It happened again, today; another client expressed confusion about tipping his massage therapist. Actually, he apologized for not tipping me last week and said that his wife chewed him out when she found out he hadn’t left a tip. He said he had only had 1 or 2 other massages in his life prior to coming to see me, so he didn’t know what the “protocol” was. I assured him it was no big deal because tipping is always optional. If tipping were mandatory, we’d add it to your bill. He seemed a little relieved, but still unsure; although I’m pretty sure most of his apprehension had to do with not wanting his wife to yell at him again.
Tipping can be a touchy subject among massage therapists, with opinions ranging from “everyone should tip” to “we should NOT be tipped because we are healthcare providers” and everything in between. Not surprisingly, my views fall somewhere in the middle.
To get us started, I did some research and I’ve got a little English lesson for you: as you know, tip is another word for gratuity. You may not know, however, that gratuity has its origins in the Latin word gratus, meaning pleasing or thankful. This later gave rise to the words gratuité in Old French and gratuitas in Medieval Latin, both of which mean gift. These words gave rise to the English word gratuity. So strictly speaking, a tip is a gift of thanks. And gifts by their nature are not mandatory. Sure, some businesses add a tip to your bill, thereby making it mandatory, but I feel that defeats the purpose. I don’t agree with that practice, but that’s whole different blog post/rant. For our purposes, a tip is a gift.
So, when might you want to give your massage therapist a gift? When is it appropriate to tip? Are there any times you shouldn’t tip?
Here are a few guidelines for tipping:
If you’re going to tip, the going rate is 15-20%.
If you are at a spa, on a cruise ship, or at a massage chain, the massage therapists are probably employees and are NOT getting paid anywhere near the amount you think they are. Some are paid as little as $10/hour and some are paid by the massage (avg $30-40/massage) but get no pay when they have no clients. This is the most appropriate place to tip your therapist. In fact, unless a spa has a “no tipping” policy, most spa employees expect a tip. Tipping your therapist at any of these places, especially when added to your credit card or placed in a tip envelope at the front desk, is a great way to let the front desk and management staff know that this therapist does a great job.
If you only get massages once in a while as a treat and don’t need specific, therapeutic work you are under no obligation to leave a tip. However, it’s a good idea to leave a tip if the massage was excellent, the therapist was compassionate and personable, the office decor was appealing and relaxing, or the therapist went above and beyond what you expected.
Here are a few guidelines for NOT tipping:
If you are getting massage from someone who calls themselves a medical massage therapist, it would not be appropriate to tip. After all, you don’t tip your physical therapist, phlebotomist, or doctor.
If you are seeking massage for relief from a specific condition or for pain relief, and you are getting massage at a wellness center with lots of different types of complementary healthcare providers, it’s OK to not tip. Your therapist would likely appreciate it, but should not be expecting it.
If you are seeing a massage therapist who owns their own business, and is likely the only provider, there is no need to tip. While they would certainly appreciate any tip you felt inclined to leave, they should have set their prices to reflect the amount of money they need to make to keep their business going. Tipping the therapist who owns the business is truly for those times when you want to express your gratitude and appreciation.
I hope that helps clear up any tipping confusion you may have.