful.

                                                            Had to edit that I buy a case of beer for when I get a special deal / aka I buy the material and you help me get the work done. Of course, this isn't 'food on the job' it's simply a Thank You. Again, it goes a long way in appreciation.

                                                            1. Yes, I definitely do. I don't have "workers" but every time I've hired movers in the last few years, I made sure to have cold water and Gatorade for them and eventually lunch as well. I'll stop at the corner bodega and get sandwiches for them. The last set I got tacos from the great taco truck on the corner.

                                                              My mother was from Trinidad and Tobago and she grew up poor. She always told me that you always cook enough food so that anyone passing in the street who is hungry can have something to eat. I always feed people I'm working with. I'm kind of surprised but not entirely to know that most people don't do that though. To me, food = gratitude that you took the time to think of the person.

                                                              1. Absolutely. I think it's genetically impossible for me to have people in my home, whether friends or folks in the service trade, and not offer food. I mean, I'm not going to whip up a hot breakfast, but I'll certainly offer lunch, water and a snack.

                                                                1 Reply
                                                                1. re: mamachef

                                                                  "I think it's genetically impossible for me"

                                                                  love this! ---my Mermer as soon you came into her home would say "can I fix you something" . you could be the guy serving legal papers from my mothers ex husband it wouldnt matter....

                                                                  Someday I will have a home of my own and I will paint on the kitchen wall...." can I fix you something?"

                                                                2. I was raised to offer hospitality to anyone who I invited into my home be they guest, repair person or cleaning person. I bake frequently and always offer a sampling to whoever comes in. Six years ago, I had FiOS installed on a miserable sleeting December day. I put out a coffee maker, cookies and cake on the front patio. The workers (not a word of English was spoken) looked at me with immense appreciation. Ten years ago, two young guys repaired the front walk on a blistering hot July day when I frequently offered fresh iced tea, soda and lemonade. They had their own beverages with them but rang the bell to thank me before leaving. I said "I didn't give you anything!" The reply was, "But you at least offered."
                                                                  Never pass up the opportunity to create a positive memory.

                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                  1. re: Chefpaulo

                                                                    On move-in day for this house, I had specially packed an "open first" box for myself. It was the ingredients and baking sheet for chocolate chip cookies. This house had dual ovens, and I didn't even know which control was for which oven, but just turned one on, and baked those cookies in that oven. The moving crew, who worked their behinds off, got the first food offerings from my kitchen.

                                                                  2. I am the most important worker in my home.

                                                                    So, yes, I do feed the natives. Quite often, in fact. And well.

                                                                    1. As the owner of a plumbing firm since the early 80's I would say that if you have direct contact with the owner of a premise, almost all will offer something to drink or eat, and most even will give a gratuity. Very often, we encounter the housekeeper, a neighbor, if it is a multiple family dwelling or apartment house, the complex manager, it is about 50/50.

                                                                      When it is any kind of worker in my house, I always offer something.

                                                                      I would like to tell you about two of my most favorite incidents concerning food and gifts to my workers while the were just performing their jobs. The jobs were extensive renovations to very large apartments in Manhattan , NYC. The first was for an extremely wealthy couple who have a huge portfolio of high rise office buildings in NYC. They also have four or five people in their home to take care of them. Although my contact was with Mr. & Mrs, my plumbers were directed by the staff. Mrs. directed what I would call the house manager to provide them a cooked meal once a week. (we worked there for 3 weeks) The cook was of European background and as I was told: Spaghetti and meatballs, Roast pork sandwiches with red cabbage slaw, and then a beef stew. They said it was delicious , they were served by the staff in the kitchen, with real utensils and plates. Every morning they were provided coffee and beverages with either fresh breads and pastries. The most unique part of this job, Mr. & Mrs. were on vacation for the first week and a half, the house manager told my workers (three of them) to bring three sets of work clothes. On the third day after they left, the staff would wash and iron their work clothes for the next three days. At the end of the job, my guys chipped in and gave each of the staff a gift certificate to Macy's.

                                                                      2 Replies
                                                                      1. re: PHREDDY

                                                                        So glad Phreddy that my family took good care of your crew!

                                                                        ; D

                                                                        1. re: PHREDDY

                                                                          that it the coolest story.
                                                                          you can see the whole pay it forward kindness thing

                                                                        2. To follow my first reply, the second story about people who take care of their workers:

                                                                          The gentleman was the son of a very famous woman who their cosmetics company is named for (She passed away many years ago, but was a really sweet woman.)
                                                                          He and his wife owned the entire floor of an apartment building on 5th avenue, in Manhattan, NYC. When the penthouse apartment above his, which consisted of two floors, came on the market for sale, he bought it. While he lived on the floor below, the renovation of the apartment was performed. Mr. & Mrs. visited the work site daily. Coffee and beverages were brought up to the workers all day long. a cooler with ice and beverages was stocked daily, but meals were never offered.

                                                                          The work lasted about 9 or 10 months, running through Christmas. A few days before Christmas, Mrs. came to the work site with one of her staff, and gave every worker a gift bag, stuffed with the cosmetics that their company produces, to take home to their loved one(s). There was also one for my assistant and myself. When my wife saw the gift bag, she was so please by their generosity. A few days later , she informed me that she had went the to store and determined that the bag was worth about $300 of product! A thank you note was sent. Keep in mind this was about 20 years ago!
                                                                          I would guess there were about 25 trades people working on the project.
                                                                          It is always nice to be offered something as you work for others.

                                                                          Very often though we receive nothing , and that is OK too, as long as we get a "Thank You"!

                                                                          1. Interesting discussion. It never crossed my mind to feed workers at my house. I work full-time so I'm not home when they are there.

                                                                            I do always leave a fresh pot of coffee on with mugs, cream and sugar with a note to help themselves to coffee and water but more often then not, it isn't touched.

                                                                            1. This is relevant only to my piece of paradise. I have rehabbed about 15 houses in my lifetime. Thanks to the hurricanes, I have had to do a couple three redoes.

                                                                              Florida is a "Right To Work" state. This means you do not have to join a union to work in a trade. You pass the state tests to receive your license. Which is why you normally get the most bang for your buck with the independents.

                                                                              If you are taking time for lunch, you are losing billable hours. Which means the vast majority have a quick fix that can be consumed during a 10 minute break. This means that a can of Vienna Sausages, beanie wienies, or a bean burrito is fine with whatever drink is in their cooler. I have offered cold bottles of water to roof strippers, as they are normally from the daily work for daily pay.

                                                                              I have a policy of no alcohol while working with power tools. And a hammer is a power tool. So at the end of the day, I have opened up the bar as a thank you for a days hard work. As a matter of note, most have a hard drink. The majority are into gin martinis. Of course, this is because there is plenty of beer or wine in their icy 5 gallon water dispensers on the truck.

                                                                              1. In Sri Lanka, whenever there were people working on the house, my mother in law would make them tea, once in the morning, once in the afternoon. Feed them - no, but there are plenty of places nearby (nearby no matter where you are, really) that sell rice & curry lunch packets, which is usually what workers eat.

                                                                                When we had someone in to clean or to help with cooking (ie, for a big family gathering), they were always fed whatever we were eating. For that matter, so are drivers (the husband and I don't own a vehicle or drive in Sri Lanka - too crazy! - so we hire a car and driver for the day if we're going out of town).

                                                                                I think the difference there is one or two people versus a crowd. Or maybe it's the status of the workers. I never really did get the whole status thing that seems to drive everything in Sri Lanka.