Etiquette around gratuity is puzzling for foreigners like me. But it’s also a problem for Americans! We often don’t know whether a service provider is an employee or an independent contractor, whether they get paid well or the bare minimum, and some people seem to get offended when a tip is offered.
I’ve heard of massage therapy experts who refuse tips with the argument “Do you tip your doctor?”
Then I also hear some who feel insulted because they didn’t get a tip.
Why all the confusion?
We seem to all agree that hairdressers should be tipped. And doctors shouldn’t. Massage therapy is somewhere in between. It can be serious therapy, but it can also be just pampering.
So as with every question about grey areas, the answer is: It depends.
Is the business a chain?
Massage therapy chains like “Massage Envy” employ massage therapists, pay them a rather low rate, and rely on tips to make it worth the therapist’s efforts. You can still get away without tipping, but it would be understood as if you were really unhappy about the quality of the work.
Is it a medical practice?
In a chiropractors office or a rehab clinic, tipping is unusual. If you want to be nice, it would still be good to offer, and the therapist should not be offended if you try. In that case, I’d offer cash to the therapist directly, but only if you think you really got exceptional work.
How about spas?
Even luxury spas often don’t pay very well. In some cases the therapist’s income depends on how much commission they earn for product sales. You can easily tell that the therapist is supposed to double as a salesperson when they point out what lotion was used in the massage, and how well your skin responded.
Typically, in a spa environment that aims at skincare and relaxation, a tip would be expected. If I got a therapist who left me in peace instead of pushing sales, I’d tip generously.
Is the business something in between medical therapy and relaxation?
At massage therapy clinics like ours, tipping is not expected. We pay our contracted therapists very well to make sure that they get extra education and don’t work long hours.
I think tipping is an option if
1. the work was better than expected
2. the client is able to afford it.
Our therapists, including me, are always happy about extra money. It’s not a profession anybody gets rich in. But we care about our clients, and we rather have clients who save the tip in order to afford the next session.
So if you are on a tight budget, stay away from the hotel spas, don’t go to chains, keep your tip, and just save up for the next massage!