The Do’s, Don’ts, and Whys of Tipping Your Massage Therapist

Updated on May 17, 2018
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Leeann Hysaw has earned 11 years of experience in massage therapy having graduated from Lincoln Technical Institute in 2007.

Tipping Confusion

Tipping is an aspect of the massage process that causes confusion. Many clients do not know if they should be leaving a tip at all and even if they feel they must, they can often be unsure about how much to leave or where to leave it. I have even worked with some clients who believed the therapist would get in trouble for accepting tips and would slip the money into my hand or pocket and whisper that it was a gift for me. It’s endearing that clients want to be sure I know they appreciate the work I do. However, I also want them not to feel like they are somehow breaking the law by passing me a tip. There are instances in massage where tipping is either frowned upon or not allowed, but normally establishments work hard to notify the clients about what their policies are, and some even help further by suggesting how much to leave the therapist.

Types of Establisments

There are some common ways to discern whether you should be tipping your massage therapist in the first place. The best method of determining this is looking into the type of establishment you are visiting. There are so many different places, and they all have their own little rules. These rules, of course, are not set in stone. However, they are good to consider when you’re visiting them. There are places like large corporate chains whose therapist tend to rely on the kindness of their clients in tips and other places like a therapist working on their own that may politely refuse a tip when it is offered, and many types of establishments that linger in between these two extremes.

Keep an Eye Out

“…normally establishments work hard to notify the clients about what their policies are and some even help further by suggesting how much to leave the therapist.”

Consider Tipping at Massage Chains

If you book a massage at a large chain of spas or any establishment that runs as a part of a cooperation or franchise of locations, your therapist is most likely being paid a percentage of what you are dishing out for the massage. The percentages vary but, on average, your therapist is going to receive less than 20% of what the establishment charges. That may not seem bad but, if you’re paying $100 for a one-hour session, your therapist is probably receiving roughly 15 dollars out of that 100 you give the studio.

Also, remember, these kinds of studios normally do not pay their therapist by the hour. Instead, they are paid per massage. That means the time between sessions that they spend talking to you, letting you get dressed or undressed, keeping things sanitary and writing out notes, on top of side work like cleaning the bathrooms, break rooms or doing laundry, (depending on the set up and division of labor in the establishment) they are not being paid. This time is necessary to the job and can account for a large portion of general work time—roughly 20-30 minutes before each session, for every session.

So, even if a therapist in this location works an eight-hour day, or longer, they may only leave work with five hours of pay because they only get paid for the massage itself, not the extra things they are required to do to properly perform the massage in the first place. These therapists rely on tips to boost their wages how a waitress would but, not as extreme.

Consider How Much the Therapist Is Being Paid in General

“So, even if a therapist in this location works an eight-hour day, or longer, they may only leave work with five hours of pay because they only get paid for the massage itself, not the extra things they are required to do to properly perform the massage in the first place.”

Self-Employed Therapists

If you happen to be getting a massage from a self-employed person, a therapist who works solely for themselves and not for a business owner or corporation, then you generally do not have to worry about tipping. While this extra money is often greatly appreciated, it is not strictly necessary. Therapists working for a corporation need the tips to offset the lower pay they receive for the same amount of work while a self-employed therapist can keep all the money they charge a client, essentially negating the need for tips. If you feel your therapist goes above and beyond for you, then it is perfectly fine to offer them a tip, but you should not feel compelled to do so.

Therapists in the Middle

Between therapists working for corporations and ones who work for themselves, there are lots of other types of establishments and deciding whether or not to tip these types of therapists can be a little more complicated. These types of therapists tend to work for someone else like a chiropractor, hospital, or another therapist at a smaller sized establishment. These therapists do not receive as much money as they would if they worked for themselves, but they also tend to be paid much better, sometimes up to 30% of the massage price, or more. Some may even be receiving a base hourly wage that is given a boost when a massage is performed to pay the therapist for the duties they perform in the establishment outside of massage, like cleaning or even secretarial work.

If you are receiving a massage from an establishment like this, its best to ask what their policy on tipping is. Some may not allow their therapists to accept tips under the opinion that they are paid a larger amount or hourly wage, so they do not need to rely on tips. However, it is rare for an establishment to take this stance. Most would probably just find a way to inform you that you are not required to tip but of course, whether you do is up to you. You can ask for this information or look around the establishment. Some places will have a notice about tipping sitting up at the front desk, in the massage rooms, or both.

How Much to Tip Therapists in General

If you are sure it is proper to tip at the establishment you are going to but are unsure of how much to give, there is a good way to calculate the amount. If you are going to tip a massage therapist, it's best to tip between 15 and 20 percent, although 25–30 percent is sometimes suggested by certain establishments. These numbers can sometimes be found in the massage rooms on tip recommendation notices. These notices are not meant to tell you that you are required to tip that amount. However, it is a common point of confusion for many clients over how much is considered proper. In order to be helpful, many establishments print these handy signs simply to show clients what is considered standard and leave the rest up to them.

In over 11 years of practicing massage, I have generally seen most people tip 20 percent, meaning if they paid 100 dollars for the session they had, a 20-dollar tip is given to the therapist. This number can go up or down depending on how a client’s experience was. So, if you had a great massage, leaving 20 percent is perfectly fine. If it was the best massage you believe you have ever experienced and the therapist went above and beyond to make you feel better, tipping higher than 20 is always appreciated. And of course, if the session was just okay you are perfectly within your rights to leave 10 or 15 dollars. Of course, all these numbers are done as tip percentages for a 100-dollar session, but if your session cost is different simply adjust the calculations to fit the price and your own experience and judgment.

Still Unsure If You're Supposed to Tip?

“You can ask for this information or look around the establishment. Some places will have a notice about tipping sitting up at the front desk, in the massage rooms, or both.”

Reasons Not to Tip

  • The therapist is working for themselves.
  • You’re notified in some way, through the front desk staff, signs, or from the therapist themselves, that the establishment does not accept tips (this is rare but, it does happen).
  • Rude service (from the therapist themselves, not from other staff members. In other words, if the secretary is not pleasant or is downright rude to you please take that up with the secretary or the manager. Try not to let it affect your decision to tip the therapist).
  • You feel like the areas of focus you mentioned were never addressed fully.
  • The therapist's pressure was not right (too deep or too light) and even after suggesting a change to the therapist, you do not feel they complied.
  • The massage hurt you.
  • The massage or the therapist made you feel uncomfortable.
  • The therapist did not give you full time. Note: this does not count if you are the one arriving late. In these cases, you may not be able to receive full time due to other people being booked after you and is not something the therapist should be faulted for. However, if you are on time but your therapist is late, or the therapist takes you on time yet finishes early, you can withhold a tip or give less.

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